Horror Film Review: The Amazing Mr. X (dir by Bernard Vorhaus)


A woman named Christine (Lyn Bari) walks along the beach when she thinks that she hears the voice of her husband calling out her name.  The only problem is that her husband has been dead for two years.  Christine’s sister, Janet (Cathy O’Donnell), says that Christine is just hearing things and that she needs to move on from mourning.  After all, her boyfriend, Martin (Richard Carlson), is on the verge of asking Christine to marry him….

And yet, Christine can’t escape the feeling that her husband is trying to contact her from beyond the grave.  During another walk along the beach, she runs into a handsome man who introduces himself as being Alexis (Turhan Bey).  Alexis says that he’s a medium and that he has the power to speak to the dead.  Furthermore, he tells Christine that he can speak to her dead husband for her.

Despite the fact that Alexis owns a really impressive crystal ball, Martin is skeptical of his claims.  Martin even goes so far as to hire a private investigator (Harry Mendoza) to investigate Alexis’s past.  Meanwhile, though she has her suspicions, Janet finds herself falling in love with the charming Alexis….

Released in 1948, The Amazing Mr. X is an unjustly obscure little mystery film.  Though I guess it’s open to debate whether it should be considered a horror film or just a noirish thriller, The Amazing Mr. X is full of creepy atmosphere and eerie moments.  Employing expressionistic camera angles and dark lighting, director Bernard Vorhaus turns The Amazing Mr. X into a dream of dark and forbidden things.  Some of the black-and-white shots are simply stunning and the seance sequence is brilliantly done.

The film is also well-acted by a cast of actors who deserve to be better remembered.  Lynn Bari is perfectly fragile and sympathetic as the haunted Christine while Cathy O’Donnell turns the potentially boring Janet into a compelling character.  The film even makes good use of Richard Carlson’s reliable dullness by casting him as the one character who is meant to be a force of stability in Christine’s otherwise neurotic life.

That said, the entire film is stolen by Turhan Bey.  Born in Austria and of Turkish descent, Turhan Bey was nicknamed the “Turkish Delight” during his film career and, watching The Amazing Mr. X, you can see why.  Bey is so charming and so handsome that you can understand why even those who should know better would want to believe that Alexis could talk to the dead.  The Amazing Mr. X was one of the last films that Bey filmed in the United States.  He retired a few years later and returned to his native Austria, where he ran a cafe.  (40 years later, the now elderly Bey did come out of retirement and made a few appearance of television before passing away, at the age of 90, in 2012.)

Like all good mysteries, The Amazing Mr. X has a third act twist that you probably won’t see coming and it ends with the proper combination of tragedy and redemption.  The Amazing Mr. X is currently in the public domain and can be viewed on YouTube so check it out!  You won’t be sorry!

Halloween Havoc!: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Universal-International 1954)


cracked rear viewer

By the early 1950’s, the type of Gothic horrors Universal was famous for had become passe. It was The Atomic Age, and science fiction ruled the roost, with invaders from outer space and giant bugs unleashed by radiation were the new norm. But the studio now called Universal-International had one more ace up its collective sleeve: THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, last of the iconic Universal Monsters!

Scientist Dr. Maia, exploring “the upper reaches of the Amazon” with his native guides, discovers a fossilized hand that may be the evolutionary “missing link”. Taking his finding to the Institudo de Biologia Martima, he teams with ichthyologist David Reed, David’s pretty assistant/fiancé Kay Lawrence, institute chief Dr. Mark Williams, and fellow scientist Dr. Thompson to form an expedition. They charter the steamer The Rita, skippered by Captain Lucas, and head down the river into the Black Lagoon. Maia’s Indian guides…

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Horror on the Lens: Tormented (dir by Bert I. Gordon)


Halloween is the perfect time for a good ghost story and, with that in mind, here is today’s movie.

Released in 1960 and directed by Bert I. Gordon, Tormented tells the sad story of Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson).  Now, Tom might look like a pretty regular guy but we know that he’s a little bit crazy because he’s a jazz pianist and you know how dangerous those beatnik-types are.  Tom is happily engaged to Meg but one day, his ex-girlfriend Vi shows up.  Vi is obsessed with Tom and swear that she’s going to end his engagement.

So, naturally enough, Tom throws her off of a lighthouse.

Problem solved, right?

Not quite.  Vi may be dead but she’s not out of Tom’s life.  Instead, her disembodied head tends to pop up at random moments and taunt Tom.  Meanwhile, Tom is having to deal with Meg’s suspicious sister and a beatnik (Joe Turkel, who years later played Lloyd the Bartender in The Shining) who is determined to collect the $5 that he claims Vi owes him.

Between the beatniks and the raging ocean and the disembodied head popping up whenever it’s least convenient, Tormented is a lot of fun and the perfect film for some retro Halloween fun.

Halloween Havoc! Extra: When Strikes Tor Johnson!!


cracked rear viewer

Today we celebrate the birthday of everybody’s favorite wrestler-turned-actor named Johnson… no, not Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but the hulking Tor Johnson (1902-1971)! Before he starred in all those Ed Wood epics, Tor was a pro wrestler billed as ‘The Super Swedish Angel’ (a bad guy, of course), and performed in hundreds (perhaps thousands) of bouts around the globe. Each year, Cracked Rear Viewer pays tribute to the 6’3″, 400 lb. behemoth, and this year I’ve unearthed a clip from a 1948 Budd Boetticher-directed noir called BEHIND LOCKED DOORS, in which Tor beats the crap out of another horror/sci-fi icon, Richard Carlson . Happy birthday, O Mighty Tor!:

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A Movie A Day #278: The Power (1968, directed by Byron Haskin)


Who is Adam Hart?

