Monday, May 30, 2016
Saturday, May 14, 2016
I'm working on switching the Horror Incorporated Project from our old home on Blogger to a new Wordpress platform. Moving data from one platform to another isn't hard, but it takes a lot of monkeying around after the fact.
Once I get everything in place, I'll redirect traffic over to the new digs.
In the meantime, I wanted to give my faithful readers a chance to weigh in on the changes. You can see the new look here.
Happy to hear what you think.
Posted by Uncle Mike at 6:36 PM
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Ivan Tors' Gog has popped up a couple of times on Horror Incorporated and I noted at the time that it's not available in the scope / 3D format in which it was originally released. But that's changed! A delicious restoration was released on Blu-Ray by Kino Lorber last month - and it looks beautiful.
It's available from Amazon. Maybe I'll write a review of the Blu-Ray release next time it comes up on the schedule.
It's available from Amazon. Maybe I'll write a review of the Blu-Ray release next time it comes up on the schedule.
Posted by Uncle Mike at 2:49 PM
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Synopsis: Dr. Larry Forbes (Shepperd Strudwick) arrives in a remote French village to see his fiance, Madelon Renault (Lynne Roberts) and to meet her uncle, the renowned scientist Dr. Robert Renault (George Zucco). Forbes stops at an inn near the village, where he is supposed to meet someone who will take him to the Renault house. But he learns that they will have to cross over a bridge that has been washed out; and as a result he is stranded in the town overnight. He meets Renault's gardener Rogell (Mike Mazursky) and another of Dr. Renault's servants, a strange taciturn man named Noel (J. Carrol Naish).
Noel says he is from Java, and he seems gentle and sensitive, but also uncomfortable, apologizing repeatedly for his behavior, even when he's done nothing wrong. But he becomes enraged when a drunk inn patron makes a remark that Noel sees as insulting to Madelon. Noel grabs the man and seems ready to attack him. But Larry calms him down and the situation is defused.
When he goes up to retire that night Larry finds the drunk has stumbled into his room by mistake and is snoring away on the bed. Larry, amused, goes to sleep in the drunk's unoccupied room next door. But in the morning the drunk is found murdered, strangled by a very powerful assailant. The police question everyone closely, particularly Rogell, who has a criminal record, as well as Noel, who was seen to argue with the murder victim a few hours before the crime.
The police are unsure of whether the intended victim was the drunk or Larry himself, who was after all sleeping in the wrong room. Nevertheless, Larry, Rogell and Noel head out to the Renault estate. Noel drives, and as the car reaches a bend in the road, he abruptly slows the car down to a crawl. To Larry's astonishment, as they proceed around the curve they see a dog crossing the road. Had Noel not slowed down he would have hit it. But how did he know it was there?
Larry seems to find a kindred spirit in Dr. Renault, who has a keen and curious mind. But something bothers Larry about Noel, and he can't put his finger on what it is. Noel seems gentle and kind, extremely loyal to Madelon, but can fly into a murderous rage if provoked. Animals don't seem to like him, and he doesn't seem to like them. He has enormous strength -- more than any one man ought to have. He has senses much keener than any human. And it comforts him greatly when the barber in town gives him a good close shave....
Comments: By my count this is Horror Incorporated's third broadcast of Dr. Renault's Sccret, a Fox release starring J. Carrol Naish and George Zucco, two faces familiar to us from Universal's golden age of horror. Naish in particular helps to redeem the dubious premise with a remarkably sensitive performance; if he felt at all embarrassed playing a manscaped gorilla trying to pass for a man, it isn't obvious here.*
John Landis, commenting at Trailers From Hell, calls it "a very well-made, stupid programmer" but he clearly has a lot of affection for it (he seems to be a big fan of George Zucco too, and really, who isn't?)
Dave Sindelar is more forgiving of the picture than I am, calling it "a little gem", and I concede that the less you expect from it, the better it plays. Naish and Zucco are both outstanding here (Zucco would have made a delightful Hitchcock villain) and in purely technical terms it has a polish and snap to it that is distinctly lacking in even the best poverty row entries, including our second feature, The Devil Bat.
While it isn't obvious at first glance, the story of Dr. Renault's Secret resembles that of Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein imbues a living creature with sentience but won't take responsibility for his actions, leaving his creation to suffer the cruelties inflicted by Fritz. In Dr. Renault's Secret, Renault himself taunts and belittles the simple and childlike Noel, leaving us to wonder why he would create a human life if he places so little value in it. And like many scientists in the post-Frankenstein era, Dr. Renault conducts research for no reason but to inflate his own ego by meddling in God's domain. Both movies feature physical and quite sympathetic performances by the actors portraying the monsters. And, of course, neither Frankenstein nor Renault publish their results in any peer-reviewed journals.
