The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977, directed by Don Taylor)

After the ship that he’s working on sinks, engineer Andrew Braddock (Michael York) washes up on an uncharted island. It’s a beautiful island but it quickly proves dangerous as another survivor of the sinking is killed by wild animals. The injured Braddock passes out and when he wakes up, he’s being cared for by a mysterious scientist named Moreau (Burt Lancaster).

Braddock discovers that the island is populated by creatures that are half-human and half-animal. Led by the Sayer of the Law (Richard Basehart), these creatures are the results of experiments conducted by Moreau and his assistant, Montgomery (Nigel Davenport).  Moreau’s experiments are expected to obey Moreau’s laws.  Should they fail, they will be taken to the House of Pain and punished.  When Baddock objects to Moreau playing God, Moreau plots to reverse the experiment on Braddock and turn him into an animal. Even as he falls in love with a former cheetah (played by Barbara Carrera), Braddock realizes that he must escape the Island of Dr. Moeau.

This is the forgotten adaptation of H.G. Wells’s classic novel, as well as being the most faithful. The Island of Lost Souls, from 1932, is considered to be a classic. The third version, directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer, is a legendary disaster. This version, though, is usually overlooked. It’s also my favorite of the three but that might be because it was the first version that I ever saw. It’s a straight-forward version of H.G. Wells’s story of science gone mad with director Don Taylor not wasting any time getting the action started. Michael York, always an underrated actor, convincingly portrays Braddock’s outrage and his struggle to maintain his humanity after Moreau starts to experiment on him while Carrera is beautiful and mysterious as Maria. Probably the film’s biggest surprise is Burt Lancaster, who turns out to be ideally cast as Moreau. More subdued than either Charles Laughton or Marlon Brando, Lancaster plays Moreau as a brilliant but callous man who is too arrogant to realize that he’s become as much of an animal as those he claims to be perfecting.  What makes Lancaster’s Moreau so disturbing is that he doesn’t have the excuse of being insane.  Instead, he’s just too stubborn to admit that he’s potentially made a huge mistake.

It may be forgotten but this still the version of The Island of Dr, Moreau that I would recommend.

(Trailer courtesy of Classic Movie Reviews)

Horror on the Lens: Samson vs. The Vampire Women (dir by Alfonso Corona Blake)

If a group of vampires are determined to ruin your night, what should you do?  Well, according to the classic Mexican film Santo vs. las Mujeres Vampiro, your first move should be to call a wrestler.

What to know more?  Well, you can read my full review of the film by clicking here!

And you can watch the movie below because it’s today’s horror on the lens!

The TSL’s Grindhouse: Parents (dir by Bob Balaban)

An odd little film, 1989’s Parents is.

It takes place in the 50s of the pop cultural imagination, with neatly laid out suburban neighborhoods and perfectly mowed lawns and big cars driving down the street.  Nick (Randy Quaid) and Lily (Mary Beth Hurt) seem like the perfect couple.  Lily stays at home and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.  Nick is an engineer who works for a company called Toxico and who is helping to develop what will become known, during the Vietnam War, as Agent Orange.  Nick and Lily are friendly, well-mannered, and they love to eat meat.  Lily explains, at one point, that she didn’t really love to eat meat until she married Nick and he showed her how wonderful it could be.

Their son, ten year-old Michael (Bryan Madorsky), is a bit less conventional.  He’s a quiet boy who never smiles and who, when asked to draw a picture of his family, freaks out his school’s guidance counselor (played by Sandy Dennis).  Michael has frequent nightmares.  Michael doesn’t like to eat meat and, in fact, it’s hard to think of a single scene in the movie where Michael is seen eating anything.  Michael is haunted by the sight of his parents making love in the living room.  He’s also haunted by a growing suspicion that his parents are cannibals.

