G: The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)

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the-ghost-of-frankenstein-movie-poster-1942-1020143650You probably know that Universal is currently trying to gin up a Marvel-style “shared universe” for all their stock monsters; what’s annoying is that they’re pretending this is something new, when anybody who’s seen any of the 40s Universal monster movies know this was already the case. (Also annoying is that the studio will almost certainly try to make them all moody anti-heroes, but that is a rant for another time)

Ghost follows directly after 1939’s Son of Frankenstein, starring Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff in his last outing as the Monster. The villagers, as usual, are pissed off and certain that Frankenstein is the cause of all their problems, even though there hasn’t been a Frankenstein in the castle for years. They decide to blow up the castle, mainly because Ygor (Bela Lugosi) managed to survive getting shot in the last movie. The Burgomeister goes, “Fine, fine.” All the explosions manage to do is free the apparently immortal Monster (now Lon Chaney Jr.) from the sulfur pit he fell into back in 1939.

ghost-lobby-cardYgor takes his “friend” to the brother of Frankenstein (a less-intriguing title than Ghost of Frankenstein, to be sure) Ludwig Frankenstein (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), who runs a “Hospital for Diseased Minds”. Along the way the Monster manages to kill a couple of villagers who get in the way of the creature’s attempt to retrieve the ball of a little girl who is totally unfrightened of her “giant”. Ludwig eventually brings the Monster into his hospital with the intention of destroying it, but the appearance of the ghost of his father (title fulfillment – 100%! Though sadly it’s not Colin Clive, who had died five years previous), pointing out that all Ludwig need do is replace the Monster’s defective brain, convinces him to join the family business.

Ludwig’s plan runs aground when Ygor prevails upon his assistant, Bohmer (Lionel Atwill) to transplant his brain into the indestructible creature, with predictably dire results. Those results would even carry into the next movie in the series, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, which would feature Lugosi as the Monster. Sensible because Chaney lip-synching Lugosi’s lines after the transplant isn’t entirely successful, and, of course, Chaney had to play the Wolf Man. But that is yet another rant for yet another time.

ygorGhost bends itself into some interesting shapes to get all its story elements in (the means by which the villagers are made to storm yet another edifice of Frankenstein is especially suspect), but overall it’s an enjoyable way to spend 67 minutes. And that cast! Besides Hardwicke, Chaney and Lugosi, Evelyn Ankers is Elsa Frankenstein, Ralph Bellamy is the local prosecutor (and Elsa’s boyfriend). Atwill had been the one-armed Inspector Krogh in Son, and just so you don’t start deluding yourself that in-joke casting is a modern thing, Dwight Frye, the original hunchback assistant in Frankenstein, in on hand as two different villagers. You have to drill down into what Will McKinley calls “old movie weirdo”-dom to recognize I Love A Mystery‘s Barton Yarborough as the doomed Dr. Kettering. And whatever else, Ygor is pretty much the last of Lugosi’s classic roles, and it deserves some respect.

Ghost isn’t really any sort of a major linchpin in the continuing mythology of Universal Monsters, but it should be watched just for that amazing cast. And especially just for Lugosi.

Buy The Ghost of Frankenstein on Amazon

Z: Zombies on Broadway (1945)

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zombies_on_broadway_poster_03I believe it was Hubrisween Host Tim Lehnerer who pointed out that if you’re doing an A-Z challenge of horror movies, you are inevitably going to end up in zombie territory (especially if you’ve sworn to never watch Zaat! again). So it’s a good thing I recently came off my ten-year moratorium against zombie movies. I guess.

There is no denying there has been an absolute glut of zombie movies over the past decade and more, and though I expected everyone to get sick and tired of them, nooooooooo, they just got more insanely popular. The recent Walking Dead season premiere broke records. We’ve had a $200 million dollar zombie flick starring Brad Pitt, for God’s sake. George Romero had no idea what the hell he was starting when he was prepping a calling card to the motion picture industry back in 1968.

