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Saturday, October 1, 2022

THE VAMPIRE (1957) -- Movie Review by Porfle



Originally posted on 7/18/15

 

THE VAMPIRE, aka "Mark of the Vampire" (1957) is a low-budget but nicely-done sci-fi/horror flick about a mild-mannered smalltown doctor (John Beal) who accidentally turns himself into a bloodthirsty maniac when his daughter gets his headache tablets mixed up with some highly addictive experimental pills concocted by a local scientist who died mysteriously.

The case is investigated by Beal's friend, detective Kenneth Tobey, but no one suspects kindly doctor Beal when people start to get murdered and drained of blood.

One of the film's strengths is the superb acting by Beal, Tobey, Dabbs Greer as another scientist sent to salvage the dead man's research, and lovely Coleen Gray as Beal's caring nurse. 



Scenes between Beal's doomed character, who is a widowed father, and his young daughter Lydia Reed are heartrending. 

Some of Dabbs Greer's dialogue, especially in relation to his eccentric assistant Henry (James Griffith), is hilarious.  I love the scenes between Beal and Greer--both are excellent actors whose natural style makes what they do look easy.

Screenwriter Pat Fielder also wrote the excellent RETURN OF DRACULA, which seems to be set in the same small town.  Both are directed by Paul Landres and scored by Gerald Fried (PATHS OF GLORY, "Star Trek: The Original Series"). 


When finally revealed to us about halfway through the film, Beal's grotesque makeup is cheap-looking but effective.  There's even a rudimentary transition scene (a la Lon Chaney's Wolf Man). 

The creature that Beal transforms into is one of the most vile and nightmarish characters in all of shock cinema. 

In one scene he returns to the scene of the crime after murdering an old woman in the street, and, while looking on from afar as people crowd around the body, can be seen grinning hideously at his grotesque handiwork. 


This is in stark contrast to the devoted father and trusted doctor that is Beal's character when not under the control of the horribly addictive drug that brings out his most bestial tendencies.  It is indeed one of the most tragic of all 50s sci-fi/horror flicks.

THE VAMPIRE scared me when I was a kid--the scene in which the maniac stalks a frantic Coleen Gray as she walks home at night is truly frightening--and it's still a lot of fun to watch.


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Friday, September 30, 2022

BORDER LOST -- DVD review by porfle


 

Originally posted on 4/1/08

 

The tagline reads "3 men, 2000 miles, and a ton of ammo." Hmm...so far, so good.

According to the foreword, illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. are constantly being preyed upon by sadistic Mexican bandoleros. BORDER LOST (2008) is the story of a small U.S. task force trying to keep this from happening even as clueless politicians are trying to shut them down.

When one of their number is murdered and his fiancee kidnapped by the most vile outlaw leader, Hector, the three remaining "desert cowboys" (as they are called by the locals) ignore orders to stay out of Mexico and cross the border armed to the teeth and mad as hell.

Their leader is the hardbitten veteran cop Manny, played by Emilio Roso. Roso has an old style tough-guy face and a weighty presence, whether he's working over a bad guy or playing a tender love scene with the beautiful Vanessa (Marian Zapico).


His partner, Gabe (Protasio) is another experienced cop who's handy with a gun although he tends to go off half-cocked at times. Jake (Wes McGee), the rookie member of the group, is invaluable as a dead-eyed sniper.

In a harrowing scene early on, we see a group of illegal immigrants on a nighttime trek through the desert being robbed and terrorized by Hector's thugs, who rape and kill at their whim. Then we get our first look at the cowboys in action as they bust some bad guys in a dingy bordertown.

The action is lean, well-staged, and exciting. Plenty of shoot-outs and other graphically violent incidents occur along the way, with circumstances causing the agents to become increasingly ruthless and driven by rage, leading up to their daring and bloody siege against Hector and his men at their desert compound.


