Lights Out

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Arguably the first anthology TV show to feature science fiction, Lights Out was adapted from a popular horror radio show in the US in 1949. Broadcast live with a varying degree of quality, very light on sci-fi and quite heavy on traditional ghost stories. Lights Out sported an impressive roster of actors, but the direction and originality never quite reached the same quality as rivalling shows that popped up in the early fifties, like Out There or Tales of Tomorrow.

Lights Out (1949-1952). Directed by William Corrigan, Laurence Schwab Jr, Kingman T. Moore, Grey Lockwood, Fred Coe, et. al. Written by: A.J. Russell, George Lefferts, Fred Coe, Ernest Kinoy, Douglas Parkhurst, Wyllis Cooper, Arch Oboler, et. al. Starring: Frank Gallop, Jack La Rue, Mercer McLeod, Leslie Nielsen, Gregory Morton, John Newland, Peter Capell, Alfreda Wallace, Richard Derr, Ross Martin, John Forsythe, Burgess Meredith, John Carradine, Vaughn Taylor, Grace Kelly, George Reeves, Veronica Lake, Basil Rathbone, Anne Bancroft, Anne Francis, Boris Karloff, Anthony Quinn, Melvyn Douglas, Vincent Price, Produced by Herbert B. Swope, Fred Coe for NBC. IMDb rating: 7.3

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Frank Gallop as the eerie presenter of Lights Out.

Not really a science fiction show per se, Lights Out can still be credited as the first anthology show to bring sci-fi to the small screen. You could debate whether it was in fact the first science fiction show or not, but I’m going with the latter, and I’ll explain why below. Continue reading

House of Dracula

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Universal’s 1945 film marks the end of the era of the original Universal monsters, and at the same time the end of the American sci-fi film of the forties, more or less. Lon Chaney Jr. and John Carradine star alongside Onslow Stevens and Poni Adams in this rushed, inconsistent last huzzah for the monsters. Despite flashes of originality, it feels as if we are re-heating the same TV dinner for the umpteenth time as Frankenstein’s monster is once again found, buried in quicksand in a cave under a castle after having six building collapse on him in previous films, Dracula re-emerges after having been destroyed by the sun’s rays a third time in the last film, and we get to wonder if the Wolf Man will cheat death for a third time.

House of Dracula. (1945). Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Written by Edward T. Lowe Jr, George Bricker, Dwight V. Babcock. Starring: Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, Onslow Stevens, Lionel Atwill, Martha O’Driscoll, Jane Adams, Ludwig Stössel, Glenn Strange, Skelton Knaggs.  Produced by Joseph Gershenson and Paul Malvern for Universal. Tomatometer: 56 %. IMDb score: 5.8

John Carradine as Dradula and Martha O'Driscoll as his love interest.

John Carradine as Dradula and Martha O’Driscoll as his love interest.

This here is the movie that ended the original Universal monster franchise, unless you count The Creature of the Black Lagoon (1954) to the same series. Personally I consider it more of a symptom of the second wave of monster films kicked off by the science fiction craze of the fifties, even though the films have since been repackaged in DVD boxes along with the original monster films. It was also the last film that featured the original Universal monsters before they began to get spoofed in the Abbot & Costello films, which you won’t see reviewed on this blog. Continue reading

Voodoo Man

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(2/10) In a nutshell: Horror icons George Zucco and John Carradine join Bela Lugosi in his last film at Poverty Row studio Monogram, for a tongue-in-cheek rendering of one of the most bizarrely funny so-bad-it’s-good sci-fi horror films of the forties. Unfortunately giggles aren’t enough to lift this film out of the ruts, although it is a must-watch for the wonderful Voodoo seances with Carradine and Zucco immensely enjoying the insanity of it all. 

Voodoo Man (1944). Directed by William Beaudine. Written by Robert Charles. Starring: Bela Lugosi, George Zucco, John Carradine, Tod Andrews, Wanda McKay, Louise Currie, Ellen Hall. Produced by Jack Dietz and Sam Katzman for Banner Productions and Monogram Pictures. IMDb score: 5.2

Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie and Wanda McKay in a publicity image for Voodoo Man.

Bela Lugosi, Louise Currie and Wanda McKay in a publicity image for Voodoo Man.

There are, in my opinion, strictly speaking two ways to grade a movie. The first one is to grade it on its entertainment value, i.e. ”how much did I enjoy watching this film?” The problem with this approach, of course, is that it ultimately comes down to personal taste. The other way is to do it the way I do it on this blog: to try and grade the film according to some pre-set criteria, such as originality, production values, artistic merit, impact, acting, directorial and editorial style, writing merits, and so forth. This approach does have the drawback that it is difficult for a low-budget movie to reach really high marks, whereas a film with a lavish production might score slightly higher points than it would actually deserve based on sheer viewing enjoyability or originality. But this is a trade-off that I feel is worth making – a really good low-budget film is able to overcome its low production resources and turn the lack of money into an asset rather than a burden, and makes it easier for a reviewer to have oversight with certain production flaws. And a film with a lavish budget doesn’t get away with a bad script or obvious production blemishes quite as easily as a cheap film with lots of heart. Continue reading

House of Frankenstein

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(4/10) In a nutshell: Universal’s horror stars gang together for the franchise’s second monster bash in a film that is a mix of good and mad. There’s too much going on in a too short period of time, Dracula is thrown by the wayside and the plot holes are big enough to fill a stadium. But there’s also a dash of originality and some first-class acting in this 1944 film.

