Category Archives: DVD/Blu-ray Reviews

DVD Review: The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954).

Directed by Edward Bernds
Produced by Ben Schwalb
Written by Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman
Music by Marlin Skiles
Cinematography: Harry Neumann
Film Editor: William Austin

Cast: Leo Gorcey (Terrance Aloysius ‘Slip’ Mahoney), Huntz Hall (Horace Debussy ‘Sach’ Jones), David Gorcey (Chuck Anderson), Bennie Bartlett (Butch Williams), Bernard Gorcey (Louie Dumbrowski), Lloyd Corrigan (Anton Gravesend), Ellen Corby (Amelia Gravesend), John Dehner (Dr. Derek Gravesend), Laura Mason (Francine Gravesend), Paul Wexler (Grissom), Steve Calvert (Gorilla)

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This post is dedicated to my friend Dan Conway. A while back, he and I got to talking about The Bowery Boys, which prompted me to task myself with a series of posts on the Boys and their movies. This is the first.

The basic plot point of Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) — that Dracula needs a simple, pliable brain to put in the head of the Frankenstein monster, so naturally he’s after Costello — is pure genius. Wish I’d come up with it. Evidently, so did the folks behind The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters (1954), because they took that idea and ran with it. If one monster after a brain was funny, how about a bunch of monsters after a couple of brains?

The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters goes like this. Slip and Sach wind up at the creepy old mansion of the Gravesend family. Turns out each Gravesend is in need of a brain or body. A brain that’ll fit inside a gorilla’s head. Another brain for a robot. Some meat for a carnivorous tree. And, of course, somebody always needs some fresh blood. The boys are encouraged to stay at Chez Gravesend, and the chase begins — with the rest of the Boys coming to the rescue.

The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters comes from the back end of the Boys’ filmography, when everyone was getting a little tired. But if you find this stuff funny, you’ll find something to laugh at here. Everything you expect is in place: Slip’s butchering of the English language, Louie’s Sweet Shop, some kind of chase, and so on. The addition of monsters and the typical old-dark-house stuff — and yet another guy (Steve Calvert ) in a gorilla suit — add a certain something. You’ve got the usual folks behind the camera — Edward Bernds directed from a script he wrote with Elwood Ullman. Harry Neumann shot it, obviously in a hurry, but he was always dependable. Great character actors like Lloyd Corrigan, Ellen Corby and John Dehner do a lot for this movie, and it looks like they were having fun.

Let’s talk about the gorilla. Steve Calvert, a bartender at Ciro’s, bought Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s ape suits and turned monkeying around into a career. He was in several of the Jungle Jim pictures with Johnny Weissmuller, starting with the first one, along with Road To Bali (1952), Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla (1952) and the late-in-the-game Republic serial Panther Girl Of The Congo (1955). I love these gorilla suit guys. Luckily, someone interviewed Calvert before he passed away.

Of course, every frame of this movie is stupid. Which is a good thing. The Bowery Boys Meet The Monsters is included in Warner Archive’s The Bowery Boys, Volume Two. This terrific four-volume series packs 12 movies on four discs in each set. They look terrific — Meet The Monsters is even presented widescreen! — and if you’re a fan of this stuff, they’re absolutely essential.

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Filed under 1954, Bela Lugosi, Bowery Boys, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Edward Bernds, Gorilla suit guys, Johnny Weissmuller, Jungle Jim, Monogram/Allied Artists, Warner Archive

Blu-Ray Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967).

F Created W artwork

Original poster artwork.

Directed by Terence Fisher
Script: John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Spencer Reeve
Music by James Bernard

Cast: Peter Cushing (Baron Frankenstein), Susan Denberg (Christina), Thorley Walters (Dr Hertz), Robert Morris (Hans), Duncan Lamont (The Prisoner), Peter Blythe (Anton), Barry Warren (Karl), Derek Fowlds (Johann), Alan Macnaughtan (Kleve), Peter Madden (Chief Of Police), Philip Ray (Mayor), Ivan Beavis (Landlord), Colin Jeavons (Priest), Bartlett Mullins (Bystander), Alec Mango (Spokesman), Mark McMullins (Villager), Nikki Van Der Zyl (Christina’s voice)

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For the fourth entry in their Frankenstein series, Hammer went with the simple twist of making the “monster” a woman, then cast a Playboy Playmate in the title role. When you put it like that, Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) sounds really terrible. And it probably should be terrible. But somehow, it works, and works pretty well. Which shows the level of talent behind these things.

