Mini Review: Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972)
by Steve Habrat
In 1974, director Bob Clark forever tainted the holiday season with his chilling slasher flick Black Christmas, which is credited as being the first holiday-themed slasher horror movie that sliced and diced up teen protagonists. (Contrary to popular belief, John Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t the first teen slasher film. However, due to its massive success, it is responsible for sparking the teen slasher craze that dominated 1980s.) Two years before Clark’s Black Christmas, director Theodore Gershuny also used the Christmas season as the backdrop for blood-curdling murder and mayhem. While not quite as frightening as Black Christmas, Silent Night, Bloody Night boasts one hell of a B-movie cast (Hey there, John Carradine!), and it packs plenty of gloomy atmosphere, ferocious violence, and (believe it or not), spine-chilling phone calls that will leave you hesitant to ever answer a ringing telephone again. It truly is difficult to believe this brooding little drive-in gem has flown under the radar for so long, especially considering the fact that it is floating around out there in the public domain.
Silent Night, Bloody Night begins with a flashback to Christmas, 1950, with Wilfred Butler storming out of his magnificent mansion in flames and dying out in the snow. On New Year’s Day, Butler was laid to rest, and his home was left to his son, Jeffrey Butler (played by James Patterson). Several years later, the Butler home lies vacant, and Jeffrey is looking to sell the property. Soon, a New York City lawyer named John Carter (played by Patrick O’Neal) and his girlfriend, Ingrid (played by Astrid Heeren), arrive to purchase the home. John begins negotiating with Mayor Adams (played by Walter Abel) and several other prominent town officials, but they all seem a bit scared of something. Meanwhile, a serial killer has escaped from a local insane asylum and has taken shelter in the empty Butler house. As it turns out, this madman is no stranger to the small town, and as he begins claiming lives, he threatens to reveal a horrific secret about the Butler home that town officials believed was buried with Wilfred Butler’s body. With the town on edge and several mysterious disappearances reported, Jeffrey arrives back in town to meet with John and Ingrid, but he is unable to locate them. With the help of Mayor Adams’ daughter, Diane (played by Mary Woronov), the two attempt to get to the bottom of what is going on.
With a title like Silent Night, Bloody Night, you may be under the impression that this impressive little horror movie uses graphic violence and gore to get at its audience. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as Gershuny goes to great lengths to give the film an ominous feel that never wears off. He enjoys giving us outside glimpses of the Butler house, standing silently and almost proudly out in the snow, only to cut to the darkened interior where horrible secrets wander the shadows. The filmmakers muster plenty of atmosphere and they divide it evenly throughout the film’s runtime, but the film isn’t bashful about its bloodletting. Gershuny borrows a page out of Psycho’s playbook and decides to hack up two characters that we have been led to believe would be the film’s protagonists. In a surprise twist, Gershuny unleashes his cold-blooded killer in an intimate moment, bumrushing the viewer with a string of brutal images that are dripping with blood. It’s a terrifying scene that acts as more of a nod to Hitchcock rather than a cheap imitation. Another nifty sequence comes near the end, with a grainy sepia flashback that looks like a hellish permutation of Night of the Living Dead and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It’s best not to reveal too much about the scene, but be warned that it is a visual stunner that is cramped with death and insanity.
Considering that Silent Night, Bloody Night has been cast into obscurity, you might be surprised to learn that there are several well-known actors and actresses attached to the picture. Among the familiar faces are Andy Warhol favorite and Roger Corman star Mary Woronov as the mayor’s pistol packing daughter, legendary horror actor John Carradine as a mute newspaper publisher, and veteran performer Walter Abel as the town’s doomed mayor. In addition to these solid cult players, Patrick O’Neal is strong in his brief run as the kindly lawyer John Carter, James Patterson is seedy and suspicious as Jeffrey Butler, and Fran Stevens is spooked and skittish as town phone operator Tess Howard. Overall, while time hasn’t exactly been kind to it, Silent Night, Bloody Night remains an eerie mystery thriller that wedges its way under your skin with a gruesome slasher spin. It’s acted with plenty of intensity, accompanied by a menacing score, and brought home with a twist climax that is about as bleak as they come. This is a holiday horror movie that is best suited for a snowy midnight hour.
Silent Night, Bloody Night is available on DVD.
Wild Werewolves: The Howling (1981)
by Steve Habrat
Just four short months before John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London came ripping into theaters, director Joe Dante released The Howling, a stylish little werewolf horror film with a sleazy side. Lacking the big budget studio backing that Landis enjoyed (An American Werewolf in London was released through Universal Studios), The Howling has earned a respectable cult following over the years. It doesn’t particularly enjoy the mainstream recognition that Landis’ film receives, prowling just under the radar and seeming to relish its cult status. Despite all of this, The Howling is still an immensely enjoyable horror film, and its one that deeply rewards with its semi-veiled winks carefully placed by Mr. Dante. The Howling also enjoys its fair share of blood, sex, and nudity, kicking things off in a sleazy porn theater and ending with a rip roaring showdown between a bunch of pointy-eared werewolves looking to tear sheets of flesh from bone. As if the blood, beasts, and boobs weren’t enough to have horror fans drooling, it’s worth tracking down The Howling for the numerous nods to other horror filmmakers that Dante places throughout his film. You’ll thrill at tips of the hat to two of Hammer’s most famous directors, a handful of Universal Studios directors, and you’ll chuckle at a cameo from the B-movie king himself, Roger Corman. Now how can you argue with all of that?!
