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How goes it everyone? As you may have noticed I've finished the two month long mystery movie marathon and have gone back to some general...

Friday, May 20, 2022

Invisible Ghost (1941)

Bela Lugosi stars as Charles Kessler. When we first meet him he is having his butler setup his anniversary dinner with his wife. Only there isn’t anyone in the other chair! That seems… odd. It turns out that his wife abandoned him and his daughter a few years earlier leaving town with her lover. He hasn’t gotten over it and has this odd tradition every year on their anniversary. We also hear the household staff talking about the murders, so something is clearly afoot!

Kessler’s daughter, Virginia, has her fiancé over. Thru some dialogue we find out that they are madly in love but that he has some history with the family’s maid that threatens to throw a monkey wrench into their plans. Here is where things get weird. We also find out that the family gardener has the missing wife in his basement. Apparently, the night she ran off there was a car accident, and she was injured, losing her mind. He doesn’t want to break Charles’ heart by letting him see her that way, so he keeps her hidden. But she gets out and when her husband sees her he goes into a murderous trance. Damn he is the killer! None of this should be considered spoilers because we see it right away.

The rest of the story has to do with Charles killing the maid, the fiancé being blamed, him getting executed, and then his brother (played by the same actor) showing up to find out the truth to what happened. Eventually he goes catatonic and murderous in front of the police and the end credits roll. This is a weird movie.

Bela Lugosi made a lot of these poverty row studio films, which is a fancy way of saying low budget movies for small studios. A surprising number of them are good and this is one of them. While not perfect Invisible Ghost tells a simple story with a decent twist. It keeps the costs down with a limited cast and locations. The only actor of note is Lugosi, but he is excellent in the role. Things are way more interesting with him on screen and luckily that happens a lot in Invisible Ghost. His transition from loving father to murderous killer is done with a subtle change in his body language and works well. You can see his experience as a classical trained theater actor coming across in his performance.

Lugosi gets a bad rap and is considered “hammy” by many modern horror fans. That isn’t at all fair as he was working during a time when the industry was still figuring out the difference between screen acting and stage acting. Many of his performances seem overblown because he was used to delivering dialogue so that the folks in the back row of the theater could hear them. He was also hindered by low budgets and admittedly terrible scripts. But he was a hell of an actor and if you give movies like Invisible Ghost a chance you will see that.

I suppose I will have to admit that despite all the positive stuff I’ve written above that this isn’t a perfect movie. I was a bit shocked when they killed off the fiancé as I thought for sure that saving him was going to be the plotline that drove the story to its conclusion. But other than that the rest of plot was predictable and of course they let us know who the killer is right away. Overall, this was a cheapie made to fill the second or third bill on a matinee showing and was there to kill an hour. It does that rather well, so it accomplished its goal. I did find it funny that there isn’t a ghost nor is anyone invisible. Maybe that is the big twist?  This is the Lugosi show and if you dig him then I recommend checking out Invisible Ghost.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, May 16, 2022

The Cat Creature (1973)

This made for television flick is a by the numbers take on the vampire myth but has a certain charm that I rather liked. Things kick off with an appraiser going to a spooky old house to look at the collection of a wealthy deceased man. This includes a basement full of Egyptian artifacts. He leaves to go get his recorder and we see a thief sneak in and steal a necklace from a mummy. Well, that isn’t going to end well.

Without the necklace the mummy comes back to life and kills the appraiser after he returns. We then see the burglar trying to sell off the stolen trinket but the woman who runs the shop tosses him out. She doesn’t want to deal with hot merchandise you see. When her shop assistant picks up a stray cat and then tosses herself off a balcony there is a job opening that is filled by a new girl named Rena. I’m sure that won’t be important later. It is because Rena is the mummy come back to life. She needs to drink blood to survive and can turn into a cat because she was a follower of the cat god Bast. Toss in a local professor called in by the police to make sense of the Egyptian stuff and a police detective for a good time.