Are they?  Perhaps.  It’s hard to say.  The first time you watch the movie, it seems deceptively obvious that Nick and Lily are exactly what Michael says they are.  The second time, you start to notice a few odd things.  For one thing, we never see Michael actually going from one location to another.  Instead, he just seems to magically show up wherever he needs to be to hear something that will confirm his suspicions.  When his teacher and his guidance counselor discuss his home life, Michael just happens to be in a nearby closet.  When his mother is preparing something that looks like it might be a human organ, Michael just happens to be standing in the pantry.  Are we seeing reality or are we just seeing what Michael thinks is reality?  When Nick starts to threaten Michael and later claims that there’s no way Michael is his son, is he really saying that or is Michael just imagining his fatherr confirming all of Michael’s insecurities?  How much of the film is real and how much of it is in Michael’s head?

It’s an odd film, Parents.  It’s also the directorial debut of character actor Bob Balaban.  Balaban has spent the majority of his career playing shy, slightly repressed characters.  Parents, with the withdrawn Michael as the main character, is a film that feels autobiographical.  That’s not to say that Balaban’s parents were cannibals but the scenes where Nick goes from being a loving father to an abusive monster are too intense and suffused with too much pain for them to be anything other than personal.  Balaban’s direction is heavily stylized.  At times, it’s a bit too stylized but ultimately, it works.  The final 30 minutes of the film feel like a nightmare that has somehow been filmed.

A satire of conformity and suburbia, Parents is also a portrait of an alienated child struggling to figure out where he fits into his family.  He’s given the choice of either indulging in his family’s sins or living life alone.  Except, of course, it really isn’t a choice.  Nick expects Michael to do what he’s been told, no matter what.  Randy Quaid and Mary Beth Hurt are both terrifying as the parents but, at the same time, Balaban makes good use of the fact that both of those performers — at least at the time this movie was made — were naturally likable.  You want Nick to be the perfect father that he pretends to be and you share Michael’s anger and disillusionment when he turns out to be something very different.

Parents may be a strange film but it’s not one that you’re going to forget.

Red Planet Mars (1952, directed by Harry Horner)

Chris Cornyn (Peter Graves) and his wife, Linda (Andrea King) are two scientists who have spent the years since World War II listening to transmissions from Mars.  The technology that they use was developed by a scientist who may have been a Nazi but the Cornyns feels that the greater good of learning about Mars outweighs the problematic background of their equipment.

One day, the transmitters pick up a message from Mars, announcing that Mars is a Socialist paradise where there is no fear of nuclear war.  The Soviets are gleeful because they think the Martian messages will lead to the collapse of NATO.  But then the Martians start sending out religious messages, which lead to riots in the USSR and Eastern Europe.

Are the Martians really contacting Earth?  Is God really transmitting a message from Mars?  Or is a more sinister figure responsible?

Red Planet Mars is one of those films that only could have been made at the height of the Cold War.  Despite the title, the film is decidedly Earth-bound and full of stock footage of the nations of the world reacting to the Martians.  The main theme is that, Martians or not, nothing is more important than protecting the American way of life. even if that means sacrificing your own life and misleading the world.  Even if it is now impossible to listen to his dialogue without thinking about the “Do you like movies about gladiators?” conversations from Airplane!, Peter Graves was the perfect, no-nonsense messenger.  An artifact of a different time, the movie’s greatest strength is that it takes its ridiculous story seriously and even today, it leaves you wonder how we would react to messages from Mars.  Hopefully, we would today be more skeptical.  People in 1953 would believe anything.

International Horror Film Review: The Psychic (a.k.a. Seven Notes In Black) (dir by Lucio Fulci)

Also known as Seven Notes In Black, The Psychic is an Italian paranormal thriller that was made and released in 1977, shortly before the film’s director, Lucio Fulci, reinvented Italian horror with Zombi 2.

For years, Virginia (Jennier O’Neill) has been haunted by visions.  When she was a child, she saw a vision of her mother jumping off a cliff.  It turned out that, at the same time Virginia had her vision, her mother was doing exactly that.  18 years later, Virginia is living in Rome and she’s married to a wealthy businessman named Francesco Ducci (Gianni Garko, who also starred in several Spaghetti westerns).  Virginia would seem to have the perfect life but she’s still haunted by disturbing visions.  She sees an old woman murdered.  She sees a wall being ripped apart.  She sees a discarded letter.  Is she seeing the past, the present, or the future?  She does not know.  Ducci insists that her visions mean nothing but Virginia is convinced that something is reaching out to her.