The Howling introduces us to Karen White (played by Dee Wallace), a Los Angeles news reporter who has been receiving perverted messages from a serial killer named Eddie Quist (played by Robert Picardo). One evening, Karen agrees to meet Eddie in a sleazy porn theater, but what Eddie doesn’t know is that Karen is working with the police in an attempt to get him off the streets. Before the police can rush in to nab Eddie, Karen catches a glimpse of her stalker’s face, and what she sees seems to frighten her to death. In the midst of all the chaos, Eddie is gunned down by a trigger-happy police officer. Over the course of the next few days, Karen is plagued by horrible nightmares about the encounter, something that deeply concerns her husband, Bill (played by Christopher Stone). At the advice of her therapist, Dr. George Wagner (played by Patrick Macnee), Karen and Bill head off to a secluded town called The Colony. Upon their arrival, Karen and Bill are greeted by a number of locals that all seem to be a bit peculiar. Bill finds himself being seduced by a woman named Marsha (played by Elisabeth Brooks) and they observe the bizarre suicide attempt of an elderly man named Erle (played by John Carradine). Things get even stranger when Karen is awoken in the middle of the night by what sounds like wolves howling. After a wolf-like creature attacks Bill, Karen begins to notice that Bill’s behavior is growing more and more suspicious. To make things worse, Karen’s friends, Terri Fisher (played by Belinda Balaski) and Christopher Halloran (played by Dennis Dugan), discover that Eddie Quist may not be dead after all.
Early on, The Howling resembles a seedy murder mystery—something that would have seemed right at home on 42nd Street. We drift through a sleazy part of Los Angeles, where porn theaters line the street and almost everyone seems like they are up to no good. When the action finally shifts from gritty street fare to woodsy tension, The Howling gets really entertaining. It takes some time for the werewolf action to really kick in, but when it does, it brings some impressive and downright intimidating werewolves with it. These suckers look like they were created by the Devil himself, with their pointed ears, glistening fangs, and towering height. It’s nearly impossible not to find these guys creepy. As if the werewolves weren’t gruesome enough for you, Dante springs a transformation on us that features bubbling skin, bulging eyes, pulsing necks, and bleeding fingernails. It certainly rivals what we saw in An American Werewolf in London, but Dante uses more cuts to mask all the effects, something that Landis wasn’t guilty of. Either way, it is still unbelievably gross and leaves you wondering how the hell they managed to pull that off in 1981.
As far as the performances go, most of the players turn in memorable roles; however, scream queen Dee Wallace really disappoints. Wallace’s Karen is consistently faint, scripted, and almost a bit confused as she squirms over what she saw in the porno theater. When she heads up to The Colony, she gains a bit of strength, but when it comes to her life being threatened, she just backs up against the wall and slightly cringes as a werewolf closes in. She doesn’t even put up much of a fight when she is drug before a several locals just waiting to unleash their inner monsters. She just hangs there until she can be saved. Stone finds a groove as Bill, Karen’s frustrated husband that is slowly being pulled into the arms of another woman. Picardo is sweaty and perverted as Eddie, a serial killer with an even more dreadful secret. He will make your skin crawl as he proclaims to think that Karen has a sexy voice, all while she is screaming bloody murder. Elisabeth Brooks smolders as Marsha, a nymphomaniac that can get vicious in the blink of an eye. Dennis Dugan’s Christopher gets to be the hero of the film, arming himself with some silver bullets to put down the beasts of The Colony once and for all. The appearance of John Carradine as Erle is also a treat, a crazy old coot that is constantly trying to get the attention of those around him.
Considering that The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were released the same year, it’s almost impossible not to compare the two of them. While the films are evenly matched most of the way through, The Howling may come out ahead when it comes to the climax. Where An American Werewolf in London just abruptly ends on a highly emotional note, The Howling is alive with plenty of werewolf action that will have you jumping out of your seat. As if all the silver bullets, exploding cars, burning barns, and snarling werewolves weren’t enough, we are treated to one more surprise before the film can fade to black. When it comes to discussing the rest of The Howling, the film seems to know what horror fans are craving, We are treated to a sex scene that finds both individuals morphing into werewolves, one character digging out a piece of their head to give someone a “piece” of their mind, and there is also a melted face complete with bone and muscle visible (in this department, An American Werewolf in London had them beat). Overall, The Howling is an addictive little werewolf horror movie that tips its hat in inspired and subtle ways to the subgenre. It features some of the coolest look werewolves out there and the climax is a fiery hoot. This is frightfully good fun with a wink.
The Howling is available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Invisible Man
by Steve Habrat
While he may not be as popular as Dracula, Frankenstein, or the Mummy, the Invisible Man is still a pretty scary guy. I mean, you can’t see him and he could attack you at anytime! THAT, boys and ghouls, is pretty scary if you ask me. Rooted more in science fiction than straight horror, The Invisible Man is actually one of the best films in the Universal Monster collection. While the sequels didn’t stick as closely to the science fiction/horror mash-up as the original film did, they still managed to remain above average and impressive with their special effects. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the original The Invisible Man, click here. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews for the sequels to The Invisible Man. Read on if you dare…
The Invisible Man Returns (1940)
Sir Geoffrey Radcliffe (Played by Vincent Price) has just been sentenced to death for the murder of his brother, a crime that he did not commit. While on death row, Radcliffe is visited by Dr. Frank Griffith (Played by John Sutton), the original Invisible Man’s brother, who injects Radcliffe with the infamous invisibility formula. Radcliffe proceeds to escape from prison and sets out to prove his innocence but along the way, he begins to slip into insanity, a horrific side effect of the invisibility formula.