Poster_-_White_Zombie_01_Crisco_restorationBut what all this misses is that there was another zombie craze, back in the 1930s and extending into the 40s. Back before zombies started munching guts. Though nowhere near as prolific as their modern cousins, zombie movies were kicked off by the 1932 White Zombie, which four years later spawned a loose sequel, Revolt of the Zombies. The high point of this cycle is undeniably Jacques Tourneurs I Walked With a Zombie, and by 1945, it was high time for the zombie to be returned to his grave with a comedy, Zombies on Broadway, three years before Abbott & Costello would similarly put paid to the Universal Monsters.


“You do know you guys aren’t funny, don’t ya?”

 Zombies on Broadway introduces us to the comedy team of Wally Brown and Alan Carney, who are pretty much in the mold of Abbott and Costello, though Brown’s Jerry Miles is more sympathetic than most of Bud Abbott’s screen characters (Brown and Carney were, in fact, known as “RKO’s answer to Abbott and Costello”). The two have been hired as press agents for Ace Miller (Sheldon Leonard), a gangster who’s gone semi-legit and is opening a voodoo-themed night club called The Zombie Hut. Brown and Carney have been doing a bang-up job on the PR, but they’ve made two mistakes…

…the first was the brilliant idea to advertise that a “real zombie” would appear at the club’s opening. The second is basing their radio campaign on a broadcaster who turns out to be Ace’s bete noir, Douglas Walker (Louis Jean Heydt) a weisenheimer crusader type who delights in needling the mobster on the air. This is like asking Jon Stewart to publicize Bill O’Reilly’s new country club. And worse yet, Walker knows the washed-up prize-fighter the boys intended to pass off as a zombie.

BELA-ZOMBIESWhen Walker promises to bring some professor types to vet Ace’s zombie, things get heavy for Brown and Carney, who are forced to board a ship bound for the mythical island of Saint Sebastian, to return with a real zombie or face Ace’s rather drastic consequences. You’ll recognize Saint Sebastian from the aforementioned I Walked With a Zombie. Those seem to be the same sets, too, and oh look, there’s Sir Lancelot, King of the Calypso, acting as a Greek chorus when the boys get off the ship.

zombies on broadway (5)That’s not the only holdover from that infinitely superior movie. I’m not talking about Bela Lugosi, who is playing Dr. Paul Renault, mad scientist who is attempting to create a zombie scientifically, I’m talking about the genuine zombie in his employ, Darby Jones, who was the eerie Carrefour in the earlier film. Here, he’s a zombie named Kalaga, and gets lots more screen time, which rather cuts down on the eerieness.

Brown and Carney also pick up a spunky knife-throwing singer (Anne Jeffries) who promises to help them find a zombie if they’ll get her off the island. She’s also going to wind up on Lugosi’s list of potential subjects, but it’s Carney who will wind up with the bulging eyeballs of the zombie, and the boys’ potential savior back in New York, until the sight of a pretty cigarette girl causes him to shake off the effects of Lugosi’s experimental serum, and hilarity supposedly ensues.


Find the funny guys in this scene. HINT: They’re all on the left.

Zombies on Broadway is reasonably well-made, and took in enough at the box office to ensure a sequel, Genius at Work, once again involving Lugosi. Sadly, Brown and Carney lack the charisma and chemistry of other comedy duos, and have thus faded into obscurity. The voodoo rituals which seemed fairly authentic in I Walked With a Zombie degenerate into a jungle hoodoo hugger-mugger more in keeping with the jungle sets from the Tarzan movies (which were used). It tries earnestly be a horror comedy in the vein of The Ghost Breakers but never manages to hit the heights of the movies it imitates. Brown and Carney simply can’t carry an extended vehicle, and when your two comedy stars are effortlessly upstaged by the then-obligatory Comical Superstitious Negro Janitor (Nick Stewart), you have a definite problem.

It would have been nice to end Hubrisween on a more positive note, but then: there was a reason I swore off zombie movies for a decade. That reason just went back further than I suspected.

