4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Boris Karloff Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Today, TSL pays tribute to the one and only Boris Karloff, born on this day in 1887 in London.

It’s time for….

4 Shots From 4 Boris Karloff Films

Five Star Final (1931, dir by Mervyn LeRoy)

House of Frankenstein (1944, dir by Erle C. Kenton)

Black Sabbath (1963, dir by Mario Bava)

Targets (1968, dir by Peter Bogdanovich)

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Madhouse (dir by Jim Clark)


In this 1974 film, Vincent Price plays Paul Toombes, a talented actor who, despite his formal training and his distinguished background, is best-known for giving hammy performances in low-budget horror films.

Hmmm …. do you think Vincent Price possibly could have related to this character?  I mean, one thing that people often forget is that Vincent Price did not start his career in horror movies.  Price started his career as a romantic lead and then he eventually moved into character parts.  He was tested and apparently quite seriously considered for the role of Ashely Wilkes in Gone With The Wind.  Price was also considered for the role of Mr. Potter in It’s A Wonderful Life and rumor has it that he would have gotten the role of Addison DeWitt if George Sanders had turned down All About Eve.  Before he became an icon of horror, Price had roles in big-budget Oscar nominees like The Song of Bernadette and Wilson.  He even appeared in the classic film noir, Laura.

It wasn’t until the 50s that Price started to regularly appear in horror films and soon, that was what he was best known for.  Price’s naturally theatrical style made him a perfect fit for the genre and it won him a legion of adoring fans.  The same can be said of Paul Toombes.

Paul Toombes is best-known for playing the role of Dr. Death.  He appeared in five Dr. Death films, the majority of which were written by his friend, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing).  Unfortunately, the murder of his fiancée put a temporary end to Toombes’s acting career.  Even though Toombes was acquitted of the crime, everyone seems to assume that he did it.  Apparently, having a nickname like Dr. Death doesn’t do much to convince people of your benevolence.

However, Toombes finally has a chance to rebuild his career!  The BBC wants to produce a Dr. Death TV series and they want Toombes to once again play his most famous role.  The only problem?  People involved with the production are getting murdered, one-by-one.  Is Dr. Death responsible or is he being set up?

Madhouse is kind of an early slasher film, though, with its gloved killer and its whodunit plot, it has more in common with an Italian giallo than an installment of Friday the 13th.  The deaths are bloody but not too bloody.  In fact, for a film that’s full of murder and betrayal, Madhouse is surprisingly good natured.  The main appeal of the film, of course, is to see Vincent Price and Peter Cushing acting opposite of each other.  Though they were both known for appearing in horror films, Price and Cushing were two very different actors and each brought his own individual approach to Madhouse.  Price is his usual flamboyant self while Cushing is considerably more reserved and the contrast of their styles actually creates an interesting dynamic between Toombes and Flay.

Madhouse is also full of footage from previous films that Vincent Price had made for AIP.  (Of course, these movies are presented as being Dr. Death films.)  Basil Rathbone and Boris Karloff both appear in archival footage, acting opposite Price.  It’s nice to see them, even if neither one of them was actually alive when Madhouse was filmed.  Paul Toombes actually gets a scene where he praises Bail Rathbone’s performance and one gets the feeling that the sentiments were being expresses as much by Price as by the character he was playing.

Madhouse is okay.  The plot’s not particularly challenging and the tone tends to go all over the place, as if the film can’t decide whether it wants to be a horror movie or a Hollywood satire.  However, the film works whenever Vincent Price is on-screen, which is often.  Price is just fun to watch, especially when he’s teamed up with an old pro like Peter Cushing.  For fans of Price and Cushing, Madhouse is an entertaining chance to watch two icons of horror go at it.

 

Horror on the Lens: The Terror (dir by Roger Corman, Francis Ford Coppola, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Dennis Jakob, and Jack Nicholson)


(As some of you may have noticed, I shared this movie last year as well.  I figured I might as well post it again this year.  Plus, it’s Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and Dick Miller!  Why not post it again?)

Have you ever woken up and thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a movie where a youngish Jack Nicholson played a French soldier who, while searching for a mysterious woman, comes across a castle that’s inhabited by both Dick Miller and Boris Karloff?”

Of course you have!  Who hasn’t?

Well, fortunately, it’s YouTube to the rescue.  In Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, Jack Nicholson is the least believable 19th century French soldier ever.  However, it’s still interesting to watch him before he became a cinematic icon.  (Judging from his performance here and in Cry Baby Killer, Jack was not a natural-born actor.)  Boris Karloff is, as usual, great and familiar Corman actor Dick Miller gets a much larger role than usual.  Pay attention to the actress playing the mysterious woman.  That’s Sandra Knight who, at the time of filming, was married to Jack Nicholson.