*George Zucco was in so many Shock! package movies we never have to wait long for him to appear, but we haven't seen a lot of J. Carrol Naish lately. Dr. Renault's Secret popped up a couple times earlier in 1972, but before that his most recent appearance on Horror Incorporated (not counting his small role in The Beast With 5 Fingers, which we saw in May) was in House of Frankenstein on June 5, 1971. The last time we saw Calling Dr. Death, which featured Naish as a dogged police detective, was way back on February 14, 1970. Speaking of Calling Dr. Death and the other Inner Sanctum mysteries, they turned up pretty frequently in Horror Incorporated's first year, but they seem to have disappeared - the last one broadcast was The Frozen Ghost on Saturday, September 12, 1970, more than two years ago.
The Devil Bat
Synopsis: Dr. Paul Carruthers (Bela Lugosi) is a brilliant chemist who works for a cosmetics company. Years ago the company had given him a choice: he could be compensated with a share in the profits, or with a straight salary. He chose the latter. Unfortunately for him, the company went on to become a huge player in the cosmetics industry, and it's clear that the percentage deal would have made him extremely wealthy. As it is, he's well-compensated, but he missed out on a fortune that he himself helped to build. The Heath family, which owns the company, is aware of how much they owe Dr. Carruthers. As far as they know, he's as happy as a clam in his laboratory.
The Heath family decides to throw a party in Dr. Carruthers' honor - and they also secretly plan to award him a bonus check of $5,000. But the good doctor is late to his own party. He's busy working. You see, behind a secret passage in his laboratory is another lab -- and in this one he is breeding giant carnivorous bats! And that's not all -- he has created a scent that drives the bats wild with rage.
After Carruthers fails to show up at his own party, young Roy Heath (John Ellis) decides to drop by and give Dr. Carruthers the check in person. When he finds Carruthers the scientist seems delighted by the check, and he gives Roy something in return - a bottle of experimental shaving lotion. "Be sure to put some on the tender part of the neck," Carruthers advises, and Roy, gamely, does so. But he doesn't walk more than fifty or so yard out in the open before a giant bat swoops out of the sky, killing him.
At the offices of the Chicago Daily Register, smart-alec reporter Johnny Layton (Dave O'Brien) is sent out to cover the story. Chief Wilkins of the Heathville police tells Layton that Roy was attacked by some kind of animal; moreover, there were hairs found on the victim that seemed to be those of a mouse. Layton wonders if the hairs might be from a bat -- as bats and mice are quite similar -- and asks if he can "do some sleuthing around" on the case, and the police chief says it's fine by him.
At the Heath estate, Johnny interviews Mary Heath (Suzanne Kaaren), and it's clear that a mutual attraction is brewing. Dr. Carruthers agrees that Roy was attacked by an animal, and that night Layton and his sidekick / photographer "One-Shot" McGuire (Donald Kerr) wait out at the edge of the Heath grounds hoping the creature will show up. Mary comes out to keep Layton company, and before long they are joined by Heath sibling Tommy (Alan Baldwin), who's just been to visit Dr. Carruthers and who has also received a bottle of the special shaving lotion. After Tommy scoffs at the idea of an animal killing Roy, he strides off toward the mansion. But soon the others hear him calling for help -- and arrive just in time to see Tommy attacked by a giant bat!
Now it's a big story -- the Daily Register is running banner headlines about the "Devil Bat" -- but Layton's editor isn't satisfied. They need a picture of the bat, and Layton gets an idea: One-Shot can get the local taxidermist to create a fake Devil Bat, take a picture of it, and fool the editor. Unfortunately, a "Made In Japan" tag gives away the ruse, and both Layton and One-Shot are fired. Now they have two tasks: find out the truth about the Devil Bat, and find a way to get their old jobs back....
Comments: As I've noted a number of times on this site, Universal responded to Bela Lugosi's success as the star of Dracula with an ambivalent strategy: they relegated him to minor roles, while at the same time playing up his name in the marketing materials. Slowly but surely they edged Lugosi right off the lot.
But in the poverty-row houses Lugosi was never anything less than a genuine star, and he won the lion's share of screen time even when the scripts were poor and budgets were meager -- which was approximately always. Probably the best of these Lugosi programmers was PRC's The Devil Bat, a film that attacks --with great relish -- a premise that one might describe as, erm, "batshit crazy".
Indeed, the craziest thing about Dr. Carruther's revenge plot isn't that he breeds huge carnivorous bats and unleashes them to kill his enemies. It's that his plot actually works. No sooner do his intended victims step out the front door than a bat swoops in and rips out their jugular veins. If Carruthers was interested in getting rich, he should have just patented his process and sold it to the military -- imagine entire Panzer divisions scattering in terror as clouds of huge, bloodthirsty bats descend from the skies!