Zombies on Broadway on Amazon

The ABCs of March, Part Five

Previously on Yes, I Know: A through E  F through J  K through O  P through T

U: Upstream Color (2013)

upstreamA lot of us know about Shane Carruth through his first feature, Primer. If you’re any kind of a science fiction fan, you’ve probably seen it. If not, well… it’s currently not on Netflix Instant, which is where I first encountered it, but it’s definitely worth seeking out, a time travel story that’s brainy, dense, and remarkably free of the usual claptrap that surrounds such stories. Also, like the best Nolan movies, you need to pay attention every minute, and your gray matter is going to get a workout.

Now take that and square it, and you may be ready to approach Upstream Color.

Any attempt at a synopsis is going to get nightmarishly complex. Check out any of those on various streaming media, and you will find yourself wondering, “What movie did they watch?” I’m no better, but here goes:

A guy called only Thief (Thiago Martins) has found a worm that lives in certain exotic orchids; if a person ingests it, the parasite makes them instantly docile and extremely susceptible to brainwashing techniques, which he uses to steal every cent they have and cover his tracks… in case they survive the harrowing aftermath. At the beginning of the movie, he does this to Kris (Amy Seimetz), leaving her dazedly trying to cut out the worms scurrying under her skin with a butcher knife. Another mystery man called The Sampler (Andrew Sensenig) attracts her to a remote location with electronic music that is also coaxing normal earthworms out of the ground. He uses a crude but effective method to get the parasites out of Kris and into an anesthetized pig. The next day, Kris awakes as if from a nightmare, and attempts to try to put her completely destroyed life back together.

Eventually Jeff (our auteur, Shane Carruth) becomes attracted to her, and a relationship forms. Jeff, it turns out, has a similar black hole in his life, in which he abused his position as a broker to embezzle a lot of funds. They start finding out they have a lot of things in common, and a lot of things they shouldn’t have in common, because their identities are still fractured and bleeding into each other. The Sampler is not as beneficent as he seems; he has a whole herd of pigs, all carrying parasites from other victims, and he uses the connections these parasites still have with their former hosts to sample their lives.

upstream-color-pigs-croppedThat is about as bare bones yet cohesive as I can get. Like Primer, there is a hell of a lot of grist for the conversation mill here. Where it’s going to differ from Primer, though, is that much of that is so much more abstruse than its predecessor. The motivations of The Sampler are still beyond my comprehension, and that may in fact be the point: our lives are frequently shaped by unknowable forces, by people who we will never meet but nonetheless have power over us. I found it hypnotic and engrossing; others are just going to be pissed off.

One of my major frustrations with fiction is a perverse one – I love having a mystery to ponder, so much so that I feel let down when that mystery is solved (probably the main reason I liked Lost so much, even though most people use it as a swear word these days). I’m still chewing on Upstream Color days later. I like that.  Some people won’t. I’m okay with that. (This being the Internet, I also find that this tolerance is not reciprocated, and I expect I will soon be told why I am an idiot. Whatever.)

Upstream Color on Amazon

V: Vampyr (1932)

vampyrposterAnother one I had seen twenty years or so ago (on laserdisc, no less).

Carl Theodor Dreyer was looking for a more commercial property after his Passion of Joan of Arc was a critical and box office failure. (It is now, of course, widely regarded as a masterpiece) So hey, why not a horror movie? Remembering the problems Murnau went through with Nosferatu and a litigious Florence Stoker, he derived his inspiration from a collection of stories by Sheridan Le Fanu, In A Glass Darkly, which had recently gone into the public domain – so odd to consider that at the time, these things happened automatically 50 years after a creator’s death.

Supposedly Vampyr is based on the famous story “Carmilla”, which Hammer Films would go on to milk some forty years later. I say supposedly because the only thing the two have in common is a female vampire – and after gender, we draw the line.