Turns out that simple plot twist isn’t so simple. It takes a number of contrivances to get us to the “created woman” part of the story. And rather than the usual “a piece here, a part there” type of creation we expect from Dr. Frankenstein (Peter Cushing), here he’s transferring souls, not just stitching together organs and limbs.

Frankenstein transfers the soul of Hans, a young man hung for something he didn’t do, into his girlfriend Christina (Susan Denberg). Hans finds his shapely new body of great benefit in getting his revenge on those who framed him. That sets up a fairly common last act for Frankenstein movies, as the doctor has to track down and stop his murderous creation.

While Hammer films from this period are top-notch in every category, and we’ll get to some of those in a bit, it’s the fine-tuned performances that put this one over. Peter Cushing is always incredible, and he really has a field day here. His Baron Frankenstein is by turns ruthless and compassionate, and it could have been laughable with a lesser actor in the role. The recent appearance of so many Hammer Films on Blu-Ray, thanks to Scream Factory and Warner Archive, has sent me off on a Peter Cushing binge. What a superb body of work. He never let budget and schedule, or the stigma attached to movies like this, get in the way of his commitment to his craft. Cushing is someone I admire as a person as much as an actor; he’s the Horror Film’s version of the Western’s Randolph Scott.

Thorley Walters is very good here, too. And Susan Denberg is terrific as Christina. Her voice was dubbed by Nikki Van Der Zyl since it was felt her Austrian accent was too thick, so it’s hard to really judge her performance. However, her transformations from young beautiful girl to murderess (and there are a number of these transformations in the last couple reels) are done through facial expressions and the sudden arrival of a knife or meat cleaver — and Denberg pulls them off very well. (By the way, the bandage bikini we see in these still does not appear in the movie. Pity.)

Terence Fisher and Susan Denberg.

Frankenstein Created Woman, with its title a takeoff on the 1956 Vadim/Bardot film And God Created Woman, will never make the list of Hammer’s classics, but it’s got plenty to recommend it. I’ve already brought up the cast. Terence Fisher’s direction is as assured as ever. Never flashy, but every setup seems just right. Arthur Grant’s cinematography is near perfect, though I’ve always been more of a Jack Asher man.

She was the better half of this happy couple.

About 30 years ago, I bought a 16mm print of Frankenstein Created Woman from a listing in The Big Reel. It was complete in every way, not a scratch or splice to be found, and hard-matted at the proper 1.66. But the color had turned that sickly combination of pink, brown and purple. Ever since, whether it’s laserdisc, DVD or this gorgeous new Blu-Ray from Scream Factory, this movie’s color is something I pay particular attention to. It looks terrific here, the best I’ve ever seen it look. The sound’s got plenty of punch, letting James Bernard’s score really shine. There are plenty of extras: two commentaries; interviews with Robert Morris (Hans), camera assistant Eddie Collins and 2nd assistant Director Joe Marks; two World Of Hammer episodes; the Hammer Glamour documentary; trailers and TV spots; radio spots; and still and poster galleries. Plenty of fun is to be had wading through all that stuff. Highly, highly recommended.

And remember, folks: Scream Factory’s bringing us Quatermass And The Pit (1967, AKA Five Million Years To Earth), too!

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Filed under 1967, 20th Century-Fox, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory, Terence Fisher

Blu-Ray Review: The Plague Of The Zombies (1966).

Directed by John Gilling
Produced by Anthony Nelson Keys
Screenplay: Peter Bryan
Cinematography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Chris Barnes
Music by James Bernard

Cast: André Morell (Sir James Forbes), Diane Clare (Sylvia Forbes), Brook Williams (Dr. Peter Tompson), Jacqueline Pearce (Alice Tompson), John Carson (Squire Clive Hamilton), Alexander Davion (Denver), Michael Ripper (Sgt. Jack Swift)

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Every kid who grew up watching horror movies (old or new) has a scene or two they remember fondly (or dreadfully) for how badly it scared them as a kid. Psycho‘s shower scene. Ben Gardner’s head in Jaws. The list goes on and on. Well, one of mine’s in Hammer’s The Plague Of The Zombies (1966).

Shooting the foggy nightmare sequence on a beautiful day.

There’s a nightmare sequence about halfway through the film with plenty of fog, odd camera angles, crazy colors and lots of dead bodies either coming out of the ground or wandering around a graveyard. It totally wigged me out as a kid (much like the zombie in the back of a hearse in a certain episode of The Night Stalker).

