Cleaning Out the DVR #21: Halloween Leftovers 3


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Time to reach deep inside that trick-or-treat bag and take a look at what’s stuck deep in the corners. Just when you thought it was safe, here’s five more thrilling tales of terror:

YOU’LL FIND OUT (RKO 1940; D: David Butler) – Kay Kyser and his College of Musical Knowledge, for those of you unfamiliar…

…were a Swing Era band of the 30’s & 40’s who combined music with cornball humor on their popular weekly radio program. RKO signed them to a movie contract and gave them this silly but entertaining “old dark house” comedy, teaming Kay and the band (featuring Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason, and the immortal Ish Kabibble!) with horror greats Boris Karloff , Bela Lugosi , and Peter Lorre . It’s got all the prerequisites: secret passageways, a creepy séance, and of course that old stand-by, the dark and stormy night! The plot has Kyser’s…

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Halloween Havoc!: I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (RKO 1943)


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Val Lewton’s  I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE is, despite the exploitative title, one of the most moody and atmospheric horror films of the 40’s. This was Lewton’s follow up to the highly successful CAT PEOPLE (1942), with Jacques Tourneur again in the director’s chair. Though screenwriters Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray based their script on a story by Inez Wallace, producer Lewton had them add elements of Charlotte Bronte’s JANE EYRE, making this a  Gothic zombie movie!

Nurse Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is summoned to the West Indies isle of St. Sebastian to look after Paul Holland’s (Tom Conway ) catatonic wife Jessica. The cynical Holland has an air of melancholy about him (“There’s no beauty here”, he states on the sea trip to the island, “only decay and death”). Upon arrival, Betsy meets Holland’s stepbrother Wesley Reed (James Ellison), a jovial sort until he gets in the presence of…

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Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 10: Halloween Leftovers


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Halloween has come and gone, though most people have plenty of leftovers on hand, including your Cracked Rear Viewer. Here are some treats (and a few tricks) that didn’t quite make the cut this year:

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ISLE OF THE DEAD (RKO 1945, D: Mark Robson)

Typically atmospheric Val Lewton production stars Boris Karloff as a Greek general trapped on a plague-ridden island along with a young girl (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorvolaka (vampire-like spirit). This film features one of Lewton’s patented tropes, as Drew wanders through the woods alone, with the howling wind and ominous sounds of the creatures of the night. Very creepy, with another excellent Karloff performance and strong support from Lewton regulars Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr, and Skelton Knaggs. Fun Fact: Like BEDLAM , this was inspired by a painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”.

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THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (Allied Artists 1954, D: Edward…

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Horror Film Review: The Leopard Man (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


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The 1943 film The Leopard Man is set in a small town in New Mexico.  It’s a place that seems to be hidden away from much of the modern world and where the cultures of Mexico and America mix, occasionally with unease.  Jerry Manning (Dennis O’Keefe) is an American publicity agent who is dating a nightclub performer named, Kiki (Jean Brooks).  Kiki has a rivalry with another performer, the far more flamboyant (read: interesting) Clo-Clo (Margo).  Jerry, however, feels that he’s come up with the perfect way for Kiki to upstage Clo-Clo.  Jerry has rented a leopard!

Unfortunately, it soon becomes obvious that neither Jerry nor Kiki knows how to handle a leopard.  Clo-Clo startles the leopard with her castanets, causing the leopard to escape and flee into the desert.  Now, Jerry has two problems.  Not only is Kiki mad at him but the leopard’s owner, Charlie (Abner Biberman), expects Jerry to pay for the missing animal.

Actually, make that three problems.  Soon after the leopard escapes, a teenage girl is chased to the front door of her house.  When she bangs on the door and begs her mother to let her in, her mother assumes that her daughter is making up a lie to get out of helping around the house.  The mother ignores her until suddenly, her daughter screams and blood starts to seep in from under the door…

All of the locals believe that the girl was killed by the leopard.  Soon, more people in town are also killed.  The police are sure that it’s the leopard but Jerry soon comes to think that something else might be happening.  Could it be that something or someone else is committing the murders and attempting to frame the leopard?

