Review: The Uncanny (1977)

It’s both catty and batty, but a fun watch, as long as you don’t take it seriously.

As a horror anthologies go, The Uncanny starts out strong, but it ends with a few eye rolls and a twist when it doesn’t exactly stick the landing in terms of storytelling prowess. The basic setup has Peter Cushing as Wilbur Gray, a superstitious feline-fearing writer who arrives at book publisher Frank Richards’ (Ray Milland) home one night and tries to convince him to print his book about a trio of cat-related homicides that happened over decades. Naturally, abundant skepticism abounds, but Wilbur does his best to back up his tales of terror with plenty of evidence that he relays in three episodes, the first of which in the best in the film, in my opinion.

Ever have one of those nights?

In London, 1912, Susan Penhaligon plays Janet, maid for an elderly woman, Miss Malkin (Joan Greenwood!) who’s rewritten her will and left her entire fortune to her cats, shutting out her only surviving relative, Michael (Simon Williams). Of course, Janet and Michael are canoodling and in cahoots to conspire copping that kitty from those kitties because what use do cats have for cash money, right? Let’s just say things go all sorts of wrong for Janet after she offs her employer and tries to get her paws on that will. Instead, the cats get their paws on her and munch on Miss Malkin in the process. Nicely done, overall with just a bit of gore where expected.

The next segment takes place in Quebec 1975, where a young girl named Lucy (Katrina Holden Bronson) is adopted after her parents die in a plane crash by a family that’s not much into cats at all. Lucy just so happens to bring along her black cat, Wellington along with a bunch of books and notes about witchcraft, which belonged to her late mother. Hmmm… you can guess what happens next (mostly). While her new father is initially accepting to Lucy and her cat, both her new mom (Alexandra Stewart) and stepsister Angela (Chloe Franks) are hostile to Lucy and want to get rid of the cat almost immediately. Angela even flies a radio-controlled plane after Lucy and Wellington in one scene (clearly a North By Northwest in-joke).

“Look, I pain-ted a cat!”

Anyway, their plan to have Wellington disposed of works and Dad shuttles the cat off to be “taken care of”. Lucy finds out, but Wellington returns (I guess he’s been eating 9 Lives) and you guessed it, it’s revenge time in a sequence that combines bits of The Incredible Shrinking Man and some interesting use of a spell which probably wouldn’t work outside of this segment (or, don’t try this at home, folks). The main issue here is yes, the child acting, where every line sounds over-enunciated and frankly, the adults aren’t much better. The funny thing for me was remembering Chloe Franks’ performance in 1970’s The House That Dripped Blood, where she shows a bit more range. At least she’s got a memorable ending here straight out out of an EC Comics horror tale.

“Ham, ham, ham, ham”

The final episode takes place in Hollywood 1936, where hammy horror actor Valentine De’ath Donald Pleasence kills his wife with a guillotine (he’s replaced the rubber blade with a real one) and convinces the studio to hire his new girlfriend Edwina (Samantha Eggar!) as a suitable replacement. Things go from bat to verse when we find out not only that Edwina can’t act to save her life, she’s an awfully awful screamer as well, not a good thing for a horror film. The cat angle comes into play when De’ath tries to dispose of his ex-wife’s cat, then finds out the cat is female and has had a new litter, whereupon he has the babies cruelly dispatched, setting up the revenge part.

Almost everyone camps it up here, to varying degrees of success. Pleasence channels a bit of Vincent Price and even wears a toupee (or is it two?) over his real hair at one point. The main issue for me is the episode seems as if someone gathered whatever spare costumes were leftover from another “period” film and crafted a script around them. When Edwina paraphrases Tweety Bird at one point and is briefly seen reading a modern comic book (likely the same one from the last episode), that “1936” thing gets a tad sketchy. David Ogden Stiers even shows up a few times, but its almost as if he’s acting in another movie, as he mostly plays it seriously while he’s onscreen. The most mind boggling thing, however, occurs right as the chapter starts and we see a photo of Pleasense as Blofeld along with his white cat, which probably cost the studio more to use than the entire episode to shoot. Granted, I did get a laugh at this intro, but I can see some not getting the gag at all in they’re not aware of the link.