I’m glossing over a lot of the plot because I don’t want to spoil anything. Yeah, I know that I let you in on the fact that Rena is the mummy, but that is so obvious it doesn’t matter. The Cat Creature is a solid movie with a decent plot and direction. The story might not be all that original, but it excels in the execution. I was amused to find out after watching this that the movie is an unofficial remake of The Cat People, which is my favorite Val Lewton flick. They certainly double down on this by casting the leading man from that flick and its sequel as the appraiser who meets his end early on in this one. That actor was Kent Smith in case you were wondering. Though if I’m being honest this movie doesn’t come close to the classic film it was inspired by, but then not much does.

The pacing of the story is decent, though it does drag a little in the middle. The script was written by Robert Bloch so that shouldn’t be any surprise. He knows the formula for writing horror and makes sure that something interesting or important is happening to keep the story moving along. The cast is filled with familiar faces like Keye Luke, John Carradine, Stuart Whitman, Meredith Baxter, and David Hedison. There is a lot of talent in front of the camera and that makes The Cat Creature all the more entertaining to watch.

If I had a complaint, it is that even by the standards of the early seventies made for television movies The Cat Creature is awfully tame. They lean too heavily into the attacks being shown as shadows cast on a wall which I understand is an homage to The Cat People, but there they use it sparingly as the payoff for the action here it is used again and again. This gets old quickly and I was hoping for some variety.

In the end this is a solid if unremarkable effort. I’m glad that I watched it since it checked a lot of boxes for me. Remake of a movie I love, fun cast, and made for T.V. are all things that I enjoy. But I don’t know if that is going to be enough for the average viewer. I suppose I give The Cat Creature a lukewarm recommendation.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, May 13, 2022

Fatal Exam (1990)

I’m always on the lookout for older movies that I’ve never seen before. Fatal Exam has been on my radar for a few years as it has a great cover/poster. But then I finally got around to watching it and I now see why it was never recommended to me back in the days of the Mom and Pop VHS stores. Yikes!

The movie opens with someone pounding on a guy’s apartment door. The guy’s name is Nick and we quickly… well not quickly but eventually find out that he is a college student, has a friend named Roger and a sister, Dana. They are all in the same parapsychology class. Oh, the guy pounding on the door is a mullet having sword carrying maniac. But it was all a dream anyhow so who cares? The final exam for the class is spending a weekend in a haunted house where we see in a painting that the guy from the earlier dream is the same dude who killed his family at the house and now haunts it.

The three of them as well as some classmates head out to the house. After wandering around doing nothing they go to sleep and then a head shows up in a coffee table. Then they see some ghosts, a couple of them disappear, and they find a painting. The painting leads them to go digging on the property for some buried treasure because… reasons. Then we get a long monologue about science and parallel universes trying to explain what is happening. This confused me because nothing is happening. Then we get a finale where we find out that *gasp* the creepy professor from earlier is trying to do a ritual by sacrificing the kids so he can make a deal with a demon for ultimate power.

This movie is awful. First up it is almost two hours long and has maybe fifteen minutes of interesting material. Though I might only have thought it was interesting since everything else was so monotonous. The acting is dreadful and the dialogue tedious. There was nothing natural about these characters and I was rooting for the end credits to show up after less than twenty minutes. The editing is also quite bad allowing shots to linger long after they should. I don’t need to see them investigate the basement of the house for ten minutes! You can show a couple minutes and then use the dialogue to tell us that they were thorough. The day for night is a disaster as well with them going to sleep at night with a window behind them showing that it is broad daylight.

'80s hair... so much product
Despite a release date of nineteen ninety this movie was shot in eighty-five and took a few years to finish. That explains the mullets, giant hair, and clothes. This was my favorite part of Fatal Exam, but then I’m a child of the eighties so that might just be me. The synth soundtrack is also very similar to other output from the decade, but here it is very intrusive. Honestly how can you add music to a scene and have the levels so far off that you can’t hear the dialogue?