The freestyle direction by David Murphy and Scott Peck, which takes full advantage of some great authentic locations, is sometimes just as over-the-top as the acting, and the whole thing is often topped with a generous layer of Monterey Jack cheese. This isn't necessary a detriment, though, especially if you're jonesing for a quick action-flick fix.

DVD specs include a letterboxed 1:78:1 image, optional Spanish subtitles, and a trailer. Image and sound are good, with an effective Latin-tinged score by Christopher Peck.

The sun-bleached, documentary-style look of the film resembles the Mexico sequences in Steven Soderbergh's TRAFFIC. It also tries to duplicate that movie's realistic performances and verisimilitude, but this is most often overcome by action-movie cliches and pure melodrama. Strangely enough, the combination seems to work. BORDER LOST is, at its heart, a shoot-em-up revenge flick that Schwarzenegger and Seagal fans should enjoy, but with a unique ambience and attitude of its own.


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Thursday, September 29, 2022

THE BABY -- Blu-ray review by porfle



 

Originally posted on 6/21/14

 

As if 1973's THE BABY weren't already mind-bending enough--not to mention disturbing, perverse, subversive, borderline repulsive, and just plain coo-coo--Severin Films has made the whole horrifying experience even more vivid by releasing a spanking new version ("restored from the original film negative") on Blu-ray.

Now we get an even clearer and more high-definition view of some of the most cheerfully repellent images of all time as a full-grown man (known only as "Baby") is spoon-fed, nursed, diapered, cattle-prodded, and even sexually molested by his also-grown sisters while their overbearing psycho-mom, played by the incomparable Ruth Roman, presides over the whole sordid scenario.

What happens when this idyllic situation is encroached upon by a nosey, bleeding-heart social worker (70s TV-movie icon Anjanette Comer as "Ann") intent upon taking Baby away from them has to be seen to be believed. When Ruth and Anjanette finally clash in the movie's heated climax, it's a confrontation that must've had jaws dropping in drive-ins across America.



The Severin Films Blu-ray disc is in 1080p full HD resolution widescreen with Dolby Digital English mono sound. No subtitles.

As with Severin's 2011 DVD release of this title, extras consist of telephone interviews with director Ted Post and star David Manzy, and a trailer.

Here's our original in-depth DVD review:

If you remember "The ABC Movie of the Week" or have seen some of the low-key but weird thrillers that showed up on it during the 70s (BAD RONALD, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK), you should recognize the dingy, suburban gothic style of THE BABY (1973). Right down to the bland opening titles, mawkish musical score by Gerald Fried, and television-level production values, this looks like the typical made-for-TV chiller from that era.


Surprising, then, that not only is this a theatrical film directed by Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE, BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES), but it contains language, sexual situations, violence, and an overall air of perversion that would've had the TV censors working overtime with their scissors.

Ruth Roman does her patented "tough gal" act as swaggering single mom Mrs. Wadsworth, who, along with her grown daughters Germaine (Marianna Hill) and Alba (Suzanne Zenor), must care for her son Baby, a twenty-one-year-old with the mind of an infant. Their new social worker, the recently-widowed Ann (Anjanette Comer, a familiar TV face at the time), expresses great interest in Baby, which raises the jealous Mrs. Wadsworth's suspicions. When it appears as though Ann may be scheming to take Baby away from her, she and her deranged daughters take deadly action.

The plot of this languidly-paced tale unfolds slowly but is dotted with enough bizarre incidents to keep things interesting. The first one occurs when a babysitter (Erin O'Reilly) is caught breastfeeding Baby and is soundly thrashed by Mrs. Wadsworth and the girls. Just hearing Ruth Roman say lines like "Nothing happened? With your damn tit in his mouth and nothing happened?" is weird enough. Seeing the babysitter begin to change Baby's diaper as he's stretched out in his giant crib conjures up disturbing images of diaper service men in hazmat suits.