A young traveler, Alan Gray (Julian West) stops at a remote inn; he is visited by a man who tells him, “She must not die,” and leaves him with a small package that is labeled “To be opened in the event of my death”. Gray investigates, and soon finds himself embroiled in the woes of a family being afflicted by the title creature,  aided by the village doctor. The man who visited him (the father of the victim) is assassinated by one of the vampire’s henchmen, so the package is opened: it contains a book about vampires, which turns out to be damned handy, as it even name checks the woman who is causing all the trouble.

vampyr460There is a delirious, dream-like quality about Vampyr, even before its most famous sequence, when Gray, pursuing the doctor into the night, passes out because he’s still weak from a blood transfusion given to the dying victim. He has an out-of-body experience in which his body is sealed into a coffin with a window over his wide-open eyes, and taken to a churchyard to be buried.

Besides the constant barrage of dream imagery and labyrinthine buildings for our protagonist to wander through, Dreyer’s camera is often in motion for very modern, swift dolly moves, at times feeling like a chiaroscuro Shining without benefit of a Steadicam. Most of the movie is silent, with the very few pieces of dialogue recorded by a still-experimental method; the silent parts show all the power and expertise of Dreyer’s mastery of that form.

The vampire storyline itself is pretty standard stuff these days, after almost a century of such tales. What sets Vampyr apart is that marvelous visual palette, and the embellishments wrought by Dreyer: shadows detached from the bodies that cast them, a vampire that is so obviously an old woman, certainly not the Ingrid Pitt Carmilla.

The major fun I have in considering the movie is that “Julian West” – actually the film’s financier, the Baron Nicolas de Gunzberg – looks a little like H.P. Lovecraft, and the villainous Doctor (Jan Hieronimko, a Polish journalist – Dreyer liked using non-actors) has a passing resemblance to Albert Einstein. I like to think of the two of them as pals, filming a movie with borrowed equipment on the weekends, Lovecraft playing hookey from his writing and Einstein from his chalkboards. That, though, is a silly thing, and shouldn’t take away from my admiration for Dreyer’s final product.

Vampyr on Amazon

W: White Zombie (1932)

Yeah, somehow I’d manaPoster_-_White_Zombie_01_Crisco_restorationged to live my life without seeing this one either.

In a Haiti with a curiously small black population, Neil Parker  (John Harron) has brought in his lady love Pamela  (Madge Bellamy) to get married. On the boat over, Pamela encountered rich scalawag Charles Beaumont (Robert Frazer), who wants Pamela for his own. Under the guise of letting the two marry in his mansion, Beaumont sets to work trying to steal her from her man. When this doesn’t work, he enlists the help of local witch doctor Murder Legendre (Bela Lugosi).

Using a drug Legendre gave him, Beaumont poisons Pamela on her wedding day. She apparently dies, is laid to rest in a tomb, and is later exhumed by Legendre and his hit squad of zombies, all former enemies he has now enslaved. Beaumont is troubled by the fact that the woman he wanted is now a blanked slate, a zombie herself, which leads Legendre to poison him, too, Meanwhile, Neal rouses himself from his multi-day drunk to take on Legendre with the aid of  a sympathetic missionary (Joseph Cawthorn).

White-Zombie-1932White Zombie has some memorable images – the one you see quoted in documentaries whenever the movie is mentioned is Legendre’s zombies toiling away in his sugar mill, with one zombie slipping and falling into the cane mill’s blades, without the other zombies noticing or caring. But really, the movie belongs to Lugosi, at the height of his powers, before he became a cliche over-used by hack directors. He has several moments of cold-blooded villainy that will simply take your breath away.

The movie gets points from me for employing “the zombie drug” alluded to in Serpent and the Rainbow, offering up a somewhat rational explanation for the goings-on, even if that goes out the window with Legendre’s psychic power over his zombie slaves, embodied in the “zombie grip” of his two hands clasped together. White Zombie has another thing in common with Vampyr, too, in that the older character – the missionary here, the manservant in Vampyr – does all the heroic stuff. Take that, you young hooligans.

White Zombie on Amazon

Is it my imagination or is that Criswell doing the narration on this trailer?

 X: Xtro (1983)

XtroWell, here’s a movie starting with X I hadn’t seen yet.