While Ducci is away on business, Virginia visits an abandoned house that her husband has recently bought.  Virginia wants to renovate it but, as soon as she sees it, she realizes that the house previously appeared in her visions.  When she investigates, she discovers a skeleton in one of the walls.  With the police now convinced that Ducci is a murderer, Virginia tries to figure out the meaning behind her visions and looks for a way to clear Ducci’s name.  Strangely, Ducci still doesn’t seem to be that concerned about any of it….

Along with Lizard In A Woman’s Skin and Don’t Torture A Duckling, The Psychic is a film that gets a lot of attention as an example of Fulci’s pre-Zombi 2 horror output.  After Zombi 2, Fucli would become best known for making films that were full of gore and that often seemed to be deeply angry with the world.  The fact that Fulci was also a brilliant stylist who created some of the most dream-like images ever to be captured on film would often be overlooked in all the controversy over the often violent content of his movies.  One thing that makes The Psychic interesting is that, visually, it’s clearly a Fulci film.  The cinematography is lush and vibrant.  The visions are surreal and disturbing.  However, there’s very little of the gore that came to define Fulci’s later films.  Instead, the emphasis is on the atmosphere and the mystery.  This is one of the few Fulci films that you could safely show an older relative.

Fulci was often (a bit unfairly, in my opinon) portrayed as being a cinematic misanthrope, as a director who little use for the characters that populated his films.  That’s certainly not the case with The Psychic, though.  Virginia is probably one of the most sympathetic characters to ever appear in a Fulci film and Jennifer O’Neill does a good job in the lead role.  Even more importantly, Fulci seems to like her and, from the start, it’s clear that the film is fully on her side.  The entire story is told through her eyes and she’s a character who you immediately root for.  Like Fulci himself, she’s a visionary whose visions are often underappreciated until it’s too late.  Though the film ends on a characteristically downbeat note (happy endings were rare even in Fulci’s pre-Zombi 2 films), Virginia is still allowed her triumph with one final and rather clever little twist.

The Pyschic is a bit slowly-paced but it’s still a far better film that many Fulci critics seem to be willing to acknowledge.  (One gets the feeling that many critics resent any film that indicates that there was more to Fulci than eye damage and zombies.)  It’s an entertaining and intriguing latter-era giallo and proof that there was more to Fulci than just blood.

Horror Film Review: Shut In (dir by Farren Blackburn)

The 2016 film, Shut In, is yet another film in which Naomi Watts plays an intelligent woman who is forced to do stupid things because, otherwise, there would be no story.

This time, Watts is cast as Dr. Mary Portman, a psychologist who is taking care of her stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton).  Stephen was left in a vegatative state by a tragic accident that not only killed Mary’s husband but which also totaled a brand new SUV.  Mary and Stephen are in an isolated house so there’s no way anything could go wrong, right?

Mary has a lot on her mind.  Not only does she have to take care of Stephen but she’s also starting to date again.  Plus, one of her patients, a child named Tom (Jacob Tremblay), has disappeared.  She’s worried about Tom.  He disappeared near her house and no one has been able to find him.  Mary occasionally thinks that she sees Tom but her psychologist (played by poor Oliver Platt, who looks embarrassed to be there) says that Mary is just seeing what she wants to see.  And when two little hands come out of the darkness to keep Mary from entering a crawlspace, that’s just a coincidence, too.


Because it’s not like totally obvious, from the freaking start, that Tom is hiding out in her house.

Now, before anyone gets excited, this film does not feature Jacob Tremblay as an evil child who torments Naomi Watts.  (Jacob Tremblay is 15 years old now, just in case you needed an excuse to feel old.)  Instead, it turns out that Mary’s tormenter is….


Spoiler alert?

Really, I have to give a spoiler alert before revealing the most obvious twist of all time?  How is that fair?

Okay, fine.  SPOILER ALERT!  Stop crying, you babies.

