Get Into the Halloween Mood With Orson Welles and The Mercury Theater!


Still need some help getting into the holiday spirit?

Here to help are Orson Welles, the Mercury Theater, and the broadcast the panicked America back in 1938!

It’s …. The War of the Worlds!

A Blast From The Past: Orson Welles’s 1938 Broadcast of The War of the Worlds


Since it’s Orson Welles’s birthday and everyone’s kind of nervous about going outside right now, why not experience the live radio broadcast that panicked America in 1938?

Actually, there’s some debate as to just how panicked America got when they heard the Mercury Theater On The Air’s adaptation of War of the Worlds.  There was definitely some panic but there are differing reports on just how wide spread it was.  For our purposes, let’s assume that the entire country was terrified at the same time and that everyone was loading up a shotgun and planning to go out and look for aliens.  One thing is for sure.  With his adaptation of War of the Worlds, Orson Welles managed to invent the whole found footage genre that would later come to dominate horror cinema in the late 90s and the aughts.  Every Paranormal Activity film owes a debt to what Orson Welles accomplished with War of the Worlds.  We won’t hold that against Orson.

H.G. Wells, the original author of War of the Worlds, and Orson Welles only met once.  Interestingly enough, they were both in San Antonio, Texas in 1940.  They were interviewed for a local radio station.  H.G. Wells expressed some skepticism about the reports of Americans panicking while Welles compared the radio broadcast to someone dressing up like a ghost and shouting “Boo!” during Halloween.  Both Wells and Welles then encouraged Americans to worry less about Martians and more about the growing threat of Hitler and the war in Europe.

I’ve shared this before but this just seems like the time to share it again.  Here is the 1938 Mercury Theater On The Air production of The War of the Worlds!

Horror Film Review: Island of Lost Souls (dir by Erle C. Kenton)


islandoflostsouls

In the 1932 film Island of Lost Souls, Ruth Thomas (Leila Hyams) has reason to be concerned.  She’s on the island of Samoa, awaiting the arrival of her fiancée, Edward Parker (Richard Arlen).  When Parker’s boat doesn’t show up, it can only mean one thing.  He’s been shipwrecked!  Did he survive or was he lost at sea?

Well, Ruth need not worry.  Parker did survive being shipwrecked.  He was picked up by a freighter carrying a wide selection of animals to an isolated island.  Unfortunately, when Parker complained about the way that Parker was abusing some of his admittedly odd-looking passengers, the captain responded by dumping Parker on that island as well.

On the island, Parker becomes the guest of Dr. Moreau (Charles Laughton) and his assistant, Montgomery (Arthur Hohl).  Parker also meets and finds himself becoming attractive to the seemingly naive Lota (Kathleen Burke).  Though Moreau seems to be a good host, Parker grows suspicious of him.  It turns out that there’s a room in Moreau’s compound, a room that Lota calls “the house of pain.”  At night, Parker can hear horrifying screams coming from the room.

Initially believing the Moreau is torturing the island’s natives, Parker soon discovers an even more disturbing truth.  Moreau has been experimenting with trying to transform animals into humans.  Lota, it turns out, was once a panther and the woods surrounding the compound are full of other Moreau creations.  Though Moreau claims that his intentions are benevolent, he rules his island like a dictator.  The animal-men are kept in line by the Sayer of the Law (Bela Lugosi) and any transgressions are punished in the House of Pain…

The Island of Lost Souls was the first cinematic adaptation of H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau.  (Perhaps the most famous adaptation came out in 1996 and is the subject of Lost Souls, a fascinating documentary that, I believe, can still be found on Netflix.)  I watched it last night on TCM and I have to admit that I had a mixed reaction to it.  On the one hand, the film’s atmosphere of mystery and danger is palpable and Charles Laughton’s performance definitely set a standard for all misguided scientists to follow.  The human-animals are fantastic creations and  the film’s ending still has some power.  Bela Lugosi’s performance of the Sayer of the Law was superior to his work as Dracula.  (As shown by both this film and Ninotchka, Lugosi was an outstanding character actor.)  Kathleen Burke also does a great job as Lota, which makes it all the more interesting that she was apparently cast as a result of winning a contest that was sponsored by Paramount Pictures.

