Wow, I saw The Dead Don’t Die (2019) by accomplished cult director Jim Jarmusch working with an amazing cast and following up his terrific vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive. Wow. Roger Ebert once said something to the effect of “The worst kind of movie is a comedy that doesn’t work.” Yeah. That sums up that The Dead Don’t Die.
So let’s look at a better The Dead Don’t Die, this one a TV movie from the golden age of TV movie horror, the 70s. It’s no classic, but it is a good deal of fun, mainly because watching it now we’re seeing a film made over forty years ago that was trying to re-create the feel of the sort of film made forty years before that… and not a classic noir-type film, but a b-movie horror programmer about resurrected corpses commiting crimes. Karloff did ’em, Lugosi did ’em, Monogram made ’em, they’re all terrible but fun! (The best is the legitimately great Universal serial Gang Busters, which cops out with a Scooby-Doo ending but redeems itself with the villain getting decapitated by a subway train. Jinkies!) It’s not well thought of by critics and horror historians, but it is actually very well done. It’s a Dan Curtis production (king of 70’s TV horror!) with a solid script by the great author Robert Bloch and nice atmospheric direction by genre artiste Curtis Harrington. The cast is full of familiar faces like Ray Milland and Joan Blondell, and, ok, George Hamilton is a terrible leading man but in his defense he’s got more personality than the bland heroes of 30s B-movie horror, like what’s-his-name and that-guy-you-know-he-was-in-that-thing. Plus you get to see Reggie Nalder rise from a coffin which is always fun!
There doesn’t seem to be a good quality version of this out there alas. This one is a VHS rip and the noirish cinematography renders some scenes illegibly dark. Still, give it a whirl! Enjoy!
aka The Trollenberg Terror. Here a nifty little horror movie from the era when the sci-fi boom of the 50’s was just about to give way to the horror revival of the 60’s. It’s sci-fi, it’s horror, it’s two tastes that go great together (except when they don’t). If you haven’t seen or heard of this gruesome little gem get ready for a treat; it was an influence on Carpenter’s The Fog and the titular creatures inspired one of Pennywise’s transformations in the novel It. Plot is good basic horror stuff; weird things are happening on top of the Trollenberg, a Swiss mountain, and they’re connected to a mysterious radioactive cloud. Guess what’s in the cloud. Guess! Guess! (It’s Eye Creatures. Oh sorry, *SPOILER*) And these things are clumsy but really cool. It’s up to Forrest Tucker, very good in this, to save the day! Huzzah!
aka The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue and literally over a dozen other titles – they kept re-releasing this under different names throughout the 70s and 80s. (BTW the original Italian title translates to “Do Not Profane the Sleep of the Dead” which is my favorite of all the titles.) It’s weird to think that, despite the success of George Romero’s original Night og the Living Dead in 1968, it would be another twenty years until zombie movies became relatively common and another twenty after that until they were frickin’ everywhere. In the years between NOTLD and it’s sequel Dawn of the Dead there were less than a handful of similar movies, of which this is probably the best (and still in the ranks of top-flight zombie horror). Basically the plot is that some environmental monkeyshines are causing the dead to arise and shamble about hungrily. But you could see that coming. What we get here is some solid suspense as characters are pursued slowly by the ravenous deadators while screaming in dubbed English. If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you like!
To start with, I’m never going to be the one to defend the Dead End Kids/East Side Kids/Bowery Boys or any of their movies as comic masterpieces. No, for the most part they’re dire-but-watchable examples of the sort of thing that would play as second feature behind some thing more palatabe “A” feature, one that might star James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart (Ha! Do you see what I did there? Both Bogart and Cagney were in early Dead End Kids movies!) Actually, the “kids” started out in “A” pictures that were more about drama and social comment (Angels With Dirty Faces is particularly good) but the natural comedic skills of actors Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall (among others in the gang) led the movies to be more and more antic-dominated (by the 50s they were basically sitcoms). Spooks Run Wild is kind of the transition point; there isn’t much social comment in what is basically the same “Old Dark House” comedy-formula movie that virtually every comedian or comedy team made at least one of from the nineteen-teens up through A Madea Halloween (Abbott and Costello did one the very same year). But you know what, it’s fun, it had a decent budget, there are quite a few laughs, it has Bela Lugosi and Angelo Rossito (a dwarf actor who had a long and interesting career stretching from Tod Browning silents and Freaks to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome), and you know what? It’s only and hour long and you could have probably watched it in the time you spent reading this.
The print is very good, considering that it’s the sort of movie no one made much of an effort to “preserve”.