“Does he, or doesn’t he?…”

The ending wraps things up for Cushing in a somewhat predictable manner, with kind of a circular, vengeful kitty squad sort of thing happening. Milland has a sort of last laugh (is he on the cat side here?) and the film clocks out at a tidy 88 minutes, which isn’t too bad at all. Your mileage may vary, of course. But on a foul weather weekend, this isn’t a bad choice at all for a double feature starter flick. Amicus lite, if you like that sort of anthology thing happening here.

-GW

(Not So) Random Film of the Week: The Omen (1977)

“Never work with children or animals.” – W.C. Fields

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Hell is other people, indeed…

Now, I’m quite sure Gregory Peck very likely wasn’t thinking of this well-aged quote while shooting The Omen, but I get a chuckle out of maybe thinking he was because he surely goes through all nine circles of Hollywood hell in dealing with his demon-bred son with the quirky birthmark (Harvey Spencer Stephens) and a couple of dogs that get to attack him (and his stunt double) with relish (or whatever it is dogs use as a condiment. Maybe… Chow Chow Picalilli?).

If his character had lived to be in the inevitable and somewhat silly (but still kind of scary) sequel, Damien: Omen II, I’m sure he would have also wanted to kill a few mockingbirds (a murder of crows, if you will) if one of them had ever decided to give him the old “good luck” airdrop plop, but (uh, spoiler alert?). he doesn’t live to see that happen (end spoiler). I’d make an Atticus F(l)nch joke here. but I don’t want to push my luck.

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“Isn’t he a little angel?” Uh, not really. You’ll see…

Then again, there’s an air of bleak inevitability in Richard Donner’s film that pervades every frame and it’s not hard to see from the opening titles onward that Jerry Goldsmith’s sole Oscar winning score (more on that later) was predicting some very bad things to come. I was too young to see this back in 1976, but I recall a schoolmate telling me his parents took their four kids to see it and they were all traumatized to some extent, but it was all they talked about for weeks.  As the family was pretty religious, my guess now is that was one surefire (heh) way of keeping them in church.

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Random Film of the Week: The Brain That Wouldn’t Die

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Not inspired by actual events!

brainBy 1981, I’d seen The Brain That Wouldn’t Die on TV maybe a half dozen times and had started going to sci-fi conventions the previous year, my first being the old Creation Conventions here in NYC. I bring this up because it was at one in 1981 where I met a rather quirky gentleman named Jack Tiger (J.G. to his friends) and ended up working with him on a project that could have been popular at the time, but wasn’t able to get fully off the ground.

Now, I should be reviewing either one of his two low-budget films here or at the very least the film that gained me some temporary employment with the man,  Frankenstein’s Bloody Terror, a film that had neither a Frankenstein and thanks to the censors here, nor much Bloody Terror in it. Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t seen it in decades and really need to do so again, but in its original uncut Spanish version. Also, I’ve only ever seen one of Jack’s films by very happy accident a few years back on TCM when I came home very early in the morning from a lousy party I stayed too long at, and it was on TV unexpectedly.  So, Brain it is because it’s a fun flick and there’s also a small personal connection there you’ll read on and find out about. So, read on, please.

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Jan thought the Doc was kidding when he said she could lose about 100 pounds in a crash diet…

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It’s John Carpenter’s Birthday. You Know What To Do Next.

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And guess who sold off his record player a while ago? Boooo to me!

Clearer message: Go here. BUY STUFF. Be happy. That is all. Rinse and repeat if necessary (and it will be necessary). Show this post to friends and don’t be at all surprised when it works on them as well. OBEY.

