Saturday, October 31, 2020

Happy Halloween!

Halloween greetings to all! It's been a busy season and I've had to take a break from the 1970s horror, much to my chagrin, but I intend to get back to it soon. It is a pretty disturbing era for horror, so it was good to take a break the other night with some pre-code horror with The Vampire Bat

I am celebrating Halloween with a double feature of two of my favorite scary movies playing on the Criterion Channel, Nosferatu, and the 1979 remake, Nosferatu the Vampyre. I may follow both up with Shadow of a Vampire, if I have the stamina for it. If you haven't seen that film, it's a fun fictional telling of the making of Nosferatu. I will be taking a break to check in on the Dark Shadows live reunion broadcast at 6 pm PT/9 pm ET with Lara Parker, David Selby, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace, James Storm, Roger Davis, Sharon Smyth, Christopher Pennock and Kathryn Leigh Scott. It's being hosted by The Quarantine Theatre Company at their YouTube channel, if you are interested in checking it out.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

UCLA restoration of The Vampire Bat

Attention pre-code horror movie lovers! UCLA Film & Television Archive is offering free streaming of its restoration of The Vampire Bat (1933) this Thursday, October 29 at 4:00 pm. I have not seen this movie yet because the versions currently available are in such bad shape that they are difficult to watch,* so I am really looking forward to seeing this restoration. Just to make things more fun and interesting, there will be a post screening Q&A with Fay Wray's daughter, author Victoria Riskin. Be sure to RSVP so you can be sent the link the day of the screening. 

Keep an eye out for other events in the UCLA Virtual Screening Room

*10/29/20 Addendum: This screening was so much fun! It was nice to enjoy the communal moviegoing experience again! Little did I know this restoration is already available on DVD and Blu Ray. Great and informative interview with Victoria Riskin. I just ordered her book, Fay Wray and Robert Riskin: A Hollywood Memoir. You can check out a recording of the entire presentation on Vimeo.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Criterion Flash Sale-abration!

Hey film lovers! You've got less than 12 hours left at the time of this writing to go save 50% on Criterion Collection movies. Go get yourself a little something, because the escape of a good movie is just what the doctor ordered. Here are a few curios that grabbed me this time around. 

I'm not sure that I didn't just buy this set for the artwork with Boris Karloff on the front. All of these titles are currently showing on the Criterion Channel, but this is a set I've wanted to collect, so into the shopping cart it went. Yes, I spoil myself that way.

The Golden Age of Televison

They just don't make TV like this any more. I bought this set primarily for Rod Serling's Patterns, but also to enjoy the fine actors, and experience the novelty of an innovative TV era before my time. 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

I enjoy Robert Mitchum's acting, and since the description on this film claims it was one of the best performances of his career, I had to see if it was on par with his indelible performance in The Night of the Hunter, which is one of my favorite movies.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

It seemed appropriate to have a tragic thriller on hand for times such as these. 

Unfaithfully Yours

It also seemed appropriate to have some comedy on hand for times such as these. 

I've been tempted to pick up this movie for awhile, but I wasn't sure about the whole comedic western idea. I had to give in for Dietrich and Stewart, and the clip I saw had me intrigued.  

So, Criterion got me again. I didn't need more new movies, but I certainly am a sucker for the flash sale. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

The Season of Horror Lives Again: The Nightcomers (1971)

Next up in the Criterion Channel's lineup is The Nightcomers, featuring Marlon Brando. This is a film I had never seen or heard of before. It is based on characters from "The Turn of the Screw," and is a prequel to that story. 

"If you love someone, you want to kill them."

The Season of Horror Lives Again: Daughters of Darkness (1971)

My mission to explore 1970s horror on the Criterion Channel resumes with Daughters of Darkness. I've been looking forward to seeing John Karlen in this film, after spending the last several years watching him on Dark Shadows. Female vampires with a taste for beautiful, young women were all the rage in the 1970s, and this film is dripping with sexuality, though it differs in that it remains relatively bloodless, and uncharacteristically fangless. 

"A woman will do anything to stay young."

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Season of Horror Lives Again: Let's Scare Jessica to Death (1971) - Revisited

The Mad Marathon of '70s horror continues! It's been nearly four years since I've seen Let's Scare Jessica to Death, so it was definitely time to revisit this uniquely unsettling movie. Since I have already covered this movie, I just have a few observations and reflections to share. At the beginning of the film, Jessica says, "Nightmares or dreams. Madness or sanity. I don't know which is which," and it perfectly sums up this film. I don't know which is which either, but I was left wondering about some things in trying to get a grip on what's going on in this movie on this second viewing.