Never as mischievous as the original 1933 The Invisible Man, The Invisible Man Returns doesn’t shy away from causing plenty of mayhem. Not nearly as heavy on the horror and leaning more towards a mixture of science fiction and murder mystery, The Invisible Man Returns is still given an aura of menace with the presence of Vincent Price, a legend that is mostly heard and only briefly seen. With his gentlemanly coos aimed at his fiancé, Helen Manson (Played by Nan Grey), and his sinister guffaws, Price’s Radcliffe is one unpredictable madman who will prove his innocence at any cost, even if that means killing a few people in the process. As the whodunit slowly unravels for the big reveal, we can’t help but wonder if Radcliffe is really any better than the individuals that he is trying to track down. Price has some great chemistry with Grey, but she isn’t really given much to do other than look worried about Radcliffe’s safety. Cecil Kellaway, another familiar Universal face, also shows up as Inspector Sampson, who pieces together Radcliffe’s disappearance.
Much like the original film, The Invisible Man Returns has some jaw dropping special effects, especially incredible for the time in which the film was made. The effects ended up nabbing an Oscar nomination but it sadly didn’t take the award home. Yet director Joe May doesn’t lean on the impressive special effects even though he very well could and no one would blame him. The film, which is based once again on the story by H.G. Wells, doesn’t find the original invisible man, Jack Griffith (Played brilliantly by Claude Rains), rising from the dead to continue his rampage. The film wisely elaborates and continues the story in a clever and respectable fashion. The Invisible Man Returns also runs a full eighty-one minutes, which allows the storyline to fully develop. Overall, it could have been scarier but there are still plenty of extraordinary shocks and thrills throughout The Invisible Man Returns to keep the story engrossing. Plus, it has Vincent Price and how can you argue with that?! Grade: B+
The Invisible Woman (1940)
Feisty model Kitty Caroll (Played by Virginia Bruce) is tired of being pushed around at her job by her insufferable boss. On a whim, she answers a newspaper add posted by the eccentric Professor Gibbs (Played by John Barrymore), an ad that asks for human guinea pigs for his invisibility machine. Professor Gibbs is on the verge of loosing funding from the wealthy playboy Dick Russell (Played by John Howard) but when the invisibility machine works successfully, he launches a campaign to convince Dick that the machine is fully operational. However, the real challenge comes from trying to contain the mischievous Kitty and fighting off local thugs who want to steal the machine.
What little traces of horror you could find in The Invisible Man Returns disappears completely in The Invisible Woman, which was released the same year as the Vincent Price thriller. A cheeky screwball comedy that is more of a wild party, The Invisible Woman is quite a bit of fun if you are in the market for a whole bunch of laughs, but if it is horror you are after, it is best you look elsewhere. It is a bit odd that this film gets lumped in with the Universal Movie Monsters but the film is still a pretty solid watch on its own terms. It is very difficult not to like Bruce as the playful Kitty, who enjoys getting some hilarious revenge on her snippy boss Growley (Played by Charles Lane). The second half of the film morphs into more of a romantic comedy, with Howard’s playboy Dick falling for the leggy Kitty. The budding romance is sweetly written and delivered by the actors, making it an easy pill to swallow. There is also plenty of silliness thrown in from Barrymore’s Professor Gibbs, who acts as a strict father figure for both Dick and Kitty. There is also plenty of physical comedy from Dick’s butler, George (Played by Charles Ruggles), who is constantly mortified or taking a nasty tumble.
The Invisible Woman’s overall quality is done in by the unnecessary addition of the gangster side plot, which finds sinister thug Blackie (Played by Oskar Homolka), trying to steal the invisibility machine. The only good thing that can be said about this side plot is that it gives Ruggles a break from the physical comedy and places it on the shoulders of a slew of extras. Many of the delivered jokes fall flat, mostly because Homolka just isn’t that funny as the jumpy gangster. Even if it technically isn’t a horror film, The Invisible Woman still applies the invisibility aspect smartly and there are plenty of sly remarks made over the fact that Kitty is nude the entire time. There was quite a bit of controversy surrounding this aspect but by today’s standards, it is rather tame. Overall, The Invisible Woman is a sweet little romantic romp that fits nicely in the romantic comedy genre but trips over a pointless gangster subplot that should have been left out completely. Grade: B
Invisible Agent (1942)
The Invisible Man’s grandson, Frank Raymond (Played by Jon Hall), has been trying to live a quiet and normal life in Manhattan. It turns out that Frank still possesses a small amount of the invisibility formula that drove his grandfather insane. Frank soon finds himself approach by secret agents from the Axis powers, who are determined to get their hands on the formula. Frank refuses and makes a narrow escape with the formula in hand. America is soon dragged into World War II and Frank decides to make a deal with the Army—use the invisibility formula to spy on Nazi Germany. The army agrees and Frank is sent behind enemy lines where he does battle with a slew of S.S. buffoons and falls in love with Maria Sorenson (Played by Ilona Massey), a British secret agent.