(On a personal note, I always find it amusing that pre-code films always feature at least one scene of an actress removing her stockings, even if the scene itself has next to nothing to do with the rest of the film.  In this case, the legs belong to Leila Hyams.)

On the negative side, Richard Arlen is not a particularly interesting hero and, from a contemporary point of view, Island of Lost Souls is a rather slow-moving film.  Watching it today requires modern audiences to make a bit of an adjustment to their expectations.

With all that in mind, I still recommend Island of Lost Souls.  Watch it for Charles Laughton and Bela Lugosi.  Watch it as a valuable piece of cinematic history.

Horror Film Review: The Invisible Man (dir by James Whale)


the-invisible-man

The 1933 Universal horror film, The Invisible Man, never seems to get as much attention as Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, or The Mummy.  Perhaps it’s because the invisible man really isn’t a supernatural monster.  He’s just a scientist who has turned himself invisible and is now going mad as a result.  Or maybe it’s because there have been so many crappy films that have used invisibility as a plot point that the reputation of the original Invisible Man suffers by association.

For whatever reason, The Invisible Man never seems to get spoken about in the same breathless, gleeful manner as some of the other Universal monsters.  But I have to admit that, though I usually can’t stand movies about invisibility, I rather like The Invisible Man.

Based on a novel by H.G. Wells, The Invisible Man opens with a mysterious man (played by Claude Rains) arriving in a small English village.  He checks into a small inn and soon, everyone in the village is scared of him.  It’s not just his haughty attitude or his habit of ranting about his own superiority.  There’s also the fact that he is literally covered, from head to toe, in bandages.  He always wears gloves and dark glasses.  He insists that he’s doing important research and demands to be left alone.

The inn keeper (Forrester Harvey) and his histrionic wife (Una O’Connor) put up with the mysterious man until he falls behind on his rent.  However, once confronted, the mysterious man announces that he’s not going anywhere.  When the police and a mob of villagers arrives, the man starts to laugh like a maniac.  He unwraps the bandages around his head and…

THERE’S NOTHING UNDERNEATH!

Well, there is something there.  It’s just that the man is invisible so no one can see what’s underneath.  It turns out that the man is Dr. Jack Griffin, a chemist who has been missing for several days.  He’s created an invisibility serum but he can’t figure out how to reverse the effects.  Even worse, the serum is driving him insane.  Griffin’s fiancée, Flora (Gloria Stuart), and her father, Dr. Cranley (Henry Travers), are searching for Jack but Jack doesn’t particularly want to be found.  Jack is more interested in exploring how he might be able to use invisibility to conquer the world…

The Invisible Man is historically important because it was the film that brought Claude Rains to Hollywood.  Rains has previously made films in the UK but this was his first American film.  Think of how different film history would have turned out if The Invisible Man had, as originally planned, starred Boris Karloff.  Without Claude Rains coming to America, who would have played Louis in Casablanca?  Who would have played Sen. Paine in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington or Alex Sebastian in Notorious?  Of course, we don’t really see Claude Rains’s face until the very end of The Invisible Man.  Instead, we just hear his voice but what a voice Claude had!  He delivers his dialogue with just the right amount of malicious sarcasm.

I like The Invisible Man.  For modern audiences, it’s not particularly scary.  (Though I do find the idea of being unknowingly followed by an invisible person to be a little unnerving…)  However, unlike a lot of other old horror films, you can watch The Invisible Man and see why it would have been scary to an audience seeing it for the very first time.  In 1933, a time when film was still a relatively new medium and audiences had yet to become jaded by special effects, here was a man unwrapping his bandages to reveal that there was nothing underneath!  That had to have freaked people out!

The Invisible Man was directed by James Whale and the film features the same demented sense of humor that distinguished The Bride of Frankenstein.  The villagers are portrayed as being so hysterical that you can’t help but think that maybe Griffin has a point about being surrounded by fools.  By the time the local constable declares, “What’s all this then?,” you can’t help but start to sympathize with Jack Griffin.