That is the mystery that Professors Jim Tanner (George Hamilton) and Margery Lansing (Suzanne Pleshette) have to solve.  Someone is using psychic powers to kill their co-workers in a research laboratory.  The police think that Tanner is guilty but Tanner knows that one of his colleagues is actually a super human named Adam Hart.  Hart is planning on using his super powers to control the world and, because Tanner is the only person who has proof of his existence, Hart is methodically framing Tanner for every murder that he commits.

The Power is underrated by entertaining movie, a mix of mystery and science fiction with a pop art twist.  It was also one of the first attempts to portray telekinesis on film.  Similar films, like Scanners, may be better known but all of them are directly descended from The Power.  George Hamilton may seem like an unlikely research scientist but he and Suzanne Pleshette are a good team and The Power makes good use of Pleshette’s way with a one liner.  Also keep an eye out for familiar faces like Arthur O’Connell, Nehemiah Persoff, Michael Rennie, Gary Merrill, Yvonne DeCarlo, Vaughn Taylor, Aldo Ray, and even Forrest J. Ackerman as a hotel clerk.

 

Lisa Cleans Out Her DVR: Change of Habit (dir by William A. Graham)


(Lisa is currently in the process of cleaning out her DVR!  How long is it going to take?  Some would say forever but, here at the Shattered Lens, we’re hoping that she might have it all done by August.  Anyway, she recorded the 1969 film Change of Habit off of Starz on March 20th!)

It’s Elvis vs. God for the heart of Mary Tyler Moore!

(Okay, so that may be a little bit glib on my part but, seriously, that pretty much sums up Change of Habit.)

Change of Habit opens with three nuns walking through New York City.  There’s the forgettable nun, Sister Barbara (Jane Elliott).  There’s the black, streetwise nun, Sister Irene (Barbara McNair).  And then there’s the idealistic and wholesome nun, Sister Michelle (Mary Tyler Moore).  Because they’re nuns, even notoriously rude New Yorkers are nice to them.  They walk across a busy intersection and all of the cars stop for them.  A cop sees them jaywalking and just smiles and nods at them.  In case you were ever wondering why someone would become a nun, it’s because nuns always have the right-of-way and they don’t have to obey arbitrary laws.  It’s a good life.

The sisters are shopping and, as the opening credits roll, the three of them duck into a dressing room and change into contemporary civilian clothing.  Obsessively, the camera keeps zooming in on everyone’s bare legs.  You can literally hear the film’s producers telling all the boys in the audience, “This may be a G-rated Elvis film but that’s not going to stop us from implying nun nudity!”

It’s Sister Michelle’s idea that the nuns should wear contemporary clothing, the better to relate to the Godless youth of the 1960s.  Unfortunately, now that they’re dressed like everyone else, they have to actually obey traffic laws.  When they attempt to cross the street for a second time, cars honk at them and the cop yells at them for jaywalking.

Michelle, Irene, and Barbara get jobs working at a free clinic.  The clinic is run by John Carpenter (Elvis Presley).  Carpenter is looking for aspiring actresses to appear in a movie about a babysitter being stalked by a masked murderer on Halloween and … oh sorry.  Wrong John Carpenter.  This John Carpenter is a no-nonsense doctor who will stop at nothing to bring peace and good health to the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in New York!

That’s right.  It’s an Elvis film with a social conscience!

And that probably sounds like a joke but Change of Habit‘s heart is in the right place.  It’s intentions are good.  At least a few of the people involved in the film were probably trying to make the world a better place.  There’s a subplot involving an autistic child that, when you consider this film was made in 1969, is handled with unusual sensitivity.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that the rest of Change of Habit doesn’t feel totally and completely out-of-touch.  The entire film feels so dated that I imagine it probably even felt dated when it was initially released.  This is one of those films where the local black militants give Sister Irene a hard time about being a sell-out, just to eventually admit, during a block party, that maybe white folks aren’t so bad after all.  By the end of the movie, they’re even joking with the cops.  All that was needed was for Elvis to sing a song or two.  To be honest, there are times when Change of Habit feels like the 1969 version of Kendall Jenner’s Pepsi commercial.

Of course, the majority of the film deals with Elvis falling in love with Mary Tyler Moore.  He doesn’t know that she’s a nun and, as she falls in love with him, she’s forced to make a difficult choice.  Does she follow God or does she follow Elvis?  Actually, the film ends before she officially makes that choice but there’s little doubt as to what she’s going to eventually do.  In his final non-concert film appearance, Elvis is totally miscast as a serious-minded doctor and, it must be said, he looked miserable throughout the entire film.  You get the feeling he’d rather be doing anything than starring in Change of Habit.  (Maybe he was already thinking about how much he wanted a special FBI badge.)  Mary Tyler Moore is a bit more believable as a nun.  Fortunately, both Moore and Elvis were likable performers and their likability makes Change of Habit, as ludicrous as it often is, far more watchable than it has any right to be.

In the end, Elvis may not have saved society but he did get to sing a gospel song or two.

Horror on TV: Thriller 2.26 “Kill My Love” (dir by Herschel Daugherty)


Tonight’s excursion into televised horror is Kill My Love, an episode of Thriller that originally aired on March 26th, 1962!

In this episode, Richard Carlson plays Guy Guthrie.  To the outside world, Guy looks like the perfect husband and father.  However, he’s actually a cruel sociopath.  When his mistress threatens to expose him, he murders her.  When his wife realizes what Guy has done, he murders her as well.

But then Guy’s beloved son (David Kent) starts to figure out what his father has done and Guy is forced to decide just how far he’s willing to go to hide his secrets…

This episode, of course, is introduced by the one and only Boris Karloff!

Enjoy!