Okay, NOW, that is all.

-GW

Random Film of the Week: Dracula/Horror of Dracula (1958)

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Now, that’s a title screen, Isn’t it?

draculaAmusingly enough, I was wearing a Famous Monsters of Filmland T-shirt I got as a gift when I ran into an older neighbor in the supermarket last week who mentioned that as a kid, her parents took her to see Horror of Dracula back in 1958. She was only 8 years old, but was a big fan of sci-fi and horror movies, noting her parents were as well, and they’d make trips to the movies regularly. She noted she couldn’t sleep for about a month or so, but not because of Dracula, mind you, as (spoiler!) he’s as dead as a door nail at the end of the film (well, until his revival in the next films), but because of his brides.

She was convinced they were going to come after her for some reason and I noted that I’m sure many people who’ve seen this film sure as heck wanted a nibble on the neck from any of the lovely ladies in that film, vampires or not. Maybe even a few too many nibbles.

She laughed, and said “I know, but there was one in particular… what’s her name? The one that looked like a cat?” I thought for a few seconds and guessed correctly it was Andrée Melly, who indeed did look like a cat, and yes, briefly played that favorite bide of too many others as well. The neighbor let out a loud laugh. “Well that was fast! I guess she made an impression on you, too!”, which made me laugh as well, as there’s a pun in there she didn’t realize she was making. Anyway, we chatted a bit more and I helped her get a big aluminum baking pan off a high shelf for the ham she was making, as family was visiting that weekend. She paid for her groceries and left with a wave, thanking me for jogging her memory.

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Meow! Careful. I hear she bites…

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Arrow Video: Only Two In January, But What A Pair

While there are only two releases from Arrow Video this month, both are films I’ve not seen, so this is a good thing. Actually, every month is a good thing for film releases from Arrow, as their restorations are pretty stellar and in most cases, you get a wealth of special features that give some films a bit of commentary and perspective.

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First up is 1988’s Edge of the Axe ($39.95, 1/28/2020),  a film that I didn’t see back then, but it’s popped up in a few recommendations over the decades, so it’s now on the list of stuff to see. I’ll no doubt be diving under a blanket, if that cover art is any indication.

From cult Spanish filmmaker José Ramón Larraz (Vampyres, Symptoms) comes this long-neglected late 80s slasher classic, finally unleashed on Blu-ray for the first time ever!

The rural community of Paddock County is being rocked by the crazed exploits of an axe-wielding psychopath, who stalks the night in a black trenchcoat and mask. As the victims pile up, the authorities attempt to keep a lid on the situation, whilst computer whizz-kid Gerald and girlfriend Lillian seek to unmask the killer before the town population reaches zero. Nominally set in Northern California but shot primarily in Madrid, giving the film an off-kilter, American/European atmosphere akin to the likes of Pieces, Edge of the Axe is a late entry hack-and-slash masterpiece from one of the titans of Spanish terror.

  • Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
  • English and Spanish language versions of the feature
  • Original uncompressed mono audio
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Spanish soundtrack
  • Brand new audio commentary with actor Barton Faulks
  • Brand new audio commentary with The Hysteria Continues
  • Newly-filmed interview with actor Barton Faulks
  • The Pain in Spain – a newly-filmed interview with special effects and make-up artist Colin Arthur
  • Image Gallery
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly-commissioned artwork by Justin Osbourn
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet featuring new writing by Amanda Reyes

black angelNext up is Black Angel ($39.95, 1/28/2020) from 1946. This film noir is one I’ve wanted to see for a while, but haven’t gotten around to yet (what else is new, right?). I read a while back the person who wrote the book hated the film version, so that alone had me curious, as the cast made up of a few really solid actors and the director was pretty ace as well.

Elegantly directed by Hollywood veteran Roy William Neill (best known for his 11 Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone), Black Angel is an underappreciated film noir treasure, adapted from a novel by the acclaimed crime writer Cornell Woolrich (Phantom Lady).