The gore is negligible with a throat cut being the highlight. We get a very cheesy looking demon and a guy in basic white makeup playing the ghost. Even for a low budget I found the proceedings tame. This along with the horrible performances, bad pacing, and other filmmaking mistakes makes Fatal Exam a movie that I would have been happy to never of checked out. Still, it does have an awesome cover. Take my advice and stop there.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Call Girl of Cthulhu (2014)

It doesn’t happen often anymore that I pick up a movie solely based on the title, but that is exactly what I did here. While browsing for a copy of Bone Tomahawk, which I will eventually get around to reviewing here, I saw this on the shelf at my local used shop and had to have it. I think we can all agree that most of the time this sort of purchase ends in disappointment, but not this time around.

The story opens with a man named Carter being questioned by the police. They mention that they are dealing with forty-three bodies and a new STD. This movie already has my attention. Thru a series of flashbacks, we see that Carter is an artist and virgin who becomes obsessed with a hooker named Riley. The thing is he really is a good guy so when he hires her to sit for one of his paintings, she takes a liking to him, and they start to date. But things go wrong when a crazy one-eyed professor asks Carter to recreate a book, the Necronomicon I think, so that they can stop some cultists from summoning Cthulhu. Many weird things happen before we get what is an ending that is honest to the Lovecraft universe.

I kept things a bit vague above to not spoil the movie. But be warned that the rest of the review is going to ruin some of the coolest gags in Call Girl of Cthulhu so if you don’t want that to happen skip to the last paragraph. To begin with the basics this is a very low budget flick that uses the resources at hand very well. They have a smallish cast and just a couple of locations that I think could have all been sets in a single warehouse. They keep the cast small, though we do get a lot of faceless cultists and a nice batch of demonic hookers. But as far as speaking roles go, they kept it to a bare minimum.

Why is this important? Every penny they didn’t spend there they were able to dump into the practical effects work. We get so much good stuff like monster boobs (who knew internet porn was bad for you?), exploding heads, tongues cut out, death by dildo, some girls lose their heads, some minions’ heads explode, and a tentacle is jammed thru yet another noggin’. This is a very bloody movie filled with nifty practical effects work. It reminds me of the glory days of the eighties and that wasn’t even the best bits. Riley goes thru a change from attractive working girl to full on latex monster. Along the way we see her grow vagina tentacles, pee acid in a golden shower gone wrong, drops some monster feet on a fetishist, and eats her customers in very bloody ways. You know this one might not be for the kiddies.

Toss in some surprisingly plentiful sleaze and nudity with some jokes that land well, and you have a decent flick. Oh hell I didn’t even mention the STD that gives one unfortunate fella a monster dick and not in the good way! Call Girl of Cthulhu checks so many boxes that I can’t help but to highly recommend it. It is a fun trip from start to finish and I’m glad that the title caught my attention. Check it out.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Monday, May 9, 2022

Ghost Catchers (1944)

I’m a huge Abbott and Costello fan so I’m always interested in checking out other studios attempts at creating their own comedy duos to cash in on the popularity of the pair’s movies. I’ve covered some of those here at the site already and Ghost Catchers is another of them. Though I just now realized that I’ve never covered Abbott and Costello here. I’m going to have to fix that oversight soon.

A southern gentleman has arrived in New York City with his two lovely and talented daughters who are about to put their debut concert at Carnegie Hall. They sign a lease on a mansion that is supposedly haunted and sure enough the first night some spooky stuff goes down. The oldest daughter, Susanna, runs next door for help and ends up in the middle of a night club act with the comedy duo Olsen and Johnson. After a misunderstanding and an extended bit of singing and dancing the boys eventually come next door to sort things out.