Mary is being menaced by Stephen, who it turns out woke up from his coma long ago and is now faking his vegetative state.  That seems like that would be a difficult thing to fake but, whatever.  Anyway, it turns out that Stephen has really enjoyed having Mary all to himself and he’s not really happy about the idea of having to share her with Tom.  So, Stephen’s idea is to trap Tom in the crawlspace and hold Mary hostage.  Or something.  I don’t know.  It doesn’t seem like Stephen’s really thought this out.  Normally, that would be understandable because it takes a lot of planning to trap someone in a crawlspace while pretending to be in a coma.  But Stephen spends all day lying around so he should have used that time to give a little more thought to his plan.

Eventually, Oliver Platt realizes that something strange is happening so he goes up the house to rescue her but — surprise! — Stephen kills him.  Seriously, Oliver — you deserved better than this movie.

For that matter so does Naomi Watts.  Watts is a good actress who can play both comedy and drama and yet, she keeps showing up in these movies where she basically spends the whole movie being held prisoner, either physically or mentally.  She always does a good job in them and, when I first heard that Woman In The Window was being turned into a movie, she was my choice for the role played by Amy Adams but, still, Watts definitely deserves better than a by-the-numbers film like Shut In.  Too often, the film requires Mary to act in a totally illogical, rather stupid manner.  Watts does her best with the character but the script lets her down.

Along with being totally predictable, Shut In moves at a glacial pace.  A lot of time is spent in an attempt to establish mood and atmosphere but again, the big twist is so obvious that no amount of mood and Kubrickian atmosphere is going to save it..  Shut In is a movie that very slowly takes us to exactly where we think it’s going to take us.  Everyone involved deserved better.

Horror on the Lens: How To Make A Monster (dir by Herbert L. Strock)

You’ve seen I Was A Teenage Werewolf….

You’ve watched I Was A Teenage Frankenstein….

Now, it’s time to watch How To Make A Monster!

Released in 1958, How To Make A Monster is a clever little horror satire from American International Pictures in which the stars of Teenage Werewolf and Teenage Frankenstein are hypnotized into believing that they actually are the monsters that they played!  The main culprit is a movie makeup artist (Robert H. Harris) who has been deemed obsolete by the new bosses at AIP.

Be sure to watch for the finale, which features cameo appearances from several other AIP monsters!  And read my full review of the film by clicking here!

Guilty Pleasure No. 51: Rage and Honor (dir by Terence Winkless)

The 1992 film, Rage and Honor, tells the story of two people from different worlds, who come together to kick ass and save a declining American city.

Preston Michaels (Richard Norton) is a cop from Australia who has come to America as a part of an exchange program.  When he’s not working undercover, he’s supplementing his income by working as a bodyguard for what appears to be an 80s cover band.

Kris Fairfield (Cynthia Rothrock) is a teacher at the local high school who also moonlights as a karate instructor.  She’s haunted by the death of her parents and the subsequent disappearance of her brother.  She cares about her students, even though hardly any of them actually appear in the film.  In fact, the whole high school teacher thing never really matters much in the grand scheme of things.

Preston and Kris are teaming up to take down spacey drug lord Conrad Drago (Brian Thompson).  Conrad has a fierce mullet, a cocaine addiction, and a knowledge of all of the body’s pressure points.  His girlfriend is Rita (Terri Treas) and the only thing that could possibly prevent Drago and Rita from taking over the city is a tape that reveals Rita and a bunch of crooked cops killing someone.  Kris and Preston are trying to find the tape before Drago and Rita find it.  Somehow, it all eventually leads to a homeless stock broker named Baby (Stephen Davies) and a weird fight club that’s run by Hannah the Hun (Alex Datcher).