Now that we're thinking about it, why would Dr. Carruthers use a bat at all? Most bats eat insects or fruit (vampire bats drink blood, of course, but they're pretty dainty about it; they nibble through skin with their teeth and lap up whatever small amount of blood comes out. Getting killed by one of them would take quite a while).
Hence stage one in Dr. Carruther's plan: using electricity (or something) to make his bats super-sized. Stage two: conditioning the bat to react with rage at a specific smell (e.g., Old Spice aftershave). Then, stage three: get his unlucky victim to slap on some lotion while inside his house, usher them out the door, run down to the basement, pull the lever releasing the killer bat, and hope for the best.
Sorry, but this seems like an awful lot of work. I get that using a .38 would rob you of the poetic justice of killing the Heaths with their own products, but really. If you're so determined to outsource your murders to an animal, why not condition a mountain lion or a bear to go after your quarry? At least they've been known to kill people.*
I guess this is why they call them "mad scientists" and not simply "unreasonably angry but nonetheless practical scientists". The Devil Mountain Lion wouldn't have looked right on a movie marquee either. Still, I can't imagine pitching this story to any film studio. Even Universal -- which released plenty of dogs from its cinematic kennel over the years -- wouldn't have touched this one with a ten-foot pole. But all things were possible at PRC, and even stupid ideas could get greenlighted, provided they were lurid and exciting enough. And this one was both.
*If it were me, I'd breed skunks to react with rage at the smell of the lotion; it wouldn't kill the Heaths, but it would sure be entertaining.
Posted by Uncle Mike at 10:26 PM
Friday, April 8, 2016
The one person in town who adores Dr. Adrian is Frances Clifford (Maris Wrixon), a young woman stricken with polio. Dr. Adrian dotes on her like his own daughter, and this causes resentment from Frances' jealous jerk of a boyfriend Danny (Gene O'Donnell).
Dr. Adrian has been experimenting with the spinal fluid of animals, and he believes he is getting closer to perfecting a serum that will cure those who've been stricken with polio. At about the same time, a circus comes to town, and Dr. Adrian encourages Danny to take Frances to see it. Late the same night, an ape badly injures its trainer and escapes from the circus. The trainer is brought to Dr. Adrian's surgery, but it is clear that the man has little chance of survival.
Soon Dr. Adrian has created a human serum and he begins to treat Frances with it. The serum causes great pain to her legs, which alarms Danny, but Dr. Adrian sees this as an encouraging sign, since the paralysis had left her without any feeling in her legs whatsoever. Meanwhile, the ape, which is still on the loose, kills another man, and Dr. Adrian must sign the death certificate.
Frances' reaction to the spinal fluid treatment is encouraging. While the pain in her legs is growing worse, she is able to move her foot a little -- a clear sign that Dr. Adrian's treatment is working.
Late one night the ape breaks into Dr. Adrian's lab. Dr. Adrian is able to kill it but not before it smashes his vials of serum. He decides to keep the ape's death a secret.
Soon the county coroner comes to visit Adrian. It seems the two victims of the ape were both found to have puncture wounds in the spine -- as though Dr. Adrian had injected something into the men -- or extracted something.
Before long, Dr. Adrian is wearing the ape's skin and prowling the neighborhood, knowing that the gorilla will be blamed for the murders he needs to commit in order to help Frances....
Comments: Dave Sindelar (of Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings fame) says that the ending to this movie nearly brought him to tears when he was a kid. And that might be the nicest thing anyone's ever said about it.
The Ape is certainly a better movie than Monster a Go Go, tonight's second feature. But nearly every film can safely make that claim. No matter how much goodwill I bring to watching The Ape I find myself periodically checking my watch. And the movie is only 57 minutes long.
Curt Siodmak wrote the screenplay, but there's nothing to tip you off that he worked on it aside from a preoccupation with spinal fluid. Say what you like about Siodmak, he was a solid craftsman, but for whatever reason - most likely a poverty-row insistence that good money ought not to be wasted on frills like second drafts -- the script isn't even competent.
There are plenty of plot holes and general nonsense to be found here, but I think the biggest problem is the character of Dr. Adrian himself. Not only does he violate the laws of God and man in his quest to procure spinal fluid for young Frances' serum (we expect that; it's a given for the mad scientist subgenre) but he abandons all common sense along the way. Dressing up like a gorilla doesn't do him any good unless somebody sees him (the gorilla costume doesn't give him the strength of an ape, it just makes him look like one); and if somebody sees him they're likely as not going to shoot him (Dr. Adrian's final tally while wearing the ape suit: shot three times, stabbed once). Had he skulked around as Dr. Adrian, he could have dreamed up some excuse for doing so if caught -- looking for the gorilla, for example. That's what the rest of the yokels are doing out in the woods in the middle of the night.