The attitudes of Baby's sisters toward their developmentally-challenged brother are also less than wholesome. Flaky blonde Alba, bless her, takes after him with a cattle prod when he displays too much progress (such as saying "Ma-ma") in one of my favorite scenes. "Baby doesn't walk! Baby doesn't talk!" she shrieks between zaps. The horny Germaine, meanwhile, has even more perverse uses for her "baby" brother. Nothing's explicitly shown, but it's still enough to make you go "Yuck!"

But perhaps the most off-putting thing about THE BABY is David Manzy's insipid antics in the title role. He reminds me of a porn actor who's been asked to perform beyond his range. Whether Baby's sucking on a bottle, frolicking around on the floor, or bawling and making pouty faces in his crib (with real baby noises dubbed in as he mugs it up), I just want to throttle the goofy bastard.

(On the other hand, though--how, exactly, would a better actor approach such a role? It would be interesting to see somebody like Sean Penn strap on the giant diaper and go for an Oscar.)

One of the film's key sequences is a birthday party for Baby, during which Mrs. Wadsworth and the girls make their move against Ann. This dreary, dreadfully unhip bash, with middle-aged losers in mod attire dancing to quacky "rock" music, is somebody's idea of what a wild party looked like in the 70s, and it's cheesier than a platter of movie-theater nachos.


The great Michael Pataki appears here to wincingly comic effect as a bushy-haired horndog. With the film's furious finale, THE BABY at last serves up a helping of Grand Guignol horror as Roman and Comer huff and puff their way through a hokey but bloody clash that leads to a nice little head-scratching surprise ending.

Ted Post's no-frills direction gets the job done and his two leading ladies deliver the goods. Anjanette Comer was never all that forceful as an actress, so she gives her character a suitably vulnerable quality. Hollywood veteran Ruth Roman, on the other hand, is the epitome of the brassy broad and her hot-blooded histronics are the most fun part of the whole movie. Marianna Hill (Fredo Corleone's wife in THE GODFATHER PART II) and Suzanne Zenor, who played the "Chrissy" role in the first pilot for "Three's Company", hold up their end of the film's oddball quotient.

Those seeking the balls-out bizarro shock-horror flick promised by the posters will be disappointed, since it comes off more as one of those early TV-movies with forbidden exploitation elements tacked on. But this is what makes THE BABY such a strangely interesting little curio. If you're in the mood for something unabashedly off-the-wall, then it should be worth your while to check it out.



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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

THE RETURN OF DRACULA -- movie review by porfle



Originally posted on 1/21/14

 

Watching THE RETURN OF DRACULA (1958) for the first time since my initial afternoon-TV viewing as a kid, I was bowled over by what a finely-wrought and effective low-budget vampire thriller it is. The stage is set by its spooky opening titles (Dracula's eyes stare out at us during the familiar strains of "Dies Irae") and it only gets better.

In the midst of all the the giant radioactive creatures, alien invaders, and revisionist updates of old classic horror themes which dominated 50s genre films, this atmospheric black-and-white chiller seems like a holdover from the fabulous 40s and lacks only the production gloss of the Universals (although it still beats the likes of SHE-WOLF OF LONDON by a country mile). 

Directed by Paul Landres and written by Pat Fielder (THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD), both of whom also gave us the creepy John Beal shocker THE VAMPIRE, the story begins with an enigmatic Count Dracula (Francis Lederer) escaping pursuit in Europe by assuming the identity of an artist named Bellac Gordal who is traveling to the United States to live with American relatives.  (Norbert Schiller, who played "Shuter" in FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and also appeared in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, is seen briefly as the real Bellac.)


Once there, the sinister impostor's curdled charm will entrance the kindly and vivacious young Rachel Mayberry (Norma Eberhardt, surprisingly effective in the role) who finds him dashing and worldly despite his odd behavior (he disappears during daylight hours and refuses to participate in any social activites). 

This elicits jealousy and suspicion from Rachel's hot-rodder boyfriend Tim (Ray Stricklyn) although her naive, trusting mother Cora (Greta Granstedt) and kid brother Mickey (Jimmy Baird) are much slower on the uptake.