House of Frankenstein. 1944, USA. Directed by Erle C. Kenton. Written by Curt Siodmak, Edward T. Lowe Jr. Starring: Boris Karloff, J. Carrol Naish, Lon Chaney Jr, John Carradine, Anne Gwynne, Peter Coe, Elena Verdugo, George Zucco, Lionel Atwill, Glenn Strange, Sig Ruman. Produced by Paul Malvern for Universal. Tomatometer: 55 %. IMDb score: 6.2

Glenn Strange, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney in House of Frankenstein.

Glenn Strange, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney in House of Frankenstein.

Quick! Give me the five greatest mad scientists of the forties! Did you say Boris Karloff, John Carradine, Lionel Atwill, George Zucco and J. Carroll Naish? Great, now you have them all in one film! This was the second monster mash movie after the success of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943, review), starring Lon Chaney Jr, Bela Lugosi and Lionel Atwill. Lon Chaney also turns up in House, again as Larry Talbot/The Wolf Man. The film is sometimes referred to as ”The House of Frankenstein” and sometimes without the prefix. Continue reading

Captive Wild Woman

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(5/10) In a nutshell: Director Edward Dmytryk cuts and pastes together a surprisingly coherent and enjoyable tale of a gorilla being turned into a woman by a mad John Carradine in his first mad scientist role. The 1943 film made the mysterious Acquanetta an over-night star, and garnered two sequels, despite the fact that one third of the movie is reused footage from an old lion-taming film.

Captive Wild Woman. 1943, USA. Directed by Edward Dmytryk. Written by Ted Fithian, Neil P. Varnick, Griffin Jay, Henry Sucher. Starring: John Carradine, Evelyn Ankers, Milburn Stone, Acquanetta, Fay Helm, Crash Corrigan, Clyde Beatty. Produced by Ben Pivar for Universal. Tomatometer: 40 %. IMDb score: 5.7

Acauanetta as Cheela the ape woman in Captive Wild Woman.

Acauanetta as Cheela the ape woman in Captive Wild Woman.

Come and see ACQUANETTA the VENEZUELAN VOLCANO as the terrifying APE WOMAN! Watch as she lures men to their death with her savage beauty! That wasn’t a tagline for Captive Wild Woman, I just made it up, but it could well have been. When we think of the Universal monster movies post-1941, we usually think of it as the time when the studio simply milked money out of the series by teaming up their creatures in one bad B film after the other. But this actually wasn’t really the case. In 1943 Universal added yet another monster to its roster, and this time it was a woman, in the form of the exotic and mysterious actress Acquanetta as Cheela the ape woman. Continue reading

Revenge of the Zombies

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(4/10) A good black supporting cast led by comedian Mantan Moreland saves this 1943 film, directed by The Day of the Triffids director Steve Sekely. John Carradine sleepwalks through his second outing as a mad scientist, this time creating zombies out of his staff and even his own wife. The white heroes of the movie are really just killing time between Moreland’s comedy skits.

Revenge of the Zombies. 1943, USA. Directed by Steve Sekely. Written bt Edmond Kelso, Van Norcross. Starring: Robert Lowery, Mauritz Hugo, John Carradine, Mantan Moreland, Veda Ann Borg, Gale Storm, Bob Steele, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, James Baskett, Sybil Lewis, Barry McCollum. Produced by Lindsley Parsons for Monogram. IMDb score: 4.7

Sybil Lewis and Mantan Moreland are two of the good things about this 1943 zombie horror comedy.

Sybil Lewis and Mantan Moreland are two of the good things about this 1943 zombie horror comedy.

Just off one Monogram picture, the abysmally bad The Ape Man (1943, review), starring Bela Lugosi, I jump right on to the next B cheapo. This time the villain is played by Lugosi’s and Boris Karloff’s successor as something of mad scientist royalty (although the title was hotly contested for in 1943), John Carradine. This was his second outing as a mad scientist, the first being Captive Wild Woman (1943, review). Continue reading

The Bride of Frankenstein

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(9/10) In a nutshell: With Bride of Frankenstein James Whale created the greatest of all Universal horror films. Superb acting, great casting, a script that balances between drama, horror and campy humour, all rounded up with fluid, expressionistic filmmaking and Soviet-styled montage editing. All this, plus the marvellous Elsa Lanchester as the Bride, Boris Karloff in high form, and a chilly, funny, scary Ernest Thesiger. Greatness abounds, but thematically the film is a bit sloppy. 

The Bride of Frankenstein. 1935, USA. Directed by James Whale. Written by John L. Balderston, Edmund Pearson, William Hurlbut. Based on the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Ernest Thesiger, Valerie Hobson, Elsa Lanchester, O.P. Heggie, Una O’Connor, Dwight Frye, John Carradine.  Produced by Carl Laemmle Jr. for Universal. Tomatometer: 100 %. IMDb score: 7.9

The superb Elsa Lanchester in her most iconic role as the Bride of Frankenstein.

The superb Elsa Lanchester in her most iconic role as the Bride of Frankenstein.

The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) is one of those films that has been analysed into shreds, so that the legacy of the film somehow overshadows the film itself, very much like 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). It is one of those rare horror films that even reviewers not generally infatuated with genre films like to promote to the same status as groundbreaking works like Battleship Potemkin (1925) or Citizen Kane (1941) – or at least that is the sense that one sometimes gets from people who are adamant that Bride is one of the most important films in American cinematic history (an interesting notion as most of the key personnel were British). Although it is true that along with Paramount’s Island of Lost Souls (1933, review) this Universal classic is the finest of the American horror films of the thirties, some of its reputation stems from the fact that people like to read topics between the lines that simply aren’t there. Continue reading