Sam Phillips (Phillip Sayer) is abducted by a UFO in full sight of his young son, Tony (Simon Nash). Three years later,  Sam returns, but in a spectacularly gross and gruesome way that results in the death of three people. He shows back up at his old apartment, claiming amnesia. His wife (Bernice Stegers) is understandably confused but sympathetic, her new boyfriend (Joe Daniels) is pretty pissed off, and the au pair girl (Maryam D’Abo, debuting here) just wants to screw her boyfriend. Tony is ecstatic to have his dad back, especially once Dad infects him with some alien DNA and he starts getting psychic powers.

As if his bloody, mutating return didn’t make it obvious, Sam is no longer human. His main mission seems to be retrieving his son, but there is a much darker purpose to his visit, and it involves eggs laid in Maryam D’abo. By the kid.

Xtro1Xtro is beloved by a lot of people, because it is pretty weird in all the right ways and gooey in others. The initial return, a costume utilizing a man spidering around with a face glued to the back of his head, is suitably freaky; but just as effective are more subtle scenes, such as Sam turning on a gas heater but not lighting it, contentedly breathing in the toxic fumes.

Where the movie starts losing me is when it falls into the 80s trope of becoming a body count movie, with Tony using his newfound psychic powers to get rid of busybodies and interlopers. The alien has a dozen different ways to kill people (and uses them all, just to keep the proceedings fresh) and the kid can apparently create matter at will, using the power of his mind. Why all the subterfuge? If these aliens are so immensely powerful, why do these things in secret?

There are at least two sequels, but unless I’m desperate again for an X movie, there nothing here to interest me.

 Y: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

220px-YoungmrlincolnYeah, there’s a change that’ll give you whiplash.

This is a rah-rah end-of-the-Depression years John Ford movie with all the fixin’s, produced under the steely eye of Darryl F. Zanuck, and starring Henry Fonda (with a fake nose and trick boots to make him taller) as the Great Man. And God, is it ever good.

This takes Abe from his early days running a general store (when a family who can’t pay for any provisions off-handedly mention they do have a lot of worthless old books in the back of their wagon, oh how his eyes light up); it skips over his time in the legislature and gets right to his days as a “jackleg lawyer”, operating only off the knowledge he’s gleaned from those “worthless old books”. He’s not doing bang-up business, either, until a murder at Springfield’s annual picnic gains him a client and a mission to save two young men from the gallows, not to mention a lynch mob.

yml1This is period-piece myth-making, a form at which Ford truly excelled. Though the case is based on an actual one, Lincoln was not the attorney, and he probably never pulled a 19th Century Perry Mason act either, dramatically revealing the true murderer at the last moment. But dammit, he should have, and I don’t mind being told he did. It’s an early example of the central tenet of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It’s not a documentary, nor was it ever claimed to be; but in this era of gritty reboots and revisionism, I don’t mind being told a figure I’ve admired across the ages actually might have been an okay fellow.

Young Mr. Lincoln on Amazon

Z: Zatoichi (1989)

zatoichiYep, I saved one for this. Also known as Zatoichi: Darkness Is His Ally, this is Shintaro Katsu’s swan song to the character, and it fell outside the scope of the Criterion Box Set I ran through a few months ago.

I’d like to give you a nice plot summary here, but there actually isn’t one. There’s the usual essential elements of a Zatoichi movie: a young and ruthless yakuza assassinating his way to the top, a thoroughly corrupt official, and… eventually… an attractive young lady for the official to attempt to force himself upon. Of course, a ronin who is impressed by Ichi, and is tasked with taking Ichi down. Groups of guys show up occasionally to kill him. We’re never really sure who’s sending them. Maybe it’s a subscription service or something.