What is going on? Well, there is a ghost, who they chase away with loud music. Then there are gangsters in the basement stealing a million dollars of booze from a hidden cellar. But then the ghost comes back to save the day when they are walled up Edgar Allen Poe style after the crooks catch them. Making their escape thru the wall into the club there are some more shenanigans and even more singing and dancing. Then the credits roll.

I wanted to like this movie, but it falls into the trap that many of these knock offs do. The comedy isn’t that good. I know that Olsen and Johnson did a few movies together, but they aren’t that funny. All their gags are “borrowed” from much better performers and that sort of recycling was annoying. This is especially obvious when they mention Abbott and Costello by name and even reference Hold that Ghost which this movie is obviously trying to copy. They do their own take on the famous candle gag from that one and trust me it isn’t good. I’ve said this many times before and it continues to be true. Don’t reference a much better movie that I’d rather be watching.

The pacing is off as we get way more musical numbers then we do comedic stuff. The supposed stars Olsen and Johnson feel more like supporting actors then they do leads. I was excited to see Lon Chaney Jr. and Tor Johnson in the credits, but they are hardly in the movie. Johnson is unrecognizable and Chaney Jr. is wasted as a nameless thug. You had a perfectly good villain and instead we get a generic forgettable bad guy. I mean Chaney Jr. had already done several legit horror flicks at this point for Universal so what is up with that? Then again did we even need the gangster stuff if you were going to do the ghost story? The filmmakers really needed to make up their mind.

This is a hastily put together cash in on a trend that is such a pale imitation of what inspired it that I can’t recommend it. Want to watch a great movie with the same plot filled with a genuinely funny comedy team? Watch Abbott and Costello’s Hold that Ghost.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Friday, May 6, 2022

The Crimson Cult (1968)

I pride myself on being a horror nerd but occasionally I stumble over a movie that has somehow escaped my attention. The Crimson Cult aka. Curse of the Crimson Altar is one of these. The cast includes Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, Michael Gough, and Boris Karloff! Seriously how did I miss this one? Well one order to Kino Lorber and I have the Blu-Ray in my hands.

After a trippy set of scenes with a naked woman being whipped and Barbara Steele sitting around covered in some odd blue makeup, we meet our protagonist. Our story follows Robert Manning as he goes looking for his missing brother Peter. It seems that they are in the antique business and Peter was out looking for things to buy. After Robert gets a note pointing him towards a small town he jumps in his convertible and goes looking for his overdue sibling. One that we realize was part of that psychedelic opening scene.

When Robert arrives at the country estate where his brother was last seen he ends up in the middle of a happening party with lots of body painting, booze, and half naked ladies. Here he meets Eve who takes him to see her uncle Morley (Lee’s character). They claim that his brother never stayed at the house but not long after accepting an invitation to stay the night he finds a candlestick that matches one his brother included with the note. The rest of the movie is Robert trying to figure out what happened to Peter, dealing with the locals, and trying to bed Eve. Spoilers he does!

This is not a good movie, and I can see why I’ve never seen it pop up on my radar before. The story is uneven with several painfully slow spots. It never establishes the town, locals, and most importantly the legend of Lavinia Morley the local witch legend. This is further confused by an ending that left me wondering what the point was. Spoilers ahead. Morley was using hypnotism to make the characters have bad dreams insinuating that none of the supernatural stuff happened. Why did he do this? Someone mentions as the house is burning down that he must have been mad. That is about as good as we get. Then the movie doubles down with the characters seeing Morley turn into Lavinia… so there was a witch? This ending was confusing and was a bad ending to a mediocre movie.