Reportedly, The Terror was one of those films that Corman made because he still had the sets from his much more acclaimed film version of The Raven.  The script was never finished, the story was made up as filming moved alone, and no less than five directors shot different parts of this 81 minute movie.  Among the directors: Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, and even Jack Nicholson himself!  Perhaps not surprisingly, the final film is a total mess but it does have some historical value.

(In typical Corman fashion, scenes from The Terror were later used in the 1968 film, Targets.)

Check out The Terror below!

 

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #2: Scarface (dir by Howard Hawks)


Before there was Tony Montana …. there was Tony Camonte!

And, of course, before there was Tony Camonte, there was Al Capone.  The 1932 film Scarface was one of the many gangster movies to be based on the life of Al Capone.  Capone and Tony Camonte even share the same nickname, though — unlike Camonte — Capone hated being called Scarface.  On the other hand, as played by the charismatic and cocky Paul Muni, Tony Camonte wears his scar like a badge of honor.  He says that he got his scar serving in the war.  His best friend, Guino (George Raft, a real-life gangster associate who became a star as a result of his performance in this film), says that the scar is the result of a bar fight.

In many ways, that scar tells you almost everything you need to know about Tony Camonte.  If you can look away from the scar, he’s a handsome and charismatic figure.  But when you see the scar, you’re reminded that his life is about violence.  Everything that Tony has is due to his violent nature and it’s somewhat inevitable that his end will also be due to that violence, not to mention his obsession with his sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak).  It’s not just Tony’s face that’s scarred.  It’s his soul as well.

The film follows Tony, from his early days of working as a gunman for Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to his eventual usurpation of Lovo’s place as the king of the underworld.  Tony not only takes over Lovo’s rackets but he also goes after Lovo’s girlfriend, the glamorous Poppy (Karen Morley).  The well-bred Poppy may be dismissive of Tony’s ambitions but, as Tony shows her, he lives in the glow of a neon sign that announces, “The World Is Yours.”  That’s something that Tony truly believes and, for a while, the world is his.  He’s done with a gun what other do with lawyer and a clever accountant.  He’s achieved the American dream and he has the money and the beautiful lover to prove it.  Only for a while, though.  You reap what you sow.

The film recreates many scenes from Al Capone’s life.  One of Tony’s rivals is gunned down in a flower shop, much as happened to Dean O’Bannion when he challenged Capone’s power.  At another point, two of Tony’s men dress up like policemen and gun down rival gangsters, just as happened during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The script was written by Ben Hecht, a Chicago native who had actually met Capone.  When Capone heard that Hecht was writing a film called Scarface, he sent two men to find out what the film was about.  Hecht assured them that the film was not about Capone but was instead a parody of the gangster genre.  Hecht was left alone but the fact that Capone was worried about his public image is quite a contrast to more recent stories about made men studying The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos for tips on how to go about their business.  Of course, the film was made before Capone’s anticlimatic downfall so it’s not a combination of tax evasion and syphilis that ends Tony Camonte’s reign of terror.  Camonte goes out in a much more dramatically satisfying manner.

It’s a violent film.  It was a violent film for 1932 and, in some scenes, it’s a violent film for even today.  I’ve read that director Howard Hawks used live ammunition in the scenes that featured guns being fired.  In many of the scenes in which someone is portrayed as running for their lives, the actors in question were literally running and ducking for their lives.  Luckily, the cast survived making the film, though it’s been said that one crew member lost an eye.  Paul Muni went on to have a very distinguished film career, one that inspired future acting greats like John Garfield, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando.  Despite his star-making turn as Muni’s best friend, George Raft’s career was not quite as distinguished, as he ended up turning down a chance to star in Casablanca.  Osgood Perkins’s son, Tony, would become a horror icon when he played Norman Bates.  And Boris Karloff went from portraying a bowling gangster in this film to playing the Monster in Frankenstein.

And, of course, the legacy of Scarface lives on, thanks to the 1983 remake starring Al Pacino.  There’s a third remake on the way, reportedly from Luca Guadagnino, who I guess decided that since he got away with tarnishing the legacy of Suspiria, he might as well go after another classic cult film.  Both versions of Scarface are rightly known as being classics of the gangster genre.  The 1983 version is great but so is the original.

Previous Offers You Can’t Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy (1931)

Spring Breakdown: The Ghost In the Invisible Bikini (dir by Don Weis)


The 1966 film, The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini, asks the question, “What can you do if you want to have a beach party but you don’t have a beach?”

The answer: “Find a pool!”

Seriously, a pool is just as good as a beach and fortunately, Chuck (Tommy Kirk) has a pool where his friends can hang out and listen as Vicki (Nancy Sinatra) sings a song.  It’s in a big old mansion and hey, it might be haunted.  It used to belong to Hiram Stokeley (Boris Karloff) and he’s dead now so he certainly won’t mind, right?

