Tag Archives: Horror

#18 – Skull and Jones and the Laughing Darkness

(1939, US, 73 min, b/w) Dir Albert S. Rogell. Cast Paul Fix, Claire Trevor, Bela Lugosi.

The notion with the Skull and Jones series – as popularized by Generation X viewers of the nineties such as Quentin Tarantino – is that Jones himself is insane, that Skull isn’t talking but that Jones is in fact a great detective throwing his voice into it. This theory is given credence in this, the third in the series (and the only one with a miscast Paul Fix, best known as a Western actor), where in the execution of his detective duties Jones finds himself locked in an asylum, hallucinating his cranial companion in his moonlit cell. Of course he escapes with the help of his knock-out socialite friend Tracey (Claire Trevor in a slinky silk number and ill-advised heels) and uncovers the warden’s dastardly plot to exploit the mad for his own financial gain via faux spectral apparitions. Lugosi’s casting as said warden makes the third act reveal a bit of a foregone conclusion but this is a fun romp with its eerie moments nonetheless.

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#17 – Skull and Jones

(1937, US, 67 min, b/w) Dir Edgar G. Ulmer. Cast Francis Lederer, Margo, Olaf Hytten.

The first in the oddball Skull and Jones series. Lederer is the titular Jones, investigating supernatural mysteries with the aid of a skull (called Skull) that he carries around with him in a velvet sack and takes out to consult with when no one else is around. Called to the mansion of the recently deceased Hugo Noir by his daughter (Margo, the same year she and Lederer wed) who suspects that foul play and devilry were the cause of her father’s demise. His investigations take him beyond the sunny, palm-lined streets of LA and into the shadowy world of the occult, all leading to an explosive gun battle in a deserted night time Hollywood Bowl. An intriguing mix of horror and detective tropes with atmospheric direction from The Black Cat’s Ulmer and spry banter from all. Only one of two S&B starring Lederer before the torch was passed on a la James Bond – popular in its day, the series lasted for sixteen films and a short lived television series in the 1950’s. A blockbuster franchise attempt has been rumoured for the premise for some time, most recently with Johnny Depp in the lead.

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#15 – Octolossus

(1964, Phil, 80m) Dir Ferdinand Diaz. Cast Paul Murray, Maria Vilma Cruz, Franklin Sereno, Mandy Santos, Pip.

Of all of the discount Godzilla that sprang up in the Big G’s wake this must be the cheapest. Paul Murray, our obligatory white American lead, is John Blueford, the Manila based reporter for US paper the Daily Sun, investigating tales of strange lights off the north coast of Luzon. It appears that dastardly soldiers from Japan have been testing some new super weapon in the sea there, unmindful of the consequences to the innocent Filipinos. And what consequences – before his very eyes emerges Octolossus, an enormous octopus with a thirst for destruction rendered by a stumbling man in a disgusting oozing suit. Murray races to Manila to rescue his insipid love interest (Cruz, wet), argue with the military and engage in a few scenes of slapstick with child star Pip that seem to have been inserted at random. Soon enough Octolossus and his drooling slime have come to town followed by the US navy who have turned up to shell the city on top of that. Of course Octolossus isn’t destroyed – the country had three more sequels to endure following this to say nothing of the series relaunch in the 1980’s. Painful schlock that may be improved with alcohol or brain damage but that’s no guarantee.

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#14 – Baba Yaga, The

(2010, US, 81 min) Dir James Patrick Francis. Cast Ellen Moscovicz, Jim Beemer, Sal Jordan, Olive Merchant.

If ever there was a concept unsuited to the found footage fad its Baba Yaga, the fairy tale witch who lives in a shack that moves around on giant chicken’s feet and travels through the air by means of a flying pestle and mortar. If you had the money you could possibly do it, much like Cloverfield and Troll Hunter worked, but the producers of Baba Yaga haven’t that kind of coin. So how do they get it to work? Simple – by ignoring all existing literature and turning the titular hag into a generic spook. A quartet of American teens enter the woods of an ill-defined Eastern Europe (filmed in Canada) on the premise that they’re on the trail of the ‘truth behind the legend’. In no time they’re being picked off by a fast-moving crone when they’re not turning on each other, giving the film a ten to one ratio of annoying bickering to scares. And that’s it – beyond pointless with nothing to differentiate it from the million other found footage films that abound.

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#12 – Jaguar, The

(1964, GB, 102 mins) Dir John Gilling. Cast Noel Willman, Eithne Dunne, Colin Blakely, Harry Towb.

In darkest Cornwall at the turn of the last century returns Doctor James Walker from his latest South American expedition, eagerly awaited by his wife. She suspects that something has changed in him since he’s been away and despite her protestations her haggard husband now spends all his time in his study with his expedition’s spoils, the centrepiece of which is his favourite, a gold statue of a jaguar . Before you can say ‘cursed idol’ the local villagers are being savaged by an unknown beast. Thankfully a renowned hunter of big game in Africa is holidaying nearby and is enlisted by the villagers to hunt down the beast which he, of course, spies as being a Jaguar. Mrs Walker suspects that her reclusive husband with his South American connection has some part to play in this but is compelled to protect him, thus setting the stage for an emotional finale. Despite the inevitability of it all this is a handsome and stately entry to the Hammer canon, shot atmospherically on location.