There’s been a lot of  bad invisibility movies made but The Invisible Man is not one of them.  It may not be as well remembered as some of the other Universal horrors but it’s definitely one worth seeing.

6 Trailers To Go On The Road With


This weekend, I’m busy getting ready to go on a road trip with Jeff.  I’ll be away from home for two whole weeks!  However, fear not!  With the help of WordPress and my wonderful, beautiful older sister Erin, I will still be updating and posting even while we’re on the road.  I might even be able to convince my fellow Shattered Lens writer to spend the next two weeks watching the Lifetime Movie Channel and posting “What Lisa Would Have Watched Last Night.”  How about it, guys? *wink wink*

Anyway, while I deal with shopping and packing, why not enjoy the latest entry of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse And Exploitation Trailers.

(And by the way, just because I’m going to be out of town next weekend won’t stop me from posting six more trailers next Saturday.  Why?  Because I love you, silly!)

1) The Klansman (1974)

In this infamous little film from the 1970s, Richard Burton, Lee Marvin, and O.J. Simpson fight the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama.  Believe it or not, I’ve actually seen this movie though the copy I saw was one of those public domain DVDs that I think was actually a copy of the edited-for-TV version of this movie.  (I say that because every time someone cursed, there was an awkward silence on the soundtrack.)  Even more odd is the fact that I’ve actually read the old novel that this movie is based on.  Anyway, this movie is pretty bad but the book is okay.  The film was directed by the same guy who directed the first James Bond films.

2) Beyond the Door (1975)

Okay, so this is pretty obviously an Exorcist rip-off but wow, this trailer freaks me out.  Needless to say this is an Italian film.  My favorite part of the trailer, to be honest, is the use of the Ryder truck.  It’s a moment that epitomizes Italian exploitation in that you can tell that the filmmakers really thought that displaying the one word — “Ryder” — would convince viewers that they were watching an American-made film.

3) 2020 Texas Gladiators (1985)

Speaking of Italian exploitation cinema, here we have another example.  I pretty much had to include this trailer because I live in Dallas and 2020 is just 9 years away.  That said, I’m not sure what part of Texas this film is supposed to be taking place in.  I’m guessing by all the shots of boots marching through grass that this is supposed to be up in North Texas but if you can find mountains like that around here then you’ve got far better eyesight than I do.  Add to that, the sudden indian attack seems more like an Oklahoma thing.  Not surprisingly, according to Amazon, this film was not only directed by Joe D’Amato but features both George Eastman and Al Cliver.

4) 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

Apparently, it didn’t start in Texas.  This is also an Italian film.  It was directed by Enzo Castellari and, not surprisingly, George Eastman is in this one as well.

5) Empire of the Ants (1977)

The is the trailer that  dares to ask — who are you going to listen to?  Common sense or H.G. Wells?  I’ll tell you, nothing freaks me out more than when I see  one of those ant lines carrying a dead cricket back to the anthill.  Ants are one thing that I will not allow in the house.  However, I kinda admire them.  They’re so neat and organized.  Plus, males in ant society know their place.

6) Mr. Billion (1977)

“20th Century Fox presents Mr. Billion …. starring Terence Hill, the 5th biggest star in the  world…”  I haven’t seen very many Terence Hill films but I always enjoy seeing him in trailers.  I can’t really say whether he’s a good actor or not because every time I’ve seen him, he’s been dubbed.  But he definitely had a very likable presence.  You wanted him to be a good actor whether he was or wasn’t.  That said, even if I had been alive at the height of Mr. Hill’s fame, it never would have worked out for us as I’m Southern Italian and Hill is quite clearly from the north.  That’s just the way it is.  Anyway, back to Mr. Billion — I’m including two trailers for this one.  The first is the “Prestige” trailer.  The second one is much shorter and features one of those odd little songs that gets stuck in your head.