Stripping away the romantic comedy and acting as part of a war time propaganda movement to boost American morale, Invisible Agent is much more a thriller with some chuckle worthy aspects. Just as it was in The Invisible Woman, the invisibility is often times played for laughs rather than scares. The comedy really takes flight during a scene in which Frank terrorizes a pudgy S.S. officer who lusts after Maria. When Frank isn’t invisible, he is a fairly forgettable character and he even remains a bit dry when he has injected the formula into his bloodstream (shockingly). Massey is certainly the life of the party but her character often times seems too eager to fall in love rather than do anything constructive. Cedric Hardwicke shows up as Conrad Stauffer, an S.S. officer doing anything he can do get his hands on the invisibility formula. Peter Lorre is handed the job of playing Baron Ikito, a Japanese officer with a thing for amputation (just wait for THAT scene). There is no question that Lorre is the most colorful one in Invisible Agent but his character is so obviously American that it is almost hard to take.
Invisible Agent does have plenty of action to thrill us throughout its eighty-one minute run time. The film has lots of impressive aerial battles that find Frank trying to sneak out of Germany with Hitler’s plot to attack New York City. There are plenty of fiery explosions and narrow escapes to have you on the edge of your seat. The downside is that Frank is such a bland hero that it is hard to really care if he makes it out alive. Invisible Agent also boasts some of the most impressive special effects of the series yet, some of them mind-boggling for the time. Overall, as an action thriller, Invisible Agent executes the mission with ease but you will find yourself starting to long for the science fiction chills of the Claude Rains original. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
Robert Griffith (Played by Jon Hall) escapes from prison and makes his way to London to find Jasper and Irene Herrick (Played by Lester Matthews and Gale Sonergaard), a wealthy couple that Robert believes cheated him out of a small fortune years earlier. When the Herricks turn him away, Robert seeks out Dr. Peter Drury (Played by John Carradine), who has created a formula that can turn a man invisible. After demanding that Dr. Drury test the formula on him, the newly invisible Robert sets out to get revenge on the Herricks.
The Invisible Man’s Revenge finds the Invisible Man series moving away from the comedy that The Invisible Woman and Invisible Agent were so fond of and returning to the horror that kicked the franchise off. Not nearly as absorbing as The Invisible Man or The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Man’s Revenge does wrap up the series in a fairly respectable manner even if the story is starting to fade right before our eyes. The real downside to the film is the fact that there is no sympathetic monster at the heart of the terror. The Universal horror films were notorious for including monsters that we actually felt bad for. The Invisible Man’s Revenge serves up a psychotic villain right from the start and refuses to make him a multifarious character. Claude Rains earned our sympathy through the fact that he was desperately trying to outrun madness but in the end he slipped into it. In The Invisible Man Returns, Vincent Price was a man framed for a crime he didn’t commit and his quest for the truth was causing his sanity to deteriorate.
Then we have Jon Hall, who picks up where Rains and Price left off. Hall, who also appeared in Invisible Agent, does a passable job with the role of Robert but he lacks the unruly insanity of Rains or the creeping terror of Price. Still, Hall manages to outshine everyone else in the film, as the rest of the characters seem to disappear from memory when the credits roll. Universal regular Carradine steps in as the gentle doctor who comes face to face with pure evil. Carradine is forced to take a stale role, one that completely takes away from his always-welcome presence. The effects here are just as solid as they were in the other films but near the end, it seems like some of the effects were getting sloppy. Overall, The Invisible Man’s Revenge is running on empty but director Ford Beebe still manages to send the character off on a dark and ominous note. Grade: B-
The Invisible Man Returns, The Invisible Woman, Invisible Agent, and The Invisible Man’s Revenge are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: The Mummy
by Steve Habrat
As dark and ominous as they come, the exotic Boris Karloff film is certainly a spine-tingling adventure. While the original Karloff film is a stand alone film, Universal refused to let the Mummy franchise shuffle back into the tomb and in 1940, they rebooted the series with more action, more suspense, more terror, and more mummy. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s review of the Boris Karloff classic, click here. Without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of The Mummy reboots. Read on if you dare…
The Mummy’s Hand (1940)
After unemployed archeologist Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) and his assistant, Babe Jenson (Played by Wallace Ford), stumble upon the whereabouts of the hidden tomb of Egyptian Princess Ananka, the duo sets out to find funding for their new expedition. The duo finds funding from jolly American magician Slovani (Played by Cecil Kellaway), who tags along on their quest with his beautiful daughter Marta (Played by Peggy Moran). The group believes that this new discovery will make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams but they accidentally awaken an ancient curse that stirs Kharis (Played by Tom Tyler), a mummy that guards the tomb of Princess Ananka. As Kharis slowly rips his way through the members of Banning’s expedition, the sinister high priest Professor Andoheb (Played by George Zucco) is revealed to be controlling the mummy and he has his eyes on a bigger prize—Marta.