Never having seen Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT, to which this is often compared, I see THE RETURN OF DRACULA as sort of a companion piece to Universal's 1943 Lon Chaney, Jr. classic, SON OF DRACULA.  In both films, the Count takes up residence in smalltown America (in SON, it's the bayou country of Louisiana) and wreaks havoc with the locals while a vampire expert joins forces with a resident authority figure (in this case a priest) to combat the encroaching evil.

Francis Lederer makes a very imposing Dracula with his commanding yet subtle presence and his air of dark continental decadence, clearly taking a perverse relish in the act of corrupting the innocent.  In fact, as soon as Rachel tells him about Jennie (THE HILLS HAVE EYES' Virginia Vincent), the poor, bed-ridden blind girl she's been taking care of at the parish house run by Reverend Whitfield (Gage Clarke), this vile creature of darkness wastes no time making her his first victim. 


The hapless Jennie's violation as Dracula enters her bedroom shrouded in mist is nightmarish--Dracula bestows on her the ability to "see" him advancing toward her as she lies helpless--but nothing compared to Jennie's fate when, after transforming into the living dead herself, she's followed by relentless vampire hunter John Merriman (John Wengraf) back to her crypt to be staked in a shocking color insert.

Along with some good jump scares, several scenes are memorably eerie and disturbing.  The opening scenes with Merriman and company closing in on Dracula in a shadowy European cemetery at dawn are so tense and well-staged it's almost as though Quentin Tarantino were guest director. 

Later, Rachel's ongoing seduction by "Cousin Bellac" results in several chilling scenes and close calls--in one, the blare of Tim's car horn snaps her out of a hypnotic reverie and prevents her from joining Dracula in the nearby cave where his coffin resides.  It's here that the teen lovers will fight a losing battle against the Lord of the Undead in a suspenseful climax.

THE RETURN OF DRACULA is highly recommended for anyone who appreciates classic horror.  In my opinion, this superior 50s effort--be it ever so humble--is one of the finest Dracula/vampire movies ever made.

Buy it at Amazon.com



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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

HALLOWEEN (35TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION) [BLU-RAY] -- review by porfle





Originally posted on 9/23/13

 

Back in '78, a buddy and I went to see "Halloween" in its heyday.  I remember sitting in the middle of a giddy audience that was wound tight with collective tension, not knowing what would happen next and jumping every time something did.  It was the kind of shared experience that can make going to the movies a pleasure.  And  it was scary, too.  REALLY scary. 

Anchor Bay's new 35th anniversary Blu-ray edition of HALLOWEEN lets us relive that experience, or at least see the film in its original pristine condition just like back in the olden days when it was the next big thing in screen horror.  I'm sure some sharp-eyed Blu-Ray experts will detect various imperfections in the picture and/or sound quality of this new disc, but I used to record VHS tapes on SLP so I'm not all that nitpicky about such things.  Anyway, it looks great to me.

What impresses me most about rewatching the film now is how good it looks for such a low-budget independent effort.  Some reasons for this are the steadiness and freedom of movement that the new Panaglide camera gives cinematographer Dean Cundey--the camera becomes a part of the action in a way rarely seen before, as in the famous extended opening shot--in addition to beautifully-lit night exteriors in which the suburban houses and windblown trees have a ghostly look that manages to capture the way "nighttime" looked to me as a kid. 

But the main reason, of course, is the fact that the young John Carpenter was such a talented filmmaker.  "Halloween" is beautifully and imaginatively directed from start to finish,  filled with both dialogue and action scenes that are designed with economy and efficiency, but with a consistently eye-pleasing aesthetic. 

Carpenter's style isn't always slick (it never really would be, not completely) due to the fact that almost everything he's done has the air of an independent, homegrown effort without Hollywood's handprints all over it.  The story--babysitters menaced by an escaped psycho-killer--is as old and derivative as campfire tales, yet he and partner Debra Hill seem to be brimming with creativity in all other areas of the production.