6 Trailers In Rememberance of Lisa Marie’s Youth


This edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers is a sentimental  and sad occasion for me.  I’m a Scorpio (and, seriously, who is shocked to hear that, right?).  What that means is that I’ve got a birthday coming up this Tuesday.  I’ll be turning 25.  I’ll be a quarter of a century old.  So, this will be my last installment of this series as a young woman.  Next weekend, when I post the next installment, I’ll be an adult.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really think about this until I’d already selected my trailers for this installment.  So, I wish I could say that there’s some sort of deep meaning behind why I picked any of these posts.  But there’s not, with the exception of I Drink Your Blood.  And my selection of I Drink Your Blood has less to do with my birthday and more with the fact that it’s the 17th greatest movie ever made.

Anyway, let’s get to the trailers and try not to think about the fact that I’m getting old…

1) Food of the Gods

Two things I love about the trailer: the pompous opening 40 seconds (I loved it when Exploitation mocks the Mainstream through imitation) and the presence of Marjoe “Bad, not evil” Gortner.

2) Tintorera

This is the Mexican version of Jaws.  Not only was it directed by the infamous Rene Cardona, Jr. but it stars the original HUGO STIGLITZ! 

3) Prisoner of Paradise

Prisoner of Paradise (which I have never seen) is apparently a hardcore war film from the 70s that starred John C. Holmes’s cock.  The star does not appear in this trailer.  Instead, we get things blowing up followed by something else blowing up which is followed up by something — wait for it — blowing up.  And then, suddenly, we’re on the beach.

4) Machine Gun McCain

Speaking of blowing things up…Machine Gun McCain is one of the many Italian crime thrillers that came out in the late 60s.  They were not only far more violent than American thrillers but usually a lot more interesting too.  Earlier on Saturday, I bought this movie on DVD.  The guy working the register looked at it and said, “I’d watch this first because Britt Ekland’s in it.” 

5) Hell’s Bloody Devils

While the Italians were exploiting the Mafia, Americans were exploiting motorcycle gangs.  Hell’s Bloody Devils is a typical example with a typically 1970 political subtext.  It was directed by Al Adamson who, years later, was apparently murdered and buried in cement.

6) I Drink Your Blood

I Drink Your Blood was released on a double bill with an old black-and-white zombie films called I Eat Your Skin.  All the  scenes in the trailer below are from I Drink Your Blood.  I love the trailer because it is just classic grindhouse.  However, I Drink Your Blood is also one of the best films ever made.  The 18th best, to tell the truth.  Seriously.

Review: War of the Worlds (dir by Steven Spielberg)


Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds shows that he hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to creating blockbuster spectacle. While he has spent much of the 2000’s creating dramatic films (The Terminal, Catch Me If You Can and Munich) he hadn’t made a film which spoke epic in both spectacle and themes. He had made two unique films with sci-fi themes with A.I. and Minority Report, but still they lacked the size and oomph of Spielberg’s past blockbusters. It took him remaking for the current generation a classic sci-fi story to bring us back the Spielberg many grew up with. His take on H.G. Wells tale of aliens invading Earth was both grandiose in it’s set-up, but he was also able to deftly weave a very personal story within the larger scheme of the narrative.

Working from David Koepp and Josh Friedman’s adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells novel, Spielberg goes back to his roots as a maker of thrillers that first showed his talents as a director. War of the Worlds has its spectacular CG moments when the alien Tri-Pods first rise up and out of the ground to the look of awe and fear from people witnessing the event. Spielberg begins the film’s unrelentless tension from these scenes and never lets go. Once the Tri-Pods start unleashing their death-rays on the populace and whatever else is in their way the film starts moving at breakneck speed. It’s these same apocalyptic scenes of the alien’s extermination of humans that has prompted critics (both positive and negative) to bring up Spielberg’s use of 9/11 imagery. From the clouds of ash and floating pieces of clothes to the sight of people running in panic as destruction rains upon them from out of nowhere.

Some critics have labeled Spielberg’s film as exploiting the horror of 9/11 and its aftermath, yet when a film like 28 Days Later use the same imagery and themes these same critics applaud the director of this film as daring. Its an unfair criticism of Spielberg and just shows how some people just seem to use the events of 9/11 as a crutch. Yet, it is this same use of people vaporised into nothing but ash and clothng that adds to the tension and horror. It is easy to use blood and gore to bring up a feel of horror, but Spielberg one up’s this and forgo grand guignol scenes. His technique actually brings an inhuman and alien quality to the death and destruction on the screen. From the moment the aliens arrive Spielberg lets us know that this is a war that has not been seen on Earth.