While more of a remake of the 1932 Boris Karloff original The Mummy, The Mummy’s Hand actually manages to be a bit more entertaining than the Karloff classic. Heavy on the serial style action and lighter on the creepy-crawly horror, the film certainly flirts with a B-movie aura but that only adds to the fun to be had. Where the original film only allowed us to see the mummy for a total of five minutes at most, director Christy Cabanne doesn’t shy away from showing us this undead fiend. He never takes on a human form in this Mummy installment and I must say that I enjoyed the film even more because of it. While Karloff was certainly creepy in the role, Tyler’s mummy is a hellish sight to behold, especially when we get a revolting close-up that reveals black holes for eyes and a twisted gimp arm. The mummy ends up being an indestructible puppet for a less interesting puppet master but he still manages to make your skin crawl when he shuffles in for the attack.
The Mummy’s Hand certainly has its fair share of comic relief to break up this roller coaster ride. Ford’s Babe Jenson is a mouthy sidekick that delivers one sly remark after another. Foran’s Banning is the typical tall, dark, and handsome hero who is constantly throwing himself in between the attacking mummy and Marta, who is usually tied up and screaming. There is also the buffoonish magician Slovani, who seems like he is only in front of the camera to perform some mildly impressive magic tricks but you won’t hear me complaining about him. At just barely over an hour, the film’s evil plot suffers a bit but the characters are all so animated that we barely even notice the moldy story. The film also hilariously borrows footage from the original Mummy movie and shamelessly steals the score from Son of Frankenstein, a cheap approach but never very distracting. Overall, The Mummy’s Hand may not send you fleeing in terror from it but as a rollicking serial-esque romp with a few tense spots, I don’t think you can really go wrong with it. Grade: B+
The Mummy’s Tomb (1942)
Thirty years after Steve Banning (Played by Dick Foran) sent the mummy Kharis to a fiery grave, an Egyptian high priest named Mehemet Bey (Played by Turhan Bey) travels to America with Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) to eliminate the surviving members of the Banning expedition and any descendents they may have. As the body count rises, the local citizens believe that they have a flesh and blood killer on their hands, but all hell breaks loose when they discover that the killer may be supernatural.
About as rickety as they come, The Mummy’s Tomb barely clocks in at an hour. Ten minutes of that hour are dedicated to giving us a quick refresher over the events of The Mummy’s Hand. This refresher comes in the form of lifting key scenes from The Mummy’s Hand and interlacing the scenes into a story told by the much older Banning. The other fifty minutes of The Mummy’s Tomb speeds by with plenty of nonstop suspense that is surprisingly effective even if it was made on the cheap. The overall appearance of the mummy, this time portrayed by Universal’s favorite son, Lon Chaney, Jr, is especially ghastly. Here, the mummy is missing an eye and has a charred mug that makes him even more repulsive than he already is. Chaney isn’t really given room to do anything creative with the roll and he basically resorts to mimicking the movements of Tom Tyler. Honestly, you wouldn’t even know it was Chaney in the make-up unless you were told.
The Mummy’s Tomb has a difficult time settling on one hero, bouncing in between the aging Banning and his valiant son John (Played by John Hubbard), who is forced to once again destroy the shuffling ghoul with fire. Wallace Ford pops in for a cameo as Babe, a cameo that doesn’t ask him to do anything except run down a dark alley and make a half-assed attempt to get away from the mummy. Surprisingly, Bey gives a fairly measured performance as the mummy’s puppet master. He is basically after the same thing that Andoheb was after but he is a bit creepier about it. Over before you even realize it, The Mummy’s Tomb is creaky B-movie horror that has an impressive monster, a unique setting, and plenty of atmospheric shadows to make this a quick fix that satisfies a monster movie craving. Grade: B-
The Mummy’s Ghost (1944)
Taking place many years after the events of The Mummy’s Tomb, the year is now 1970 and yet another new High Priest, Yousef Bey (Played by John Carradine), has traveled from Egypt to Mapleton, Massachusetts, to find the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.) and his dead lover, Ananka. Yet before Yousef can make it to Mapleton, Kharis is accidentally awoken from his slumber and begins attacking innocent civilians. When Yousef arrives, he discovers that Ananka’s soul has been reincarnated in the body of a beautiful young Egyptian woman named Amina Mansori (Played by Ramsay Ames). Meanwhile, the local detectives race to destroy the mummy before he can kill again.
Doing virtually nothing to set itself apart from The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost shuffles by on basically the same plot as its predecessor. I will admit that, in a way, it is sort of funny the way the script continues to rehash the mummy’s origin and recycle the same plotline. Yet you will find yourself unable to dislike The Mummy’s Ghost because it finds Chaney giving the moldy monster a small amount of personality and the film packs a pretty bleak climax. Here, Kharis is sent into uncontrollable rages as his lover is yanked just out of his deathly reach and the way that director Reginald Le Borg allows Kharis to stalk the shadows of suburbia are very effective even if it is a bit obvious that Chaney is limping around a set. The film also gets a boost from the presence of Carradine, who seems more comfortable in an Egyptian fez than Dracula’s cape.