So I dropped the new Blu-Ray into my player with a mammoth pile of fondness (and gratitude to our friends at Scream Factory). And boy, this thing really knocked me out. The color is terrific, the sound has real punch to it, and the movie’s even better than I remember.

The Plague Of The Zombies features the old voodoo/Haiti kind of zombies (as seen in 1932’s White Zombie), as opposed to George Romero’s flesh-munching variety. They’re being used by Squire Hamilton (John Carson) as workers in an old tin mine. In the late 19th century, Cornwall evidently had a pretty severe labor shortage.

Brook Williams, Diane Clare and André Morell

When a rash of people in his village start dying, a young doctor (Brook Williams) turns to his old friend Sir James Forbes (André Morell) to help get to the bottom of things. Morell is terrific as the old doctor, but the prize goes to Jacqueline Pearce who pretty much walks away with the movie as one of the walking dead. By the way, Brook Williams gets killed off in the first 10 minutes of my all-time favorite movie, Where Eagles Dare (1969).

John Gilling wasn’t one of Hammer’s major directors — he came and went over the course of the studio’s heyday. But he made some of their better films, with this being one of them. His The Pirates Of Blood River (1962) and The Reptile (1966, made back to back with The Plague Of The Zombies) are well worth seeking out. His 1960, non-Hammer The Flesh And The Fiends, which puts Peter Cushing in the tried-and-true Burke and Hare grave robbing/murder story, is terrific — and way up near the top of my Blu-Ray Wish List.

But back to The Plague Of The Zombies. The geniuses at Hammer offered this one up in a twin-bill with Dracula – Prince Of Darkness (1966), the second of the Christopher Lee Dracula pictures. What a night that must’ve been for monster-loving kids circa 1966.

With both pictures available from Scream Factory, you can recreate that evening in the privacy of your own home. And I bet they’ll look better in your living room than they did at your local drive-in back in ’66. Arthur Grant created some great color lighting effects for The Plague Of The Zombies, similar to what Jack Asher had before him at Hammer. The improved color makes all the Hammer Blu-Rays essential stuff for fans of these things — remember, color was the main selling point with these pictures. Shout Factory gives us a slew of tasty extras, with my favorite being a short documentary on the making of the picture. Time has been kind to these movies. They seem better than ever. Shout Factory’s been kind to them, too. They look better than ever. Highly, highly recommended.

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Filed under 1966, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, John Gilling, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Shout/Scream Factory

Blu-Ray Review: Escape In The Fog (1945).

Directed by Oscar (Budd) Boetticher, Jr.
Screenplay by Aubrey Wisberg
Cinematography: George Meehan
Film Editor: Jerome Thoms

Cast: Otto Kruger (Paul Devon), Nina Foch (Eileen Carr), William Wright (Barry Malcolm), Konstantin Shayne (Schiller), Ivan Triesault (Hausmer, Schiller’s Henchman), Ernie Adams (George Smith)

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Escape In The Fog (1945) is one of the pictures featured in Noir Archive, Volume 1 (1944-1954), a nine-movie, three-disc Blue-Ray set from Mill Creek, “curated” by Kit Parker. Now folks, we all owe Mr. Parker and the gang at Mill Creek a big fat thank you, because there are two more of these wonderful sets on the way, each one offering a wealth of deep, dark, cynical, noir-y riches. Some are A pictures, but most of Bs — a ratio I like a whole lot.

The B movie units at Columbia churned out some really cool movies in the 40s and 50s, some of my all-time favorites — from noir/mystery/crime stuff like The Whistler series to Westerns like The Law Vs. Billy The Kid (1954) to horror stuff like The Devil Commands (1941). A few of the guys who directed these things went on to bigger things, such as Mr. Budd Boetticher. In Escape In The Fog, you won’t see the stylistic and thematic stuff that makes Boetticher’s later Westerns the masterworks that they are. But you will see the economy, efficiency and pacing that all his pictures benefit from, along with a real skill at building tension, something he’d put to terrific use in The Killer Is Loose (1956).

Nina Foch is a Navy nurse who has a vivid dream of a man being attacked on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. That dream becomes a reality, she becomes involved with the guy getting pounded in her dream (William Wright) and they’re soon wrapped up in wartime espionage involving federal agents, Otto Kruger and Nazi spies. It all comes together pretty well, making for a solid 63 minutes.