It’s an incredibly silly film, to be honest.  It’s the type of film where Preston gets shot once in the side and once in the leg and neither time does it slow him down.  (He does mention that his leg hurts at one point but he never starts to limp or anything like that.)  Kris, meanwhile, is given a tragic backstory that is explained to us in-between scenes of awkward comedic relief.  Hannah goes from being a calculating villainous to a heroic ally, without the film attempting any explanation as to why.  Meanwhile, despite Brian Thompson’s best efforts to be menacing, Conrad is written as being some sort of flakey, New Age drug dealer.  He’s about as intimidating as the biggest guy in a drum circle.  There’s really not much rage or honor to be found in Rage and Honor.

And yet, it was impossible for me to dislike the film.  Every time Cynthia Rothrock did a flying kick and sent some jerk flying, the film won me back.  Unfortunately, she didn’t really get to do as much fighting as she should have.  She had to share the screen with Brian Thompson and Richard Norton, who both received fight scenes of their own.  All three of them looked good fighting but Cynthia was the clear star.  What she lacked in actual acting ability, she made up for with pure enthusiasm.  Watching her, you realized that she was not only good at fighting but she enjoyed it as well.  For all the film’s flaws, Cynthia kicked everyone’s ass and that’s really all that mattered.  It was empowering and, even more importantly, it was a lot of fun to watch.

Go, Cynthia, go!

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me
  42. Harper’s Island
  43. The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
  44. Paranormal State
  45. Utopia
  46. Bar Rescue
  47. The Powers of Matthew Star
  48. Spiker
  49. Heavenly Bodies
  50. Maid in Manhattan

Spirits (1990, directed by Fred Olen Ray)

In this sex-filled take on The Haunting of Hill House, Robert Quarry leads a group of researchers to a haunted house. Amy Goldwyn (Brinke Stevens) is the smart psychic who knows the house isn’t safe but who still gets possessed by a demon and ends up hammering a nail through her palm. Beth (Kathrin Lautner) is the self-described “bitch” who has a lesbian past because this is a direct-to-video 90s film. Harry (Oliver Darrow) is the cocky womanizer who gets seduced by a succubus. The house is haunted by the spirit of a fallen priest and his demonic nuns. Only another priest, Father Anthony Vicci (Erik Estrada!), can save the researchers but that holy water that he’s carrying around is only going to work if he regains his faith and seeks forgiveness for his past sins.

As far as I know, Spirits is only available on VHS. So, if you do watch it, you’re going to need a VCR that works. Considering how easily an old VCR can break down and how it’s nearly impossible to get them repaired, you’re going to need to realize that Spirits could very well be the last tape you ever watch on the old machine. Do you want to take the risk? I took the risk and, for what it is, Spirits is not that bad. It’s a Fred Olen Ray films and it’s got Brinke Stevens and Michelle Bauer in it so you know what you’re going to get. Still, after I finished it, I realized that, if Spirits had been the last thing I ever watched on that old VCR, I would have been pissed. If my VCR is going to break, I’d rather it break while I was watching a tape full of hours of Must See TV from 1996.

Spirits has a few things to recommend it. Brinke Stevens was one of the best of the direct-to-video scream queens and she actually does give a “real” performance as Amy. The sight of Erik Estrada, playing a tortured a priest as if he was a character on a particularly racy telenovela, was certainly entertaining. Finally, there was Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, as the main ghost hunter. Otherwise, Spirits is a typical direct-to-video Fed Olen Ray film, with cheesy music, terrible special effects, and laughable dialogue. There’s a lot of nudity, of course but you can find the same amount of nudity in films that you can safely watch on DVD or Blu-ray. If you’re going to risk the VCR, the movie is going to need to have more to offer.

Horror On The Lens: I Was A Teenage Frankenstein (dir by Herbert L. Strock)

From 1957, it’s I Was A Teenage Frankenstein!

This film was produced as a direct result of the box office success of I Was A Teenage Werewolf.  Just as in Teenage Werewolf, Whit Bissell plays a mad scientist who makes the mistake of trying to play God.  (He also makes the mistake of keeping an alligator in his lap but that’s another story.)  The end result …. Teenage Frankenstein!

The makeup on the Teenage Frankenstein is probably the best thing about this film.  If nothing else, this film features a monster who actually looks like he was stitched together in a lab.

Enjoy and please be sure to read my review of this film at Horror Critic!