Karloff is wonderful
Despite a stellar cast we spend most of the time with Manning and Eve. Now both are decent but when we have Steele, Lee, Gough, and Karloff in the cast I’d much rather be watching them. Gough is decent as a stuttering manservant to Lee’s Morley. He doesn’t get much screentime but what he does get is fun. Christopher Lee is honestly not very good in the role of Morley. Though I don’t think it was his fault as there is nothing in the story for him to sink his acting chops into. The character as written is a terrible villain as we don’t even know he is the cause until the last five minutes or so. Karloff is very frail and spends most of the movie in a wheelchair but damn is he good. He has a couple great monologues and there is a reoccurring gag about appreciating a fine brandy that had me cracking up. The guy does more acting with a look then most can do with pages of dialogue. He also gets to be the hero in the end, which was awesome. Karloff is the only reason to watch The Crimson Cult. Barbara Steele is wasted in what can be best described as a glorified cameo.

If you are a fan of Boris Karloff and haven’t seen The Crimson Cult, then you should. This is one of the best performances from the latter part of his career. In fact, it is my understanding that this was the last movie to come out while he was still alive. If that doesn’t interest you, I’d recommend skipping this one. Sadly, it was a missed opportunity to have a good time with some very well-known genre actors.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Grave of the Vampire (1972)

This along with Blacula and Count Yorga is one of my top three “drive-in” vampire flicks. I’ve been watching this one for years having first seen it on a local horror hosted late night movie show. That transitioned to VHS and then to those budget public domain DVD sets. Of course that means it has always been a beat up and neglected print. But now the folks over at Shout Factory have put out a remastered Blu-Ray with some deleted scenes. Damn I’m excited to check this one out!

The movie opens in the forties with a couple sneaking off from a party to have some sexy type shenanigans in a nearby graveyard. That ends up being a terrible idea because a vampire named Caleb Croft climbs out of his coffin drinks the fella dry and has his way with the lady. She gives birth to a son who is part vampire and nurses him. Though she eventually dies. The action moves forward to the early seventies with the now grown-up boy, James, looking for his bloodsucking father to get some revenge for what was done to his mother.

He does eventually track him down and signs up for his class, Croft is teaching night classes of course! This leads to some murders as Croft does away with an annoying college girl who has figured out his secret and a love triangle of sorts. See James’ lady friend is the spitting image of Croft’s dead vampire wife. All of this results in a séance, more murders, and a twist ending where James puts his father down but with twisted results.

Again, I’ve always loved this movie. Long before Blade we had James the day walker half-vampire half-human. The late great William Smith is excellent as James Eastman playing the character with the right mix of brooding and anger. Michael Pataki is fantastic as Caleb Croft oozing evil as he murders his way thru the cast. He isn’t the tortured type forced to feed but seems to enjoy playing with his food. The rest of the cast is solid.

The story is paced well without any slow spots. Every scene we see is there to move the plot along and either develop the characters or set us up for something twisted that will come along shortly. More than once the movie does something unexpected, mostly due to the unpredictable nature of the Croft character, so you are always guessing as to what is going to happen next. I also thought that the idea of him fathering a half breed was a neat take on the vampire myth. Sure it might not seem so unique now, but for the early seventies this was unexpected. I will admit that there is an odd jump with new characters being quickly introduced for the séance which sets up the ending. But I’d rather they just dive in and keep things moving along briskly then spend time setting up more characters that are just there to be killed off.

This new Blu-Ray has a fantastic transfer which allowed me to appreciate how well Grave of the Vampire was shot. There are so many shadowy scenes that I can actually see now and while it never bothered me in the past this allows me to enjoy the movie that much more. I was also impressed with the deleted scenes. Most of the time these are just bits of dialogue that were trimmed out for pacing reasons. But here the scenes are extended lingering shots of Croft dispatching his victims. While not overly gory they do have a disturbing vibe to them, and I can see why they were trimmed initially. Though it is sad because we lose some excellent bits with Pataki. The guy was clearly having a blast playing Croft.

Grave of the Vampire is one of those rare flicks that has aged well. It is great to see a company spend the time and money to clean up and give it a proper release. I highly recommend it and can say that the new Shout Factory Blu-Ray is the way to watch it. I don’t often recommend people go buy physical media anymore, but this is one of those times that you should.

 

© Copyright 2022 John Shatzer