Since the slasher-stalker film as a genre unto itself was just beginning to take off, there's both a newness and a disarming sort of immaturity to "Halloween" (including some dumb dialogue and awkward acting) that works in its favor.   At times it resembles a likable student film transcending itself thanks to its imaginative direction and sharp editing and cinematography, and hitting on just the right subject matter at just the right time and in just the right way.

Interestingly, there's almost no gore whatsoever, and the violence is hardly stronger than what Hitchcock subjected us to in "Psycho" eighteen years earlier.   Where other slasher flicks such as "Friday the 13th" would simply prolong the lead-up to each kill in tedious ways and then rely on graphic gore as a payoff, Carpenter is able to build and sustain actual old-fashioned suspense (along with audience empathy for his characters rather than merely the desire to see them die) of a kind that is much more effective and fear-inducing. 

Indeed,  the "kill" scenes here are almost cursory, coming after long periods of teasing buildup with a deceptively lighthearted air.   Annie (Nancy Loomis), whom shy Laurie admires for being so "with it", is secretly a klutz, while sexy Lynda (cult fave P.J. Soles of "Carrie" and "Rock 'n' Roll High School" fame) is a comical airhead.  Their deaths are shocking, but hardly the sort of gratuitous, makeup-effects-heavy moments that would come to define the genre.  Just as the almost childlike Michael Myers enjoys toying with his victims, director Carpenter would rather play around with an audience's expectations than bombard them with graphic violence.

It isn't until Laurie (appealing newcomer Jamie Lee Curtis) enters the house in which Annie, Lynda, and Lynda's goofy boyfriend Bob have been killed by "boogeyman" Michael that the film really kicks into high gear, with Carpenter pulling out all the stops to generate nerve-wracking suspense.  Curtis, while not yet a polished actress, really sells it too, screaming and fleeing in panic with the inexorable and seemingly indestructible Michael always a few steps behind her. 

Their classic showdown in a darkened house is the blueprint for many lesser films to come, especially when the apparently-dead Michael, like the Energizer Bunny, keeps coming back to menace the frazzled Laurie anew.  ("Child's Play" villain Chucky would later attain new heights of unkillability.)  Film  veteran Donald Pleasance ("The Great Escape",  "You Only Live Twice") adds his talent and stature to the proceedings as Dr. Loomis, a frantic psychiatrist bent on capturing or killing the escaped lunatic before he can unleash his evil on the world.  He arrives just in time to save the day--or does he?  At the film's blackout ending,  Carpenter's famous percussive musical score will leave you wondering. 

Anchor Bay's special 35th anniversary Blu-Ray edition of "Halloween" comes in a cool Digibook cover with new artwork and a colorfully illustrated making-of booklet.  The film is in 2.35:1 widescreen with Dolby sound (7.1 and original mono) and subtitles in English and Spanish.  In addition to the usual "TV-version" extra footage (which I consider pretty dispensable),  trailers, and TV/ radio spots, there are two  featurettes--"On Location: 25 Years Later" and the all-new "The Night SHE Came Home."  The latter, which runs for a full hour, is a delightful look at Jamie Lee Curtis' only convention appearance (for charity) and how diligently she worked to make the experience a special one for each and every fan.

My favorite bonus feature, though, is the new commentary track featuring Carpenter and Curtis during a relaxed, chatty viewing of the film.  Carpenter, for the most part, yields the floor to his star, who gushes non-stop about it after not having seen it for several years.  While not fond of horror films in general, she's still this particular one's most  enthusiastic fan and, with sometimes surprising perception, explains in detail why each scene is so noteworthy and well-done.  Listening to Jamie Lee talk about HALLOWEEN has given me a renewed appreciation for it, one which enhances each viewing of John Carpenter's timeless horror classic as much as this new HD transfer itself.



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