Ichi meanders from one of these elements to another, once more trotting out his scam at a crooked gambling house where he makes the less scrupulous gangsters bet on dice that have fallen outside the cup, only to show that the real dice they should be betting on were inside the cup all the time. As usual, this results in a bunch of bilked baddies trying to kill him, but a high-ranking female yakuza chief intercedes. Later, she’ll have a dalliance with the aged Ichi in a bath, and we find out that “bring our efforts to fruition” is period slang for “simultaneous orgasm”.

zatoichi-1989Well, it’s an Ichi movie, so we know he’s eventually going to kill the corrupt official to rescue the innocent girl, then go up the street to kill all the local yakuza, who have been obligingly cutting their numbers in half with a turf war of their own, anyway. The thing is, Ichi’s dealings with these gangsters has been minimal, so that really is how it seems: he’s in the neighborhood, sword-cane’s out, might as well slaughter a hundred guys.

It’s an unfortunate, more-of-the-same end note for the character, or at least Katsu’s version, which was also the only version for nearly thirty years. One really hopes for more, but one also has to realize that not every cultural icon gets to make a Shootist or an Unforgiven. More’s the pity.


The October Country Trek Begins

I love October. It’s my birthday month, temperatures finally begin to cool in the hellhole where I’ve set up shop, but above all, the macabre becomes the law of the land. Yeah, I watch a lot of horror movies, but in October, everybody watches horror movies. Unless they’re wusses. You’re not a wuss, are you?

That’s a hard sell, this year, The popular challenge is “31 Nights of Horror”, but if I’m not working evenings at Job 2 or Job 3, I’m trying to churn out 1000 words a night on a writing contract (yes, four jobs, because like all liberals, I am such a fucking moocher. Bitterness intended), and this does not leave a whole lot of time for movie watching. Yet, I manage, such is the siren call of the horror movie. I can sleep when I’m dead (or collapse from exhaustion).

220px-Prince_of_darknessIt feels like I’ve been championing Prince of Darkness forever; ignored at the box office, lambasted by critics. So I, of course, love it – it’s the sort of mashing up of science and horror I really enjoy, and director John Carpenter’s choice of pseudonyms for the screenplay credit – “Martin Quatermass” – really points up his desire to do a Nigel Kneale-type picture. Although the last faux Kneale movie he was involved with, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, didn’t do so hot, either.

Supported by one of Carpenter’s creepiest soundtracks, the opening of Prince is marvelous in its precision; an elderly Catholic priest dies before his appointment with the Cardinal, and thus Donald Pleasence discovers the Brotherhood of Sleep, who have kept in the basement of their discarded church an ancient, sealed vat of green liquid which has begun agitating itself of its own accord. The problem is, the substance, locked away in the vial, is getting more active. Actually, the problem is it appears to be Satan.

So the priest reaches out to Professor Birack (Victor Wong), a quantum physicist who had engaged in a series of televised debates with him years earlier. Birack and a troop of graduate students set up shop in the church, hoping to quantify just what the liquid actually is – and that process leads to madness, death, possession, and an army of the homeless led by Alice Cooper.

prince-of-darkness-liquid-container-devilThis was Carpenter’s first independent production in years, and it’s nice to see him blossom again on a comparatively low budget. Some concessions are made to this lack of money, as in the cost-effective menace of homeless schizophrenics (a constant lightning rod for PC bitching). Bits of questionable science provide grist for nerd pedant complaints, but good grief, I realize faster-than-light travel is impossible, but I still watch Star Trek. Even I wince at the ancient astronauts angle, which is so outlandish that I expect to see Prince of Darkness playing regularly on what now passes for The History Channel.

Thing is, I don’t care. I love this movie, one of the last movies to actually frighten me in a theater. There is so much here that is good, I can actually forgive any shortcomings and enjoy myself. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the Scream Factory blu-ray, which did not disappoint. But I did wait a couple of weeks to watch it. Stupid Jobs. Stupid adult life.