Budd Boetticher’s movies remind me of Anthony Mann pictures in that the location often plays as big a role in the story as the people — Lone Pine is almost as important as Randolph Scott. There’s none of that here, but the frame totally filled with fog is quite effective — not only adding to the atmosphere, but concealing just how cheap this 12-day picture really is.

Columbia has always done a great job of keeping their material in tip-top shape, and this set, all nine movies, look fresh and crisp and sharp. Of course, some look a little better than others, but across the board they’re stunning. In spite of their often tiny budgets, the craftspeople who worked on these things made sure they looked good — and time hasn’t changed that one bit. If anything, high-definition might accentuate the incredible look of these films.

Escape In The Fog is a neat little movie. And this set is essential stuff — for fans of noir, of B moviemaking or of any of the casts and crews represented here. So, thank you Mr. Parker and the folks at Mill Creek. Looking forward to the next one!

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Filed under Budd Boetticher, Columbia, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Kit Parker, Mill Creek

Blu-Ray Review: The Deadly Mantis (1957).

Directed by Nathan Juran
Produced by William Alland
Screenplay by Martin Berkeley
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Chester W. Schaeffer

Cast: Craig Stevens (Col. Joe Parkman), William Hopper (Dr. Nedrick Jackson), Alix Talton (Marge Blaine), Donald Randolph (Maj. Gen. Mark Ford), Pat Conway (Sgt. Pete Allen) and Florenz Ames (Prof. Anton Gunther)

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The 50s Big Bug movies are all terrific. Some are better than others, of course, but there’s something about them I love. They’re just so damn entertaining! The Deadly Mantis (1957) is one of the later ones, and while it’s certainly no Them! (1954), it’s got plenty going for it.

A volcano eruption sets off a chain reaction — an iceberg melts, releasing a giant praying mantis that’s been frozen for eons. It attacks polar military outposts, an airplane and an eskimo village, all through the liberal use of stock footage (this film might have the most stock of any movie I’ve ever seen). It’s up to a scientist (William Hopper), an Air Force CO (Craig Stevens) and a reporter (Alix Talton) to sort it all out.

While it has the mandatory pseudo-science and military propaganda, what sets The Deadly Mantis apart are the monster scenes. There are the usual teases — a claw here, a shadow there, some buzzing from time to time — before the big reveal, and it’s all handled well. The bug models are pretty well done — especially in the final scenes in the Manhattan Tunnel. (They’re a bit like the final scene in Them! deep in LA’s drain system, but still very cool.)

Real bug, fake monument.

Then there’s the Washington Monument. They took a real praying mantis and let it do a slow, graceful, creepy crawl up a (very) miniature monument. It might be the best single shot in the movie.

The mantis stuck in traffic is effective, too. These are images forever seared into my brain as a kid — who cares how good the rest of the movie is? The strength of these images might be attributed to director Nathan Juran. Before trying his hand at directing, he was an art director — one of the geniuses behind the Oscar-winning designs for John Ford’s How Green Was My Valley (1941). Juran directed a handful of pictures, including several Audie Murphy movies, before The Deadly Mantis. This was his first horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie, and he’d go on to do stuff like 20 Million Miles To Earth (1957), The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad (1958), The Brain From Planet Arous (1957) and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958). Those last two he did under the name Nathan Hertz. His Western Good Day For A Hanging (1958) is really good. (Shout Factory has announced a Blu-Ray release of Juran’s Law And Order from 1953.)

Another Reynold Brown masterpiece.

Scream Factory has brought The Deadly Mantis to Blu-Ray in grand fashion. It looks terrific — the contrast is near-perfect and all the dust and scratches you see are from the original stock footage. The audio is quite strong and there are so nice extras — commentary, trailer and the episode of MST3000 that pokes fun at the picture. (They were wise to keep Reynold Brown’s original poster art for their packaging.)

I have a soft spot for this movie bigger than the deadly mantis itself, and I’m so stoked to see this type of thing get this level of TLC. Highly recommended.

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Filed under 1957, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Nathan Juran, Reynold Brown, Shout/Scream Factory, Universal (-International)

Blu-Ray News #231: The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid (1972).

Directed by Philip Kaufman
Starring Cliff Robertson, Robert Duvall, Luke Askew, R.G. Armstrong, Dana Elcar, Matt Clark, Elisha Cook, Royal Dan0, Paul Frees (narrator)

I don’t mean for this to sound negative, but The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid (1972) is one of the few so-called Revisionist Westerns I really like.  From the great cast to the narration from Paul Frees to Bruce Surtees’ terrific camerawork, it’s a picture that really clicks for me.