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#10 – Dorakyura no gyakushū (Dracula vs. the World)

(1960, Jap, 100 min) Dir Kon Ito. Cast Kon Ito, Fumiko Miyata, Yuki Maebara, Kanjūrō Arashi.

An unauthorised Japanese sequel to Hammer’s first Dracula film and an uncannily exact one at that – if you compare the last image of the first film and the first of this one the sets and the photography are perfect recreations, made all the stranger by every actor being Japanese. A labour of love for Kon Ito who wasn’t a director by trade – the owner of a steel company, he sunk his own money into the film’s production and plays the Count himself. But anyway, this expensive bit of fan fiction begins with the resurrection of Count Dracula via black magic from a handful of his dust from the end of the last film. Immediately he drains one of his saviours and with them as his army he sets out on nothing less than world domination! Not a bad film and certainly a gorier one than the original though it recreates the original’s turgid pacing along with the sets etc. A game cast of unknowns around a not embarrassing Ito also helps. It was released in drive-ins in the US for about six months under the title Dracula vs. the World before it was tied in the legal knots that have kept it within Japanese borders ever since. With the world being how it is these days there is a fanslated version floating about on the web (though you didn’t hear that from me).

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#6 – Vendetta di zombie (Revenge of the Living Dead)

(1980, It, 86 min) Dir Paolo Andreotti. Cast Tisa Farrow, Fabrizio Jovine, Olga Karlatos, Michele Soavi.

Poor Tisa Farrow – she’s just back from tussling with the gross undead of the Caribbean in Zombie Flesh Eaters (and yes, the film suggests that she plays the same character here even though it makes no sense) and now, on holiday in “the Greek island”, the surprisingly perky corpses of the local fishermen are walking in with the evening tide, their flesh pale and bloated and gross. Somehow Andreotti manages to surpass the nastiness of the Fulci flick he’s imitating here, perhaps absorbing the Greek island vibe of Nico Mastorakis’ Island of Death with multiple disembowelments and, in one legendary scene, the pulling off of an unfortunate Olga Karlatos’ face. The ending is even more nihilistic too – following an unsuccessful last stand on the island’s hilltop chapel the whole of our resourceful gang are horribly slaughtered and eaten. The final moments of the film capture the setting sun as it silhouettes the shambling dead, who roam the island in wait of further unwary guests. Released in the UK and US as Revenge of the Living Dead it is thankfully unrelated to the 1970 stinker that shares that name. A belated sequel is also available should the first not suffice – 1986’s Vendetta di Zombie 2.

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#5 – Revenge of the Living Dead

(1970, US, 71 min, b/w) Dir Jon Salman. Cast Jane Dickens, Peter Grayson, Roberto DeMeo, Dominique Harrison.

You might think that a concept such as revenge would be beyond the abilities of the average brain dead zombie and you’d be right, vengeance is indeed absent from this hastily assembled love letter to/rip off of Romero’s original. The title seems merely to have been chosen because the film is presented as a sequel so I suppose we should be glad they didn’t call it Son of the Living Dead… The problems extend beyond the title too – the plot is a virtual retread of Night albeit with a mere one zombie barricading the cast in the farmhouse and a bizarre squeamishness that relegates the all-important gore off-screen. Not only that, but the protagonists actually engage their zombie in conversation towards the end! Lest my description tempt you I should warn you that there is no camp or ironic value to be had from the film either – its badness is too dull and sluggish for even that. Thankfully hard to find, it should be avoided should the opportunity present itself. Consider yourself warned!

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#2 – Hell Boat

(2004, US, 102 min) Dir Roger Bertle. Cast Michelle Rodriguez, Treat Williams, LL Cool J.

Ghost Ship knock off. Rodriguez is hard-ass extreme sailing champ Mickey Valdez whose one-woman boat is torn up in a freak mid-Atlantic storm while she’s trying to break a circumnavigation record. Then, from amid the howling winds, appears the titular Hell Boat. Rescued from the wreckage by a rope ladder thrown from the ship, she climbs aboard to find it deserted. After a period of exploration and some routine jump scares, company arrives in the shape of Williams and LL Cool J as hi-tech modern day pirates who, with their anonymous cannon-fodder flunkies, are searching for the legendary treasure that is supposedly stored on the damned vessel. Suddenly Alien becomes Aliens when the boat begins to fight back and within no time the heads of said anonymous flunkies are rolling in fine style. Everyone seems to be enjoying themselves bar Rodriguez in this one – an effective roller-coaster until the inevitable CGI excesses of the final five minutes.

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Twitter: @MadeUpFilms