There was a brief detour to watch Gravity on opening day – yes, if you still haven’t, see it and spring for the 3-D and huge screen. This one will not be the same on home video, I don’t care how orgasmic your home theater system might be. In the spirit of contrarianism, after enjoying the $80 million dollar CGI of Gravity, I partook of the $80 menace of The Devil Bat.

devil_bat_poster_01The Devil Bat, in my opinion, gets unjustly dismissed. Sure, it the quintessential Poverty Row production (for years, i thought the distributor’s name, PRC, stood for Poverty Row Company, not Producers Releasing Corporation), small cast, limited locations, a risible flying monster on a string. In fact you’d see the same setup many times from Poverty Row, notably with George Zucco in The Flying Serpent, not to mention the deliriously-named Devil Bat’s Daughter. But this time out, we have Bela Lugosi, not quite yet a parody of himself, and a somewhat fresh angle on the revenge motif.

Bela is Dr. Paul Carruthers, whose chemical genius has made multi-millionaires of the Heath and Morton families, who built their cosmetic company fortune on a revolutionary cold cream formula sold to them for a mere ten thousand dollars. Sadly for the families, that ten grand (an all the other money they’ve paid him for subsequent products) has gone into his experiments with “Glandular stimulation through electricity”, which means he’s been creating a bigass bat with Kenneth Strickfaden equipment.  Deciding to kill off both families, Carruthers gives each a sample of a new after-shave he’s working on, and the Devil Bat uses that scent to track down its targets.

devilbatLugosi is really good in this; he gives the character a tragic undertone. Every time a future victim leaves with their bottle of Bat Bait, no matter how they take their leave – “So long, Doc!” “See you later!” he always answers “Goodbye” in as portentous a manner as possible, and we even see a little regret in the mad genius.

As is the tradition of the times, our hero is a wisecracking reporter – Dave O’Brien, the “Faster! Faster!” dope fiend of Reefer Madness. He’s actually a solid leading man, small wonder he eventually became Captain Midnight.  This was also apparently a time of unparalleled cooperation between the Police and the Press, as O’Brien walks into the Police Chief’s office and offers his investigative skills to the poor, bemused bureaucrat. Thank God for the fourth estate!

The Devil Bat itself is fairly ridiculous, especially since they keep cutting in the head of a fruit bat in close-ups – I guess because of the pointy ears, but come on, it’s a fruit bat! They have one of the cutest faces in the bat world!

I watched this on the new Kino-Lorber blu-ray, and the commentary track by Richard Harland Smith is first-rate, presenting a ton of information in a brisk 68 minute span.

So… How busy am I? That’s only two of nine movies I’ve watched lately… and I don’t have time right now to even name the rest. Best to just get these up and write up the others as I have time …IF EVER. See you when I can.

Or, as Bela would say, “Good bye… Dr. Freex.”

Movie Catchup, June Edition

A very busy week, made suddenly very complicated by a sudden call to complete a long-delayed dental procedure. That is why I haven’t been around.

Monday, Tuesday: city meetings, where I run audio. Wednesday: story for June video magazine due. Also work all evening doing slide slow for my wife’s graduating class this Saturday. It was urgent I get the damn thing done because it is now Thursday morning, we just finished shooting the stand-ups for the magazine, and in three hours I’m going to be in a dental chair getting four or five damaged, increasingly worthless teeth extracted and an immediate denture slapped in. This is something I have never experienced, and I have no idea what sort of condition I will be in tonight. Soup is almost certainly on the menu.

I have the freaking order of the slideshow done, but was frustrated from roughly 10pm to midnight last night because I could not get any sort of music file to play in it. I’ve been using Open Office for the last couple of years because I couldn’t afford Microsoft Office. Last year I managed this trick just fine in OpenOff’s version of Power Point, Impress. This year I’m suddenly being told that any file format – even the ones specifically mentioned in the Open File dialog – are “not supported”. Surfing around forums proves no help. Turns out if I just tell it to embed, save it to a Power Point show and then use Microsoft’s free Power Point viewer the music plays just fine. A bulky, cumbersome workaround, which means I’m timing blind, and still not finished, so hopefully I won’t be too wrecked tonight. Graduation is Saturday morning.

But yeah, I still managed to watch some movies, somewhere in there. Mainly because my landline shorted out and I was without the Net for three days.