Shout Factory’s upcoming Blu-Ray should be a real treat. The film deserves it.

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Filed under 1972, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Elisha Cook, Jr., Paul Frees, R.G. Armstrong, Shout/Scream Factory

Night Creatures (1962, AKA Captain Clegg).

Directed by Peter Graham Scott
Screenplay by John Elder (Anthony Hinds)
Based on Russell Thorndike’s Dr. Syn character
Music by Don Banks
Director Of Photography: Arthur Grant
Film Editor: Eric Boyd-Perkins

Cast: Peter Cushing (Parson Blyss/Captain Clegg), Yvonne Romain (Imogene), Patrick Allen (Captain Collier), Oliver Reed (Harry), Michael Ripper (Mipps), David Lodge (Bosun), Derek Francis (Squire), Jack MacGowran

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What if Heaven was a place where you’ve got a stack of old movies starring, or made by, all your favorites — that you’ve never seen? Like maybe another couple Scott-Boetticher Westerns, a second George Lazenby Bond movie — or a Peter Cushing Hammer picture you somehow missed while here on Earth. Well, that last little slice of Heaven materialized here in Raleigh, North Carolina, over the weekend. I finally got around to checking out Night Creatures (1962, UK title Captain Clegg).

There’s an interesting bit of history to this one. Hammer Films planned to remake Dr. Syn (1937), which starred George Arliss as the mysterious smuggler Reverend Doctor Christopher Syn — based on the novels by Russell Thorndike.

But it turned out that Disney also had their eye on Dr. Syn, for their Wonderful World Of Disney TV show, and had acquired the rights to the novels themselves — versus Hammer’s remake rights to the old movie. Disney’s eventual three-part TV program starred Patrick McGoohan and William Sylvester. (In the mid-70s, it was re-cut and played US theaters as Dr. Syn, Alias The Scarecrow. I thought it was one of the coolest things I’d ever seen.)

Anyway, back to Hammer. To avoid any legal hassle from the Disney people, Hammer changed the character’s name to Captain Clegg and made a few other modifications. There’s still a scarecrow, there’s still plenty of brandy to be smuggled and taxes to be avoided. But we now get the creepy Marsh Phantoms. Stills of the Phantoms that turned up in my monster movie books and magazines had me wanting to see this movie to a ridiculous degree.

Somehow, it took me more than 40 years to catch up with Night Creatures. But it was worth the wait.

Turns out, it’s not really a horror movie at all, it’s a dark, moody pirate/adventure story. Hammer was pretty good at pirate movies. Their The Pirates Of Blood River, from the same year as Night Creatures and with some of the same cast, is a hoot — and they’d follow it with The Devil-Ship Pirates in 1964. Both star Christopher Lee.

I’m not gonna spoil things by giving you a synopsis. It’s too good a movie for me to screw it up for you.

Night Creatures is Peter Cushing’s movie all the way, in spite of some strong work from Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper (who’s got a bigger part than usual) and the lovely Yvonne Romain. Cushing gets to do plenty of action stuff, which he’s always very good at. It’s shame he’s known these days primarily for standing around and being mean in Star Wars (1977). Cushing is so versatile, and he really gets to show his range in this one, going back and forth from ruthless pirate to compassionate preacher numerous times over the course of the picture’s 82 minutes. Over the last year or so, I’ve developed a real love of Cushing. He’s a joy to watch.

Patrick Allen is appropriately hateful as the government man sent to track down the band of smugglers and clashing with the Marsh Phantoms along the way. The Phantoms’ scenes deliver the goods I’d be waiting decades for — though I’d love to have seen what Jack Asher, Hammer’s other DP, would’ve done with those scenes on the moors. His stylized color effects always knock me out. There isn’t a thing in this movie that isn’t cool.

Peter Graham Scott directs Yvonne Romain.

I finally came across Night Creatures in the Hammer Horror 8-Film Collection Blu-Ray set from Universal. It looks great, as do all the other pictures. I saw Hammer’s Phantom Of The Opera (1962) on film repeatedly as a kid, and the spot-on transfer looks exactly as I remember it. Night Creatures gets my highest recommendation. It’s become a new favorite around my house.

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Filed under 1962, Christopher Lee, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Hammer Films, Michael Ripper, Peter Cushing, Universal (-International)