As the film goes on, the rest of the cast slowly fades into the background. Robert Lowery plays the same hero that we have seen in the previous Mummy films. Here he is Amina’s brainy boyfriend, Tom Hervey, who may not be able to quite save the day. A clever and surprising touch for a film that is so formulaic. Ames is the eye candy as she prances around and faints at the mere mention of Egypt or the sight of Kharis. Rounding out the main players is Frank Reicher as Professor Norman, who examined some of the mummy murders when Kharis stocked Mapleton the first time. Here he makes the careless mistake of waking him up with the brew of nine tana leaves. You’d think he’d know better! The film’s climax ends with the typical chase as the hero stumbles after the mummy, who slowly shuffles through the woods with Amina in his arms. You’d think that Tom would be able to catch him but that Kharis must have one hell of a lead. Overall, The Mummy’s Ghost is a shameless rehash that contains a few interesting plot advancements and a chilling final sequence but really nothing more. You’ll be convinced that you are re-watching The Mummy’s Tomb. Grade: C+
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
Twenty-five years after Kharis disappeared into a watery grave, an irrigation project in Cajun Country has unearthed the body of the mummy Kharis (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). The body falls into the hands of Dr. Ilzor Zandaab (Played by Peter Coe), a secret High Priest who awakens the mummy with his partner, Ragheb (Played by Martin Kosleck). Kharis begins wandering the swamps looking for the remains of his lover, Ananka (Played by Virginia Christine), who has also risen from the muddy grave and is under the supervision of the protective Dr. James Halsey (Played by Dennis Moore).
Released the same year as The Mummy’s Ghost, The Mummy’s Curse is the last installment of Universal’s slowly decaying Mummy franchise. Avoiding the rehash trap that The Mummy’s Ghost fell
into, The Mummy’s Curse is slightly rejuvenated through a fresh setting and a creepy sequence in which Ananka’s body rises out of the muddy swamp. The setting, which also happens to be the film’s biggest plot hole, has inexplicably moved from a swamp in Mapleton, Massachusetts to superstitious Cajun Country. Once again, Chaney is hidden behind the rotten bandages and the blistery burns but this time, they feel cheaply done and Chaney himself seems to have checked out of the role of Kharis. Christine is gorgeous as the undead swamp queen who knows quite a bit about ancient Egypt. Sadly, no one else is memorable or makes a ripple in this muddy puddle.
The highlight moment of The Mummy’s Curse is the scene in which Ananka slithers out of her muddy resting place and begins wandering the swamp like a ghostly specter. It is easily the only creepy moment in The Mummy’s Curse and the only scene that suggests that director Leslie Goodwins was attempting to make anything artistically worthwhile. At just an hour long, this could be the driest of the Mummy movies, the one that seems to be moving just as slow as Kharis. It lacks an arching evil plot and the only spooks outside of Ananka’s emergence come when the workers draining the swamps trade jittery stories about ghosts. Overall, The Mummy’s Curse could have ended much worse but there are small aspects to admire. Sadly, this supernatural adventure gets stuck in the swampy mud and just barely gets loose. Grade: C-
The Mummy’s Hand, The Mummy’s Tomb, The Mummy’s Ghost, and The Mummy’s Curse are all available on DVD.
Universal Movie Monsters Sequel Mini Reviews: Frankenstein
by Steve Habrat
Nothing says Halloween like Frankenstein, the iconic horror story penned by Mary Shelley. The legendary tale has it all: walking corpses, gothic castles, mad scientists, hunchbacks, and misty graveyards. If that doesn’t scream Halloween then I don’t know what does. Shortly after the success of Dracula, Universal unleashed Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, two horror classics that are still celebrated today and beloved by every single horror fan on the planet. If you wish to read Corinne Rizzo’s reviews of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, click here for Frankenstein or click here for Bride of Frankenstein. So, without further ado, here are Anti-Film School’s mini reviews of the Frankenstein sequels.
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Picking up several years after the events of Bride of Frankenstein, Henry Frankenstein’s son, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein (Played by Basil Rathbone), returns to his father’s castle with his wife, Elsa (Played by Josephine Hutchinson), and his young son, Peter (Played by Donnie Dunagan). Eager to repair his father’s reputation, Wolf quickly discovers that local villagers are not so eager to forgive for the abomination that his father created. Wolf soon finds himself approached by the demented Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi), who wants Wolf to bring the Monster (Played by Boris Karloff) back from the dead. Wolf reluctantly agrees with the hopes of restoring his father’s legacy but with the reanimation of the Monster, death and destruction once again tear through the countryside.
If Universal would have ended its Frankenstein series with Son of Frankenstein, then it could have ranked as one of the greatest trilogies to ever come out of Hollywood. Wrapping things up quite horrifically, director Rowland V. Lee tells one of the heartiest tales Frankenstein’s Monster ever received and it is all the better for it. Immensely satisfying and surprisingly eerie, Karloff once again shines as everyone’s favorite grunting brute corpse as he shuffles about the twisted landscape. It would become the last time Karloff would ever don that famous make-up and boy does he go out with a bang. While he lacks much of the understanding and humanity that he did in Bride of Frankenstein (my personal favorite Universal Monster movie), he still gives the Monster heaping amounts of personality. Karloff does end up playing second fiddle to Lugosi, who gives one hell of a performance as Ygor, a raspy grave robber who somehow survived a hanging and now has a deformed neck.
