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


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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!!


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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!

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: King Solomon’s Mines (dir by Compton Bennett and Andrew Marton)


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So, this is a weird one.

As we all know, today is Oscar Sunday!  As I wait for the big show to begin, I’ve been watching some of the Oscar-nominated films that I have collected on the DVR over the past month.  For instance, this morning, I watched 1950’s King Solomon’s Mines.

King Solomon’s Mines was nominated for best picture of the year and watching it … well, you really have to wonder why.  It’s an adventure film, one that was shot on location in Africa and it features a lot of footage of wild animals.  It also features several scenes that were shot in actual African villages and a good deal of time is devoted to documenting tribal rituals.  It’s true that the film has a plot but, for the most part, it’s a travelogue.  One gets the feeling that it was mostly sold as a chance for American and European audiences to see a part of the world that, up until that point, they had only read about.  Not only would they get to experience Africa from the safety of the neighborhood movie theater but they’d get to see it in a color as well!

(Seriously, it’s difficult to watch the nature footage in King Solomon’s Mines without imagining a serious voiced narrator saying, “However, one gazelle has strayed too far from its mother.  The lion cubs will eat tonight…”)

As for the plot, King Solomon’s Mines is based on a novel by British adventure enthusiast H. Rider Haggard.  Allan Quartermain (Stewart Granger) is an experienced guide and hunter.  When we first meet him, he’s helping two rich Englishmen hunt an elephant.  It’s a disturbing scene, largely because it’s obvious the footage of the elephant dying is real.  Allan prevents his clients from killing more than one elephant and later talks about how much he hates his job but still, it’s pretty much to impossible to really like him after watching that elephant die.

Anyway, Allan gets hired by Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) and her brother John (Richard Carlson).  It seems that Elizabeth’s husband disappeared in Africa while searching for a legendary treasure.  Allan tells Elizabeth that her husband is probably dead.  Elizabeth still insists on searching for him…

…and, from that point on, you can pretty much predict everything that is going to happen.  Though the footage of Africa looks great, it’s just not a very interesting film.  Playing the type of role that would probably be played by Gerard Butler if the movie was made today, Stewart Granger comes across as being bored with it all.  For that matter, even the great Deborah Kerr seems as if she’d rather be hanging out with Robert Mitchum.

Still, it is interesting to note that Hugo Haas shows up as a villain.  Who is Hugo Haas?  He was a Hungarian actor who, after playing a bad guy here, went on to direct several idiosyncratic B-movies, like Hold Back Tomorrow, The Girl On The Bridge, Bait, and One Girl’s Confession.  If nothing else, watching King Solomon’s Mines has inspired me to, someday, do a little Hugo Haas film festival here on the Lens.

King Solomon’s Mines seems like an odd best picture nominee.  Its triumphs are largely technical and even those successes no longer seem that special.  It was, however, a big hit at the box office and I imagine that probably has something to do with its nomination.  However, when the Oscars were awarded, best picture went to All About Eve.

Stewart Granger was no match for Bette Davis.