We know Jessica had a breakdown, but we don't know the cause. It seems she's been suffering both auditory and visual hallucinations, and she spoke of once seeing her dead father and hearing him call to her. When Woody told Emily that they were all just wandering spirits, it had me thinking about the possibility that Duncan and Woody were already dead, and she was seeing and hearing them as she did her dead father. The fact that they're riding around in a hearse and visiting cemeteries might support that possibility, along with the fact that Duncan 'bought the farm', which might be a tongue in cheek way of also suggesting he was dead. 

We're led to believe that Emily is a vampire, but Jessica hears voices saying "I'm here" and "I'm in your blood" when she's around. Has Emily been created in Jessica's mind from the photograph of her? Perhaps Emily is a representation of the demons that are inside Jessica. 

When the mole is killed, Jessica says they all believe she did it, which seems to indicate she did. Though Emily is reportedly a vampire, everyone seems to be the victim of a slasher, with gashes on their necks. Is it possible that Jessica went mad and went on a knife murdering rampage and was institutionalized for it? She was thinking about being free for the first time in months at the beginning, which might indicate she was being held involuntarily and may have escaped. 

The great thing about this film is that it doesn't provide answers, just clues, which leaves the viewer to wonder, lending itself to repeat viewings. One of the biggest things about the film that continues to mystify me is the title. That is something I will continue to ponder the next time I watch this movie. 

Saturday, October 3, 2020

The Season of Horror Lives Again: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

It is now 3 pm, and I continue the marathon of horror movies from the 1970s with the first film in The Karnstein Trilogy of vampire flicks produced by Hammer Films. While I do own this movie, this will be my first time watching it. The salacious picture of vampire women attacking half naked, chained people on the Blu Ray case includes a warning that this film is "Not for the mentally immature!" I wrote about the third film in this trilogy, Twins of Eviltwo years ago, so I know what to expect. 

"Not for the mentally immature!"

The Season of Horror Lives Again: Trog (1970)

It is 11:30 in the morning, and I'm settled in to watch a film that has been enjoyed by very few people. 

"Like nothing I've ever seen before."

The Season of Horror Lives Again: Mad Marathon

It is 11:00 am on a Saturday morning. I am documenting the events that are to follow for posterity and to give account of what transpired here today if I should not survive the day mentally intact. I am about to embark upon an insane mission to watch as many 70s horror movies as possible from The Criterion Channel's current collection of '70s Horror films. I will be live blogging as I watch, so anything goes. I am working in chronological order and am starting the day with a film that holds little promise: Trog. It is Joan Crawford's last film, and the reviews I've seen are not positive. It is a little too early in the day to start drinking, but we'll see. Join me on this terrifying adventure, if you dare.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Celebrating '70s Horror with The Criterion Channel

If you love horror films from the 1970s, now is a good time to sign up for a free 14 day trial of The Criterion Channel, so you can enjoy 28 horror films from the '70s along with me. If I wasn't in love with The Criterion Channel already, this certainly would be the clincher. I became a charter subscriber to the channel back in March 2019, thinking it would be a great way to see movies I was interested in, but would not necessarily purchase, in addition to helping me reduce the need to build more shelves by having more digital options available. Since then, the only problem I have had with this channel is that I don't have enough time to watch all the fantastic movies they have to offer. This is a channel for the true movie aficionado. If that is you, be sure to take some time to check it out. You will find more than Criterion releases available here.

Below is a list of movies to explore from '70s Horror at The Criterion Channel. What a great way to kick off the Season of Horror! Indulge yourself in a daily horror treat as a sort of advent calendar to Halloween. 


The Vampire Lovers

Let's Scare Jessica to Death

Daughters of Darkness

The Nightcomers

Dracula A.D. 1972

Death Line


Season of the Witch

Don't Look Now


Theater of Blood

The Wicker Man

Ganja & Hess

The Crazies

It's Alive

Black Christmas

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre



The Witch Who Came from the Sea

The Hills Have Eyes


Invasion of the Body Snatchers


Long Weekend

The Driller Killer

The Brood

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Disaster Blogathon: Deluge (1933)

This post is my entry in the Disaster Blogathon, hosted by The Midnite Drive-In and Dubsism. Follow the links to indulge yourself in a deluge of disaster films.