I saw Avengers again, this time with my family. Still amazing, still flawless entertainment. I’m still embittered that every bit that would have made me go woohoo had been spoiled for me by the time I actually saw it – where are the Internet outages when you really need them? – but I got to see my wife and son react to them, so that was cool. Had to spend most of the end credits explaining to my son who… that guy at the end was (I still tread carefully for you, dear reader), and I wonder how many nerds had to explain that to non-nerd companions. I checked, and in my copy ofThe Marvel Encyclopedia, he only gets one-sixth of a page.

In any case, my wife is the very definition of a non-comics nerd, and she thought the movie was amazing. Which it is.

My other movies were at the other end of the scale, budget and amazing-wise. Saturday morning I was up at a Godforsaken hour because that’s what your body does to you, and I watched While the City Sleeps, a Fritz Lang-directed piece of newspaper noir from 1956. Lang is always worth watching, and the layered story here is pretty good. First off, a news media magnate kicks off after insisting that his various outlets sensationalize a murder where the killer left the message “Ask Mother” scrawled in lipstick on a wall. Then, his son (Vincent Price!) arrives to take over, without much of any experience in the trade. He creates a new position, Executive Director, and tells the heads of the three branches: Wire Service, Newspaper, and Photos – that whoever solves the case of the Lipstick Killer gets the job.

The cast is great: George Sanders as the Wire honcho, Ida Lupino as a conniving society columnist, Dana Andrews starring as a Pulitzer-winning TV news analyst who used to work the crime beat, and slowly finds himself sucked into the investigation. Toss in Howard Duff as the detective in charge of the case, and you got your very solid detective thriller cast. Andrews finally tucks into the case with glee, eventually putting his girlfriend in danger; it’s pretty amazing to see so many of the threads of the unsub-killer genres being used at this early date, as Andrews and Duff begin profiling the killer. And even if detective stories with a dollop of soap opera aren’t your thing, who could possibly pass up a chance to see Vincent Price in Bermuda shorts?

I also have to say that seeing a story involving journalistic integrity made me absolutely wistful. Man, fuck NewsCorp.

My viewing of While the City Sleeps was also movie number 15 on The List, so goal achieved on watching half of them before Summer hit. Huzzah.

The other movie seen during the outage was chosen at random, something I’d had for a while: You’ll Find Out, which is a parody of Old Dark House movies starring Kay Kyser (and his College of Musical Knowledge), and three guys named Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre.

Kyser is sort of a blip on the landscape these days, but he was pretty darn successful in his day, famous enough that he and Moe-bedecked comedian Ish Kabibble crop up in Looney Tunes. His radio show, a combination variety and game show, was quite popular. It’s unsurprising that he’d make the crossover to movies. It’s also a little unfortunate.

Admittedly, You’ll Find Out is his first movie. Maybe he got more confident, Ish Kabibble less annoying. But I doubt it.

Okay, so Kyser and his band are playing at the 21st birthday party of his manager’s fiancee. Of course, she lives with her eccentric aunt at a creepy old house accessible only by a single bridge, which will mysteriously blow up in the course of the movie. Somebody’s been trying to kill the fiancee, possibly Boris as the old family friend, Bela as the psychic who’s been getting lots of money from the superstitious aunt, or Lorre as a psychic-busting scientist. Or, given that it’s Karloff, Lugosi and Lorre, it’s probably all three. Oh, sorry. Spoiler.

When I was a kid, I was always pissed off that You”ll Find Out kept getting scheduled in the late night horror movie slot. I thought that perhaps now, as an old-timer, I could better appreciate it. Well, nottttttttt really, it turns out. It’s not dreadful, but it’s not a forgotten gem, either. Our big three bad guys act like they’re in a different picture entirely, and I kinda wish I had been watching that movie. The musical numbers are good, but achingly white. I dearly wished Cab Calloway could have dropped by for at least one number. And as I pointed out on Twitter, the final number employs a device used by Lugosi for ghostly voices to make it appear Kyser’s vocalist is singing through the band’s instruments, making it the first instance of auto-tuning, in the year 1940.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go get my jaw ripped out.