As far as the supporting players go, Rathbone is adequate as a man who refuses to own up to what he has created. Rathbone consistently plays off of Lionel Atwill’s one-armed Inspector Krogh, who is being forced into reprimanding Wolf even though he believes that he isn’t the criminal the rambling villagers think he is. The film applies a nightmarish German Expressionist vision to the terror, making everything seem slightly surreal as Karloff and Lugosi lurch about the rocky landscape. The film really takes hold when Wolf’s son Peter begins explaining that a giant has paid him a visit, a confession that will give you the creeps. Overall, Son of Frankenstein stands as the last great Universal Frankenstein film, one that still manages to terrify to this very day. An unsung winner from Universal’s glory days. Grade: A-
The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Taking place shortly after the events of Son of Frankenstein, the horrific devastation that took place at Frankenstein’s castle still looms over the nearby village. Many villagers believe that Ygor (Played by Béla Lugosi) is still alive and is desperately trying to find the body of Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.). It turns out that Ygor has indeed found the body of the Monster caught and preserved in the sulfur that he was pushed into by Wolf von Frankenstein. The villagers soon storm the ruins of the castle and run Ygor and the Monster, who has been weakened due to the sulfur exposure, out of town. Ygor decides to travel to the nearby village of Vasaria to find Ludwig Frankenstein (Played by Cedric Hardwicke), the second son of Henry Frankenstein, with the hopes that he can restore the Monster to his full strength. Ludwig begins studying the Monster with the hopes of destroying it once and for all, but a visit from his father’s apparition pleads with him to perfect the creation.
At a brief sixty-seven minutes, The Ghost of Frankenstein seems like lukewarm scraps that should have been thrown out rather than reheated. Despite a tepid script and a nonsensical storyline that is slightly convoluted, The Ghost of Frankenstein still has a few surprises that keep things just barely shuffling along. Chaney does a surprisingly decent job as the Monster, who once again doesn’t show the degree of humanity that Karloff did in Frankenstein or Bride of Frankenstein. Chaney is much better as this monster than he was as Dracula but he will always be the best at the Wolf-Man, a role he should have stuck to but I guess someone had to step in and fill Karloff’s shoes. Meanwhile, Lugosi once again steals the show as the unhinged freak Ygor, who wants to use the Monster to cause as much destruction as he possibly can. Despite a lot of silliness, Lugosi plays for keeps. Thankfully, he comes out unscathed. Then there is Hardwicke, who seems rather disinterested as Ludwig, a man who has been blackmailed into reviving the Monster. He certainly doesn’t live up to the other two Frankenstein boys.
A step down in the production department, The Ghost of Frankenstein feels frustratingly stale and downright meaningless. It is obviously a quick cash grab on the Frankenstein name and it is hard to forgive Universal for that, especially after that trio of treasures that they delivered before this. The film has very few creepy moments to speak of but the atmosphere of the original three films is long gone. Still, Chaney works hard to keep things on the ghoulish track and the ever-colorful Lugosi aids him along. I will admit that I did enjoy the morbid twist at the end of film, a twist that involves a quick brain swap with fiery results. Overall, it is far from my favorite Universal horror film but I believe you can do much, much worse. It just hurts to see the high quality Frankenstein series deteriorate into such an unimaginative mess. Grade: C
The House of Frankenstein (1944)
After the vengeful Dr. Gustav Niemann (Played by Boris Karloff) escapes from prison with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Played by J. Carrol Naish), he sets out to find the three men responsible for his imprisonment. After murdering a traveling showman and taking over his roaming horror show, Dr. Niemann unleashes Dracula (Played by John Carradine), the Wolf-Man (Played by Lon Chaney, Jr.), and Frankenstein’s Monster (Played by Glenn Strange) to get revenge on those who have wronged him. As their rampage tears through multiple villages, Dr. Niemann and Daniel begin to fear that they may also fall victim to the horrors that they have unleashed.
Released a year before the weary House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein marked the first time that all of Universal’s headlining monsters were together in one smash horror show. A bit smoother than House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is carried by the mere presence of Karloff, who here is portraying the mad doctor rather than the big green Monster. While Karloff seems to be enjoying the fact that he isn’t caked with make-up, the real star here is Naish’s hunchback Daniel, a tragic soul who lusts after a beautiful gypsy Ilonka (Played by Elena Verdugo). Daniel longs for a better body, which he believes would allow him to win over Ilonka’s affection. It is even more tragic to see Daniel pitted against Larry Tolbot/the Wolf-Man, who seems to be the apple of Ilonka’s eye. The House of Frankenstein also finds Glenn Strange stepping in as the Frankenstein Monster, once again played as a grunting brute with very little emotion. Carradine also makes an appearance as Dracula, who flies off with the film’s most thrilling sequence.
Much like House of Dracula, The House of Frankenstein is really straining to keep itself together for its seventy-one minute run. The film really works due to the surprisingly strong conflict between the Daniel and Larry; a feud that we know will not have a positive outcome. Still, the plot finding Dr. Niemann using these creatures to exact revenge is a much sharper idea than all of them wanting to be cured of their curses. While it doesn’t mark the last appearance of all these ghouls in one film, it really should have acted as their last appearance on the big screen. Overall, The House of Frankenstein is a mildly enjoyable undead soirée that should have closed the coffin lid on these decomposing beasts from Hell. Grade: C+
Son of Frankenstein, Ghost of Frankenstein, and The House of Frankenstein are all available on DVD.