Deluge captured my interest back in 2017, soon after its release by KL Studio Classics, mostly because it was a pre-code disaster film that was once considered lost, but also because it featured an appearance by Sidney Blackmer, who would later play Roman Castavet in Rosemary's Baby. I am always interested in seeing early film appearances by actors I first encountered in their later years, and Blackmer has an impressive filmography I may need to explore further. This film was directed by Felix E. Feist, who also directed some other well known movies I've seen: Donovan's Brain and The Man Who Cheated Himself. Be forewarned that I intend to share the events in this film in its entirety, so be prepared for spoilers.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Twilight Zone: The Shelter (9/29/1961)

During this time of crisis, you may be tempted to turn to The Stand, The Crazies, 28 Days LaterThe Last Man on Earth, or The Omega Man for some cathartic viewing, but before you blow your anxiety level through the roof, I recommend drinking from the fountain of wisdom that flows freely from Rod Serling instead. For who better to recognize the foibles of humanity and inspire us to reflect on the best course of action to benefit ourselves, as well as the community and world at large, in such a time of despair? It is time to revisit "The Shelter."

This episode introduces itself with a jaunty birthday tune in suburbia as jovial neighbors gather together around the dining room table to celebrate the birthday of cherished neighborhood physician, Dr. Bill Stockton, who's enjoying a healthy after dinner smoke. The decimated cake and raucous laughter is an indication that many libations have already been poured, as the good doctor is regaled by his neighbor, Jerry, for providing care to several generations of their families. His neighbors good naturedly razz him for the neighborhood disturbance he has caused by his construction of a bomb shelter, but assure him of their deep and abiding love for him, despite the nuisance.

Dr. Bill's son, Paul, interrupts the happy gathering to alert them to an announcement on TV instructing them to tune in to the CONELRAD station on the radio.

The cheerful noise dissipates as they learn that the president has declared a yellow alert after unidentified flying objects were detected on radar flying southeast. The group is silently stunned, so we can only guess they must be assuming that nuclear missiles have been dispatched from the Soviet Union.

The radio announcer instructs them to immediately go to their shelter, if they have one, or to bring supplies to their basement. The neighborhood couples quickly dash out of the house to sequester in their homes as jet engines can be heard buzzing overhead.

Rod Serling appears onscreen to prepare the viewers for an anxiety inducing half hour and sleepless night ahead:

What you're about to watch is a nightmare. It is not meant to be prophetic, it need not happen. It's the fervent and urgent prayer of all men of good will that it never shall happen. But in this place, in this moment, it does happen. This is the Twilight Zone.

The Stockton family is busily preparing for an imminent attack, gathering water and supplies to bring into the shelter. Grace is nervously filling bottles of water at the the sink, and when one slips from her hand and smashes on the ground, Bill tells her to imagine that it's expensive perfume to help her make a feminine connection that would enable her to understand the importance of having stores of water on hand. As the power threatens to go out and the water dwindles from the tap, Grace and Bill grow more irritable and anxious. The family heads down into the shelter and Bill asks Paul to get his toolkit from the garage so he and Grace can discuss hypotheticals.

Grace becomes visibly upset and Bill tries to calm her, assuring her that if it's a bomb it won't land near them. She reminds him that New York is a target that's only 40 miles away and if it is hit, they will get radiation poisoning. Bill says they'll survive in their shelter with food and water to last two weeks, but Grace demonstrates she's not the dumb broad she was made out to be by asking why it's necessary to survive only to emerge into a wasteland amongst their friends' corpses. Bill says they need to survive for 12 year old Paul's sake.

While Bill goes upstairs to collect the rest of the water, Jerry comes over to ask if he and his family can hunker down in Bill's shelter with them, since their modern home is not equipped with a cellar. Bill offers the use of their basement since the shelter is designed for the use of three people and there is not enough air or supplies for more.

He apologizes and says he has to look out for his family, while Jerry responds that he can't stand by and watch his family suffer and die. Bill reminds him of how he warned them to prepare instead of having card parties and barbecues, but they did not heed his warning and now have to face the consequences.

Marty arrives with his wife and kids, and asks Jerry if Bill is in his shelter. Marty says he has to let them in his shelter as Jerry leaves. The power goes out and Marty begs Bill to let his family in, reminding him that he's a doctor and supposed to help people, but Bill tells him to get out.

As Marty's family makes their way out of Bill's house, they come across Jerry and his family at the door as his wife is demanding that he ask Bill again to let them in. Frank's family shows up at the door and Jerry tells them that Bill is not letting any of the 12 of them in to his shelter and that they should go work on one basement together and pool their supplies. Jerry's wife claims it's not fair that he's in a bomb shelter while all their kids have to sit around and wait for bombs to drop. The kids seem nonplussed by this information.