Spielberg and his writers have stuck pretty close to what Wells’ wrote in the original novel, but have decided to look at the story through the eyes of a father and his son and daughter. This gives the film a more personal, disjointed and chaotic feel. There’s no scenes of the government powerbrokers debating and deciding how best to combat the aliens and their machines. No scenes of scientists trying to figure out how best to fight and get through the aliens’ defenses. In fact, War of the Worlds is the anti-Independence Day. What we get instead is a story of a man and his children trying to just survive the apocalypse occuring around them as best as they can. This choice by Spielberg and his writers to go this route is best shown in a scene where Tom Cruise’s character with his kids run into a convoy of military vehicles heading towards the frontline. We see Humvees, M1A2 Main Battle Tanks and other assorted military hardware and hundreds of soldiers. We can hear the sound of the battle just over the ridge of a hill, but just like Cruise’s character we do not actually see the battle happening. We hear snippets of commands and reports from the soldiers around Cruise. Spielberg could’ve easily panned the camera up over the ridge to see how the battle was progressing, but he stays his hand focuses instead on the dad and his family. It’s easier to go the route that Bay or Emmerich would take and show the sturm und drang, but that wasn’t the story Spielberg was trying to tell.

ILM’s work in creating the alien Tri-Pods and the subsequent terraforming the aliens begin were some very good work from an FX company with a history of impressive work. The Tri-Pods kept the original H.G. Wells description from the novels but gave them a modern take. While the George Pal version of the alien ships remain classic sci-fi icons these new Tri-Pods in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds definitely conveyed alien menace and destruction the moment they began to come out of the ground. It was a joy as a sci-fi fan to actually see that Spielberg and the writers decided to show just how menacing the alien invaders were in the way they began to terraform the planet to suit their needs. It definitely put a new definition to the term “the blood is life”.

The acting is what you expect from a Spielberg/Cruise collaboration. Cruise is actually very believable as a loser father who seem to look at his kids as more of a hindrance and a scheduled paternal duty than something he actually enjoys and looks forward to. Some of the best scenes Cruise has in the film are quiet ones between him and his daughter (played by Dakota Fanning) where he realizes that he really doesn’t know his daughter that well and can’t even remotely figure out how to calm her down and make her feel safe. When his daughter asks him to sing her a lullaby, the look of incomprehension at not knowing any showing on Cruise’s face is just brilliant. The one misfire in terms of characters in the film is Tim Robbins. The sequence in the film where they meet up with his paranoid and slowly going nuts character is actually very good in terms of ratcheting up the tension, but Robbins’ performance was more funny than anything else. Spielberg had created such a doom and gloom atmosphere that Robbins’ character’s appearance ruins it abit.

One other thing which kept me from calling this film an outright great film are the kids of Cruise’s character. While the performances by Dakota Fanning as the daughter and Justin Chatwin as the son were quite good the way they were written left them annoying and baffling. Either the daughter was a shrieking and emotional mess or the son was written as a rebellious teen who wanted to get into the fight despite knowing he was his sister’s lone protector to begin the film. It made Cruise’s character seem less of an unattentive father and boor, but more of a parent who tried his best with children who defied and talkbacked at every turn. If the writers just made the kids even remotely sympathetic it definitely would’ve rounded out their characters as real people.

Overall, I think Spielberg’s War of the Worlds succeeds in what it set out to do despite some flaws with some of the characters. It entertains and it also shows that when it comes to blockbuster filmmaking he is still the master and everyone else just pretenders to his throne. As for the ending that some think as being short, abrupt and just a tad deus ex machina in execution, well I suggest they read or reread the book again. The ending fit the film perfectly. If the film was an all-out blast to the senses then a different one may be a better fit, but for the type of story Spielberg decided to film the ending made sense in its execution.