Shock Waves (1977)
by Steve Habrat
If you’ve gotten sick of playing Call of Duty: Nazi Zombies and you’ve worn out your copy of the Norwegian freak out Dead Snow, you are probably looking for a Nazi zombie fix and FAST. Fear not, my dear readers, for I have the movie for you and that movie is 1977’s Shock Waves, a deeply unnerving and hallucinatory vision that has traces of Lucio Fulci’s island terror in its veins and the cynical outlook of a George Romero zombie flick in its rotting brain. What Shock Wave lacks in blood and guts (there is barely any to be found here), it more than makes up for in unsettling mood and some thoroughly ghastly ghouls. Largely forgotten by many and relatively unknown by most, Shock Waves is a true gem of the horror genre— one that I seriously cannot believe did not leave a bigger mark on the zombie genre. With its premise, you’d expect a serious camp fest that glides by on tons of gooey entrails and spurting arteries but director Ken Wiederhorn would rather slowly wrap you up in a damp and slimy grip that will curl your toes.
Shock Waves picks up aboard a commercial pleasure yacht, where a small handful of tourists soak up the sun and bicker with each other. Aboard the boat is The Captain (Played by John Carradine), first mate Chuck (Played by Don Stout), boat chef Dobbs (Played by Luke Halpin), tourist Keith (Played by Fred Buch), pretty Rose (Played by Brooke Adams), and testy married couple Norman (Played by Jack Davidson) and Beverly (Played by D.J. Sidney). After an eerie orange haze consumes the afternoon sky, the boat’s navigation system is sent on the fritz and then quits working. That very evening, the boat nearly collides with a ghostly ship that suddenly disappears into the darkness. The next morning, The Captain is missing from the ship and it is discovered that the boat is taking on water. The rest of the passengers on the boat head for a scenic tropical island where they find a deserted hotel that is inhabited by a skinny old SS Commander (Played by Peter Cushing) who demands that they leave the island. The terrified group soon finds themselves stalked by mute and decaying Nazi “Death Corps” zombies who sport wicked pairs of goggles and have risen from the ruins of a mysterious wrecked ship that strangely appears just off the beach.
Quietly intense with dreamy hallucinatory images that at times feel strangely like mirages, Shock Waves quickly takes hold of you then slowly tightens its grip. Director Wiederhorn allows his camera to act almost voyeuristic as it creeps through the trees to spy on the zombies that pop up from the murky water. They are presented as paranormal specters that are silhouetted by the blinding sun reflecting off the water. At times, we see them from an extreme distance, marching in formation and turning to barely acknowledge their gaunt commander as he pleads with them to stop their meaningless slaughter. It was these scenes that made me fall in love with Shock Waves, the film just subtle enough while every once in a while, getting right in our faces so we can see its soggy decay. We never see any scenes of mass carnage, the zombies preferring to drown their victims instead of gnawing at their flesh and sucking on their entrails. That fact that the film remains eerily tranquil throughout, never getting frantic or hurrying is what really makes this film such an effective little adventure.
For a film with such a B-movie premise, the actors all do a fantastic job being believable. Peter Cushing is at his menacing best as a scarred monster that regrets his work within the Third Reich. Carradine is perfect for the cranky old fart of a Captain who refuses to believe that passengers saw a ghost ship sail by in the night. I wish we would have gotten more of him and I would have loved to see his reactions to all the supernatural spooks that manifest. Stout plays the typical strong silent type hero Chuck who is always saving Rose from certain death. He is the thin layer of glue that attempts to hold the crumbling group together. Adams, who is mostly asked to prance around in a yellow bikini, is nice eye candy and the climax allows her to play crazy (I won’t say anymore on that). Jack Davidson playing an over-opinionated car salesman who likes to tell the Captain how to do his job is another standout. You’ll be rooting for him to come face-to-face with the undead terrors.
Shock Waves, which was made in 1977, before Fulci’s Zombie and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, is efficient with its hell-in-a-tropical-setting approach which it fuses with Romero’s beloved idea that our unwillingness to work together will be our downfall. A scene in which our small group is forced to put their backs against the wall is nice and claustrophobic, a scene that ends in a frenzied outburst and threats made from one group member to the other. The scene plays out much like the climax of Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, survivor pitted against survivor. Also notable is the way that Wiederhorn plays with the alien tropical island to give us the creeps. Much like Fulci’s Zombie, there is this heavy feel of supernatural forces at play, a trait that is expressed in the sudden moans of spacey electronics on the soundtrack. In fact, the film would play nicely in a zombie double feature with Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, or Zombie. Sounds like something I may have to try myself.
I really can’t praise Shock Waves enough even though there are a few minor imperfections to be found throughout its hour and twenty-five minute runtime. Most of these blunders can be overlooked and really are not worth mentioning here. With strong direction (Those underwater shots are stupendous!), surprisingly strong acting from everyone involved, unforgettable cinematography (those grainy zombie silhouettes will stay with me for the rest of my days) and some tingling moments of sheer terror (a Nazi zombie standing a little too still behind a closing door while a blinded victim is oblivious to its presence), Shock Waves builds itself into a sopping wet funhouse of aquatic devils leaping up from shallow waters to drag our protagonists into a watery hell. For fans of the zombie genre, Shock Waves is a true must, one that, if you have never seen it, is a macabre surprise and one that will scare the living hell right out of you.
Shock Waves is available on DVD.