Frank suggests they go break down the door, but Jerry stops him to say they couldn't all fit and they'd be killing everyone for no reason. Marty appeals to Jerry to ask Bill to let one family in and they can draw lots to choose. Frank claims Marty intends for his family to be chosen and then gets really ugly, saying that's how it is with foreigners who come over acting as pushy, grabby semi-Americans. His wife doubles down by saying Marty is at the bottom of the list. Jerry says they won't need a bomb to destroy them if they keep up the fighting and animosity.

Jerry and Frank hear jets overhead and begin to head out the front door to see what's going on as another neighbor approaches. Frank claims again that he's going to go force Bill to let them in, and rushes back to the shelter. He tells Bill he can open up and discuss how many of them can come in there or else they will break in. Bill says they are wasting precious time when they could be figuring out a way to survive. They talk about getting a pipe to use as a battering ram from a neighbor, but then decide they don't want any other neighborhoods to be aware of "their" shelter. Jerry claims they are all acting like a mob without any brains.

Frank maintains they should get the pipe from the neighbor and not tell him what it's for, while Marty says he agrees with Jerry. Frank responds that nobody cares what he or his "kind" think, and that the first thing they should do is get rid of him, which he attempts to do by punching Marty in the face and knocking him down.

As air raid sirens go off, Frank and the neighbor rush out to get the battering ram. Grace asks who those people are, and Bill says they are their friends and neighbors of 20 years. He and Paul begin to barricade the door.

Frank and two neighbors come running down the street with a very long pipe while their wives and kids follow them in to Bill's house. They begin to batter the door, eventually breaking it in just as a message comes over CONELRAD announcing that the UFOs have been identified as satellites, that no enemy missiles are approaching, and the state of emergency is called off. The relieved couples embrace.

Frank hesitantly approaches Marty and claims he was scared and didn't mean what he said to him. Jerry says Marty won't hold it against him, just as he believes Bill won't hold their bad behavior against them.

Jerry tells him they'll pay for the damages and Marty suggests they have a block party, which Jerry says will help them get back to normal. Bill says he doesn't know what normal is, and that he's not sure what the damages really are, but thinks one of them may be finding out that his neighbors were willing to claw each other to death just to stay alive. He says that while they were spared a bomb, they may have been destroyed nevertheless.

The stunned, shamefaced neighbors begin to file past the Stockton's demolished dining room and out of the house as Rod Serling provides the voiceover closing to this suburban nightmare:
No moral, no message, no prophetic tract. Just a simple statement of fact. For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized. Tonight's very small exercise in logic from The Twilight Zone. 

BOOM! How's that for a bomb drop? I first saw this episode when there was still a Cold War raging and the threat of nuclear annihilation remained a clear and present danger, and while that environment provides a unique perception of events in this episode, it's not necessary in order to understand the real horror, which is less about nuclear destruction and more about the intense desire for self preservation that inspires the kind of fear that can drive people to acts of stupidity. It is the same fear that has store shelves depleted of toilet paper and other basic necessities.

Rod Serling does not shy away from exposing the intolerant beliefs of some that others are less worthy because of their ethnicity or country of origin. He would be dismayed, though maybe not surprised, to know that those attitudes continue to exist today. Serling has no moral message or judgement to offer, but has us considering what will be revealed about our own true nature when we're stripped down to our core by an intense level of fear, and survival mode kicks in. Would we also claw our friends to death just to survive?

Something to note about the Grasshopper-and-the-Ants-like aspect of the story is Bill's self righteous attitude towards his neighbors. Clearly, there would not have been enough room in the shelter for another family, stressing not only the air reserves, but also whatever latrine facilities were available, so his decision seems just, but his suggestion that they deserve to be obliterated by a bomb because they didn't adequately prepare may have been somewhat insensitive at the time.

Grace has the ultimate point to make in considering whether or not it's worth it to avoid the instant death of the initial blast only to suffer a prolonged and horrible death due to radiation poisoning. It's not surprising that Bill dismisses her notion so eagerly since the whole point to building the shelter disregards that possibility. After seeing how easily a long, thin pipe could break down the door to the shelter, it would have been a moot point anyway.

The Monsters on Maple Street is a companion to this episode in examining how fear can make people act in abhorrent ways, and one I will surely be revisiting soon.

As we make our way through our own contemporary crisis, it is helpful to remember Rod Serling's timeless words. Be civilized, people, and we will get through this.