While we were on the subject of Old Dark House movies (we were, yesterday, remember?) I took a look through the youtube pickings. Well, The Old Dark House is on here, but I also noted The Secret of the Blue Room, which was mentioned as an Old Dark House that compares well to James Whale’s better known The Old Dark House (with Karloff) in Jonathan Rigby’s great book American Gothic. So I thought I’d give it a whirl. And, yes, it is pretty good of its ilk. The house (a castle) is old and dark, there’s a secret passage, skulking figures, and mysterious murders; however you’d be hard pressed to call it horror. It’s mostly a mystery. The plot: anyone who spends the night in the castle’s Blue Room dies or disappears. There is some suggestion that a ghost may be responsible, but that quickly fades when some of the characters start acting shifty. The shiftiest: Lionel Atwill, star of more Universal horror movies than anyone else. Along for the ride: Gloria Stuart (a holdover from The Old Dark House; you millennials know her from Titanic)(no, you’re thinking of Kathy Bates)(no, that was Frances Fisher)(yes, that’s right, that was her); Paul Lukas, bringing the Lugosi accent to the proceedings (Paul was a Hungarian actor who would go on to win an Oscar); House of Dracula‘s Onslow Stevens; and, in the best role, the detective, Edward “Devil and Daniel Webster” Arnold, who is terrific.
It’s not the most Halloweenish thing you’ll watch, but it’s short and well-made. The print here is solid for the time, slight blur, probably struck from a tape source. Enjoy!
Okay, here’s one I KNOW most of you have never see/heard of/even imagined could exist! A Japanese riff on THE HAUNTING! The House of Terrors, also apparently known as The Ghost and the Hunchback, is a terrific 1965 Japanese ghost movie that is unlike any other Japanese ghost movie you’ve ever seen (double that if the only one you’ve ever seen is Hausu). It’s VERY much in the vein of Robert Wise’s moody, angular 1963 classic The Haunting, and even though it’s not quite THAT good it’s still pretty damn good! And for extra fun there’s a steady stream of Euro-horror influence running through it (hence the hunchback). Moody, creepy, beautifully shot – why isn’t this better-known?
Possibly because the only available print seems to be this Italian-dubbed version (don’t worry, there are subtitles in English). It doesn’t take long to get used to, though, and adds to the Euro-horror feel of the piece. The print quality is clean and sharp. Enjoy!
Nowadays it’s easy to forget just how big some TV events could be back in those prehistoric days before cable, ot streaming, or those pockety phone things with all the goose games on them. Back in 1972 a movie called The Night Stalker aired as a TV “Movie of the Week” and about one in every 6 people watched it. That’s a lot of people tuning in to watch a renegatde newsman pursue a vampire. Fortunately for those people, the movie was very, very good. The newsman in question was the now-familar Karl Kochak, played impeccably by Darren McGavin. Watching the film nowadays you might be surprised how gritty it is, especially compared to the later TV series. For instance, Kochak’s girlfriend (Kolchak has a girlfriend in this) is a showgirl who, it’s hinted, is also a former (and maybe current) prositiute. But all the things you love about the TV show are here: the slow buildup of mysterious attacks, Karl’s slow realization that something supernatural might be responsible, the coverup by local government, the final conflict between Karl and the occult nemesis… all here, all done to perfection in the taut script by genre legend Richard Matheson. A must-see.
This is the best version I could find on youtube. There’s some slight blurring to the image but that’s probably the fault of the source material. Better than VHS quality. Enjoy!
Here’s a nifty little number for all you shock-jocks who dig the groove of old TV movies with a comedy vibe a hipster soundtrack that runs the gamut from The Smiths to Three Dog Night. Ok, it’s aimed at a family audience, so no gore, but there is Halloween ambience aplenty as a resurrected witch declares vengeance on the town where she was killed by raising the dead and turning the living into vampires. If it sounds a bit like Paranorman mixed with Night of the Demons and a sprinkling of Ernest: Scared Stupid, yeah, that’s about right. It’s directed by future Sopranos and Game of Thrones director Jack Bender, so it moves at a good clip; the cast includes genre vets like Kevin McCarthy and Dick van Patten; LeVar Burton and Shari Belafonte are two of the leads; Kurtwood Smith is the Sheriff and Wolfman Jack is even in here too (as a DJ, surprise!) It all takes place on Halloween so there’s costumes and pumpkins galore. It’s a lot of fun.
Here’s an interesting and underseen British film from horror’s silver age. It’s all Victorian sciencey fun as two paranormal investigators try to create a device to capture an asphyx, which is a spirit of death that is unique to each person. It’s spooky and cool (marred somewhat by the fact that the asphyx, when captured, bares a slight resemblance to Slimer from Ghostbusters) and definitely something you haven’t seen before.
Or watch it with a crowd! Alone in the Dark is a fun slasher movie from early on in the “slasher” era, which means it’s got more plot than most and a terrific cast besides. Four murderous psychos – Martin Landau (!), Jack Palance (!!), and The Running Man‘s opera-singing gladiator Erland Van Lidth, plus one mystery psycho who doesn’t reveal himself until the finale – escape from a mental institution run by psychiatrist Donald Pleasance, who is a “let them explore their mental spaces man” hippie-doctor type left over from the 70s and pretty much the opposite of Dr. Loomis, his character from Halloween and its sequels. If that doesn’t sound like a movie you have to see, you’re reading the wrong blog. Plus the assured direction of Jack Sholder and a fun script (one of the co-writers was Robert Shaye, who would eventually produce the Lord of the Rings trilogy!) make this an undiscovered gem. Check it out!
This copy looks like a very good VHS rip or a mediocre DVD. Nevertheless it is quite watchable. Enjoy!