Well, what if he’s not dead!?

Oh wait, actually, he is dead.  But he’s still hanging around.  It turns out that he needs to do at least one good deed in order to get into Heaven.  (Isn’t starring in Frankenstein enough?  I mean, c’mon…..)  It also turns that Hiram only has 24 hours to do that good deed or it’s off to Hell for him.  Maybe he could figure out a way to help Chuck and his family win his fortune!  Hiram enlists the help of his long-dead girlfriend, Cecily (Susan Hart).  Cecily, we are told, is wearing an invisible bikini but we just have to take the film’s word on that because it’s invisible and, seeing as how Cecily’s a ghost, it’s always possible that only reason she’s transparent is because she’s a spirit.  I mean, seriously, who knows how ghosts work?

Anyway, it’s not going to be easy for Hiram and Cecily to ensure that Chuck inherits that fortune, largely because Chuck and all of his friends are idiots.  The other problem is that Reginald Ripper (Basil Rathbone), Hiram’s lawyer, is determined to win that money for himself and, if you have any doubt that he’s a bad dude, just check out his name.  GOOD PEOPLE ARE NOT NAMED REGINALD RIPPER!  Fortunately, even though Reginald graduated from law school and is played by Basil freaking Rathbone, he’s still an idiot and he comes up with the stupidest plan possible to get Chuck and friends out of the house.

He’s going to make them think that it’s haunted!

(But it is haunted….)

Reginald’s plan is to have his evil associates, J. Sinister Hulk (Jesse White), Chicken Feather (Benny Rubin), and Princess Yolanda (Bobbi Shaw), pretend to be monsters and ghosts in order to scare all of the teens out of the house.  He also enlists his daughter, Sinistra (Quinn O’Hara), to help but Sinistra isn’t really bad.  She’s just extremely near-sighted and someone thought it would be a good idea to name her Sinistra.

And then the bikers show up!  This is one of AIP’s beach party films so, of course, there are bikers.  Eric von Zipper (Harvey Lembeck) shows up and pretends to be Marlon Brando in The Wild One.  Of course, at the time this film was made, the real Marlon Brando was filming Arthur Penn’s The Chase so I’m going to guess that Harvey Lembeck probably had more fun pretending to be Brando than Brando was having being himself….

Anyway, this is a stupid movie even by the standards of the AIP beach party films.  It’s also notably disjointed.  That probably has something to do with the fact that Karloff and Susan Hart weren’t actually added to the film until after the movie had already been shot.  Apparently, AIP felt that the first cut of the movie was missing something so they said, “Let’s toss in a little Karloff!”  Of course, Boris Karloff was such an old charmer that it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t ever really interact with anyone other than Susan Hart over the course of the film.  You’re just happy to see him.

So yeah, technically, this is not a good film but, at the same time, you kind of know what you’re getting into when you watch a movie called The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini.  The jokes fall flat.  The songs are forgettable.  But the whole thing is such a product of its time that it’s always watchable from an anthropological perspective.  Add to that, you get Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, doing what they had to do to pay the bills and somehow surviving with their dignity intact.  Good for them.

6 Horror Performances That Deserved An Oscar Nomination


Despite making some inroads as of late, horror films still never quite get the respect that they deserve when it comes Oscar time.  That’s especially true of the performers who regularly appear in horror films.  If it’s rare for a horror movie to receive a best picture nomination, it’s even rarer for someone to get nominated for appearing in one of them.

And yet, it takes as much skill to make a monster compelling as it does a historical figure or a literary character.  In fact, it may take even more skill.  After all, everyone knows that Queen Elizabeth I actually ruled over England and that Atticus Finch was an attorney in the South.  However, everyone also knows that there’s no such things as vampires and that the dead cannot be reanimated or raised as a zombie.  It takes a lot of skill to make a monster seem human.

With that in mind, here are 6 horror performances that deserved, at the very least, an Oscar nomination:

1. Boris Karloff as The Monster in Frankenstein (1931) and The Bride of Frankenstein(1935)

The great Boris Karloff is perhaps the most egregious example of a deserving actor who was consistently ignored by the Academy because of the type of films in which he appeared.  In the role of Monster, Karloff was never less than brilliant and he set the standard by which all future monsters are judged.

Dracula (1931, directed by Tod Browning)

2. Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)

When viewed today, it’s perhaps a little bit too easy to be dismissive of Lugosi’s grandly theatrical interpretation of Dracula.  But, if you can ignore all of the bad imitations that you’ve seen and heard over the years, you’ll discover that Lugosi’s performance is perfect for the film in which he’s appearing.  Indeed, Lugosi’s best moments are the silent ones, when he goes from being a courtly (if vaguely sinister) nobleman to a hungry animal.  In those moments, you see why Lugosi’s performance endures.

3. Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates in Psycho (1960)

Ah, poor Anthony Perkins.  Before he played Norman Bates, he was considered to be something an up-and-coming star and even something of a neurotic romantic lead.  As with Lugosi’s Dracula, we’ve seen so many bad imitations of Perkins’s performance that it’s easy to overlook just how good he is in the role.  He was so perfect as Norman that spent the rest of his career typecast.  And, sadly enough, he didn’t even get a much-deserved Oscar nomination out of it.

4. Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man (1973)

Christopher Lee was one of the great actors and, though he may be best remembered for his horror work, he actually appeared in almost every genre of film imaginable.  Lee was often dismissive of the Dracula films that he made for Hammer so, as much as I’d love to argue that he deserved a nomination for The Horror of Dracula, I’m instead going to suggest that Lee deserved one for the role that he often cited as his favorite, the pagan Lord Summerisle in The Wicker Man.  Lee brings the perfect mix of wit and menace to the role and, in the process, shows that not all monsters have to be undead.

5. Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis in Halloween (1978) and Halloween II (1981)

Much as with Lugosi and Anthony Perkins, it’s important (and perhaps a little bit difficult) to separate Pleasence’s performances in these two slasher films with all of the imitations that have followed.  In both films, Pleasence does a great job of playing a man who has been driven to the verge of madness as a result of having spent too much time in the presence of evil.  As potentially dangerous as Sam Loomis sometimes appears to be, there’s no way not to sympathize with him as he continually tries to get people to understand that he wasn’t the one who left Michael escape.  If nothing else, Pleasence deserved a nomination just for his delivery of the line, “As a matter of fact, it was.”

6. Betsy Palmer as Pamela Voorhees in Friday the 13th (1980)

“I’m an old friend of the Christys.”  AGCK!  RUN!

Horror On TV: Suspense 1.13 “The Yellow Scarf” (dir by Robert Sevens)


Tonight’s episode of Suspense features Boris Karloff as the mysterious Mr. Bronson, a scientist living in London in 1897.  Bronson gives lodging to Hettie (Felicia Montealegre) on the condition that she do the housework, that she never got out alone, and that she never enters his laboratory.  However, when Bronson discovers that Hettie has struck up a relationship with Tom (Douglass Watson), Bronson uses his scientific knowledge to seek revenge.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Karloff is the main reason to watch this episode of Suspense.  He’s wonderfully creepy here, playing one his more villainous roles.

This originally aired on June 7th, 1949.

Horror on TV: Suspense 1.7 “A Night At The Inn” (dir by Robert Stevens)


Suspense was an anthology series that aired from 1949 to 1953.  As you can probably guess from the show’s title, each episode was a thriller of some sort.  Occasionally, the episodes were also horror-themed.  Suspense was also a live production, with each episode essentially functioning as a 30-minute play.

Tonight’s episode of Suspense originally aired on April 26th, 1949 and it features Boris Karloff.  It deals with four thieves hiding out in a British Inn, after having stolen a ruby eye from a holy statue in India.  Needless to say, that was not a particularly wise decision.

Enjoy!

Horror on the Lens: The Terror (dir by Roger Corman)


Have you ever woken up and thought to yourself, “I’d love to see a movie where a youngish Jack Nicholson played a French soldier who, while searching for a mysterious woman, comes across a castle that’s inhabited by both Dick Miller and Boris Karloff?”

Of course you have!  Who hasn’t?

Well, fortunately, it’s YouTube to the rescue.  In Roger Corman’s 1963 film The Terror, Jack Nicholson is the least believable 19th century French soldier ever.  However, it’s still interesting to watch him before he became a cinematic icon.  (Judging from his performance here and in Cry Baby Killer, Jack was not a natural-born actor.)  Boris Karloff is, as usual, great and familiar Corman actor Dick Miller gets a much larger role than usual.  Pay attention to the actress playing the mysterious woman.  That’s Sandra Knight who, at the time of filming, was married to Jack Nicholson.

Reportedly, The Terror was one of those films that Corman made because he still had the sets from his much more acclaimed film version of The Raven.  The script was never finished, the story was made up as filming moved alone, and no less than five directors shot different parts of this 81 minute movie.  Among the directors: Roger Corman, Jack Hill, Monte Hellman, Francis Ford Coppola, and even Jack Nicholson himself!  Perhaps not surprisingly, the final film is a total mess but it does have some historical value.

(In typical Corman fashion, scenes from The Terror were later used in the 1968 film, Targets.)

Check out The Terror below!