Even setting this aside, what was Dr. Adrian going to do, once he has strangled someone out in the woods in the guise of the gorilla? Why, insert a needle into the base of the skull and withdraw spinal fluid, of course. That an autopsy would quickly discover this never seems to occur to Dr. Adrian, even though autopsies revealed exactly that in both of the previous two victims. How would he explain that? "Oh, I was walking out in the woods and this fellow was lying there, dead. So...."
As long as Dr. Adrian is acting irrationally, why not murder Frances' jerk boyfriend Danny, whom he at least has a reason to kill? For all Dr. Adrian's avuncular kindness to the young girl, I'm not entirely convinced his motives are as pure as he lets on. So murdering Danny would be a more interesting plot development than strangling some unsuspecting townie.
Aside from one William Henry Pratt, a.k.a. Boris Karloff (who could probably play these sorts of roles in his sleep by this time), this film features the lovely Maris Wrixon as Frances. Wrixon was an up-and-coming actress on the Warner lot who never quite made it as a star, and she spent more time loaned out to Monogram than she ever did at the studio that actually signed her contract. After Warner dropped her, she quickly vanished. But she was a winning presence here, as she was in another Monogram mad scientist picture, the John Carradine vehicle The Face of Marble.
Monster a Go Go
Synopsis: A Mercury space capsule returns to Earth far off course, landing in the Illinois countryside. Dr. Chris Manning (Peter Thompson) and Dr. Steve Connors (Philip Morton) are dispatched by NASA to recover the vehicle. They find that it was badly damaged upon re-entry and contaminated with massive amounts of radiation. The astronaut, Frank Douglas (Henry Hite), is nowhere to be found.
Before long, reports of a ten-foot tall creature wearing a silver suit begin to filter in. The thing is wandering across the countryside, leaving bodies and destruction in its wake. Manning and Brent quickly realize that this is Douglas, irradiated and apparently mutated into some kind of monster.
Dr. Conrad Logan and his assistant, Dr. Nora Kramer (Losi Brooks), try to work out what has happened to Douglas. They determine that the emits a field of deadly radiation around it that extends out about 10 feet. The field is gradually growing, and if the creature isn't stopped the field will grow to hundreds of feet in diameter. This is especially troubling since the monster is making its way toward Chicago.
Dr. Logan manages to capture the creature and gives it doses of an anti-radiation drug. But it breaks loose and heads toward the city.
The civil defense forces manage to corner the thing in the sewers of Chicago. They pursue it, but what can they do, even if they manage to corner it?
Comments: You would think a movie about the hunt for an astronaut-turned-radioactive-monster that's shambling through the woods, killing teenagers while they make out in their cars, would be at least mildly interesting. But Monster a Go Go is about as exciting and suspenseful as a how-to video about drywall installation.
The movie is an almost unwatchable mashup of terrible footage shot by Bill Rebane (the clueless, utterly talentless director of The Giant Spider Invasion) and unrelated scenes added by the sharp-eyed exploitation director Herschell Gordon Lewis (I previously posted a review, if you're interested). The title Monster a Go Go was apparently Lewis', and it might be the best thing about the movie; along with the opening credits, which show the mutated astronaut's silver boots stomping along, superimposed over a starry background, as rock-n-roll thumps and twangs away in the background. It sets a tone to which the movie seems to aspire, but never achieves: cool and trippy, a waking dream informed by all the square sci-fi movies of the past. Handled right, it could have been a clever and arty and slightly subversive romp.
But the counterculture had not yet seeped into science fiction films, and wouldn't until the 1970s, when indie films like Dark Star, Zardoz and A Boy and His Dog began turning up in cinemas -- movies filled with irony and antiheroes and downbeat endings. In any case, Rebane's material isn't even competent on its own terms; and Lewis, though at least able to discern what a drive-in audience might like, isn't interested in anything more than showing some horny teenagers in danger.
In the end, what Rebane contributed was beyond anyone's ability to redeem. He had apparently never heard the phrase "show, don't tell" in relation to screenwriting, and his scenes are painfully static. Without fail the most interesting incidents occur offscreen, and we only hear about them third-hand as characters stand around and endlessly drone on about them. Never has a movie worked so hard to drive away its audience.
I thought of adding something about the movie's daffy and nonsensical ending, but it hardly seems worthwhile. I suspect very few people who started watching this turkey made it all the way to the end. Let's just assume that no who one saw this one on Horror Incorporated got that far.
Posted by Uncle Mike at 4:08 PM