When the beautiful singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) is slain in her chic apartment, the men in her life become suspects. There is Martin Blair (Dan Duryea, Scarlet Street), her alcoholic musician ex-husband, nursing a broken heart; there is the shady nightclub owner Marko (Peter Lorre, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon) who has been sneaking around her place, and there is Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), the adulterer who found his mistress’s dead body and fled the scene. When Bennett is convicted and sentenced to death, his long-suffering wife Catherine (June Vincent) joins forces with the heartbroken pianist Martin Blair to uncover the truth… Black Angel is a consummate 1940s crime thriller which boats a suspenseful narrative, strong performances and atmospheric, meticulously lit cinematography.

Roy William Neill’s film is presented here in a sumptuous restoration, with several illuminating new extras.

  • Brand new restoration from original film elements by Arrow Films
  • High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation
  • Uncompressed Mono 1.0 PCM audio soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • New audio commentary by the writer and film scholar Alan K. Rode
  • A Fitting End, a new video appreciation by the film historian Neil Sinyard
  • Original trailer
  • Gallery of original stills and promotional materials
  • Reversible sleeve featuring two artwork options
  • FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author Philip Kemp

With both set for release on the same day, I smell a double feature here. At least that’s my plan for these two.

-GW

Random Film of the Week: Doctor X (DVD)

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For all that trouble setting their private and expensive game show up, no one could guess what was behind Curtain #1.

Dr. XLet’s just say that as a kid of, oh, seven or eight years old back in the 70’s, I had no idea (not a clue!) what I was watching when the local public TV station ran Doctor X so very many years ago. I do recall not knowing what was going on for a bit and some parts were wacky, but yes indeed, I did perk up when the “Synthetic Flesh” scene kicked in. Hell, I was a Frankenstein fan by then, even if my exposure was courtesy Universal Pictures and James Whale and not Mary Shelley until I read the book years later.

When I revisited the good Dr. Jerry Xavier (Lionel Atwill), and the film as I got older into my teens, elements started to click and it was all “Oh, that’s what that means!” on more elements I didn’t understand previouslyWhich of course means that as a grumpier and older old man these days, I’m all over this freak-fest like I’ve run into an old friend I haven’t seen in a while. This one’s pretty funny, pretty grim and completely bonkers. Oh, by the way, Doctor X sounds better and scarier than Doctor Jerry. That and if it were called Dr. J, there’s that slim chance a slimmer handful of folks might get fooled into thinking it’s a sports biopic (heh).

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Jacket jealousy here, as Fay’s got the stripes. but Tracy’s got the tweed and they both win the fashion lottery.

It’s also a great pre-code film, what with its discussion of a few hot topics those who think “well, those old movies were DULL!” might find they’re a bit incorrect about if they ever get off that dead horse they always jump on and see a few of these films. Now a little murder? Hey, that’s fine and dandy in a film about a mysterious killer. Toss in elements like that mysterious killer who happens to cannibalize corpses, a bit of prostitution and rape as story elements, plus a few old guys sitting around talking about their fetishes (hey, that may be the most creepy thing about this to some!), and more atmosphere that you can shake a few sticks at, and you get a true classic.

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Review: The Monster of Piedras Blancas

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“Oh, crap. I forgot to put on my silky underthings BEFORE I got into the costume. Er, they prevent chafing, you know, right…”

MFPB_MP2On one hand, Irvin Berwick’s 1959 flick The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a pedestrian and very slow-burning “B” horror film with some neat noir-like shots, light early gore, and a great creature costume cobbled from a few sources that looks quite spectacular when it’s finally revealed. On the other hand, it’s still a pedestrian and very slow-burning film that drags out its plot a wee bit too long.

Its big monster reveal comes so late in the film and manages to come off as somewhat disappointing because you still see less of that really cool-looking monster than you’d like, but at least you get some action on-screen when it happens. It’s far from a “bad” film, it’s just a bit dull in its presentation of an otherwise great-looking man in a suit. The again, with a budget under $30,000, you can see where the money went thanks to the suit that man is in being so well-conceived.

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“I will roar from the highest rooftop that I DID NOT DO IT!”

Granted, the film teases the titular creature right at the very beginning as a claw reaches for a beat-up metal bowl and afterward, some kids are sent packing off the beach by a lighthouse keeper named Sturges (John Harmon) with a secret. He’s the one keeping the creature well-fed and of course, he’s got a tasty and somewhat gorgeous daughter, Lucille (Jeanne Carmen) he’s kept out of the loop for years (ten years of boarding school, eep!). Naturally, she’s all grown up now and she and her curves caught the eye of Fred (Don Sullivan) a visiting biology student who’s not at all after her for her shapely figure and hey, this is 1959 we’re taking about and that stuff didn’t happen in movies like this (he said, sarcastically). Sturges is not a fan of Biology students who want to date his shapely daughter, it would seem.

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Shout Factory’s Shocktober Sale Will Have Your Wallet Screaming

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Scared? Your wallet sure is, I’ll bet.

Mo’ horror, mo’ problems (for your wallet): Yes, the fine folks at Shout! Factory are having a little sale you may want to check out, as some great horror flicks are up for grabs at a discount. As usual, you have to act FAST, as the sale ends October 21. While I’m not a steelbook guy, some of them caught my interest and hell, I can use the steelbook to smack that monster in the closet with. Some also come as non-steelbook releases and the prices on a few are low enough to have my interest. Enough yakking from me, though. Go scare tour wallet into a tizzy here. Oh, there’s also a contest to enter if you like.

-GW

Review: Black Sunday/Mask of the Demon (Blu-Ray)

(Thanks, FulciLives!)

Layout 1Say, did I ever tell you all the story of the time a few decades ago back in the 80’s when I learned how to brine a chicken thanks to a pair of very helpful Satanists looking for Kosher salt at a grocery store? No? Well, that’s not why we’re here, so I won’t go into it other than to say I didn’t know they were into that stuff, and hell, I’m an atheist anyway. The chicken? It was excellent by the way. Still is, whenever it’s made.

Uh, speaking of “anyway”, Let’s move on.

Still scary and somewhat phenomenally timeless, Mario Bava’s classic “first” film La Maschera Del Demonio/The Mask of Satan (aka Black Sunday in the US) starts off unsettling and keeps the frights coming until the end. Bava’s direction and art direction here are generally superb, although yes, there are a few plot holes you can drive a rattly (or rat-filled) old Fiat through if you follow the story too closely. But taken as a whole, it’s still a work of brilliance that many films have paid homage to over the decades since its release.

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“Where the hell is my coffee? I just woke up after 200 years!”

Very loosely based on The Viy, Nikolai Gogol’s horror tale from 1835, the film revels in its high Gothic style, early use of gore effects and the stunning Barbara Steele who plays both the evil Asa Vajda and 200 years after her demise, her relative, Katia Vajda. It’s a revenge story of sorts, as that witch and her soulless-mate Igor Javutich (Arturo Dominici) are separated and then executed in a most bloody fashion for their crimes and yes, there’s a bit of a promise of defiant revenge from the witch. 200 years later, it’s young Katya who’s target of a newly revived Asa’s demonic ways and in tandem with the revived Javutich, things get ugly for a few people after that curse literally comes to life. Wait, or is it figuratively? I forget.

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Vincent Price wants his stage wig back when you’re done, pal.

Interestingly, the film links Satanism and witchcraft to devil worship as the same thing, which is about the sole flaw that sticks out (well, I’d guess it was seen as the same in the 1630’s, but I’m a terrible time traveler, getting too sick from the trips to pay attention and all that).

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