A moody and rather fatalistic film that looks truly impressive for a B-movie that was shot on the studio backlots, The Leopard Man is really more of a mystery than a traditional horror film.  That said, the film is full of atmospheric and creepy scenes, particularly a lengthy sequence in which the townspeople commemorate the anniversary of a centuries-old massacre.  The specter of death, both past and future, hangs over both the town and the film.  That’s not surprising when you consider the The Leopard Man was produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, the same time that previously created the original Cat People.  Much like Cat People, The Leopard Man is a film that’s power comes as much from what we don’t see as what we do see.  The Leopard Man is a triumph of atmosphere and tension.

While neither Jerry non Kiki are very interesting characters, the film is full of memorable character roles.  The citizens of that small town in New Mexico are all vividly drawn and portrayed, with the film perfectly capturing the quiet desperation of being both poor and forgotten in American society.  My favorite character was Clo-Clo.  As played by Margo, she is fierce, determined, and — in a few small moments — rather tragic.  If they ever remake The Leopard Man, I’m claiming that role right now.

Halloween Havoc!: GHOST SHIP (RKO 1943)


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Val Lewton produced some of the most memorable horror films of the 1940’s, moody, atmospheric set pieces noted for their intelligent scripts, chiaroscuro lighting, and eerie use of sound. CAT PEOPLE, THE BODY SNATCHER,  and THE SEVENTH VICTIM  are just three that spring to mind when I think of Lewton movies. GHOST SHIP is one of his lesser known films, a psychological thriller about a sea captain obsessed with authority who goes off the deep end, and while it’s not supernatural as the title implies, it’s a good film worth rediscovering.

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A blind street singer on a fog-shrouded corner gives an ominous warning to 3rd Officer Tom Merriam, about to embark on his first voyage aboard the S.S. Altair, captained by veteran sailor Will Stone. Stone is stern but friendly, eager to teach Tom the ways of the sea, and implement his view’s of the captain’s authority. A crewman dies just…

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Master of Horror: Boris Karloff in BEDLAM (RKO 1946)


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(This post is part of the TCM SUMMER UNDER THE STARS blogathon hosted by Kristen at JOURNEYS IN CLASSIC FILM! )

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Boris Karloff made a trio of films for producer Val Lewton in the mid-40’s: THE BODY SNATCHER , ISLE OF THE DEAD, and BEDLAM. The Old Master of Terror was given the opportunity to show off his acting prowess in these dark, psychological horrors. Freed from the restraint of playing yet another mad scientist or creature, Karloff excels in the roles of murderous Cabman Grey, plague-ridden General Pherides, and here as the cruel martinet of Bedlam, Master George Sims.

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Lewton cowrote the script with director Mark Robson  , “suggested by” William Hogarth’s 8th painting in the series “A Rake’s Progress”. There are a lot of sly references to Hogarth in BEDLAM, and the artist even gets a screenwriting credit. It’s 1761 London, and the class struggle between rich and poor rages…

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Horror Film Review: The Curse of the Cat People (dir by Gunther von Fritsch and Robert Wise)


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So, you can add the 1944 film The Curse of the Cat People to the list of films that made me cry.

And I know that you’re probably going to point out that it’s already a very long list and I know that some people believe that I cry at every movie that I see.  (Listen, if I cried every time that I watched a movie, that would mean that not a single hour would pass without me shedding tears and … well, anyway, lets move on…)  But seriously, The Curse of the Cat People is a wonderful and heartfelt film.

Technically, it’s a sequel to the original Cat People.  Oliver (Kent Smith) and Alice (Jane Randolph) are married now and they have a six year-old daughter named Amy (Ann Carter).  Irena (Simone Simon) does return but we’re never quite sure whether she’s a ghost or if she’s meant to be a figment of Amy’s imagination.  There is no mention of Irena being cursed, though a hissing cat does make an appearance at the beginning of the film.  In the original Cat People, Elizabeth Russell played a mysterious woman who asked if Irena was her sister.  In The Curse of the Cat People, Russell appears in a different role but, interestingly enough, she’s still linked to the memory of Irena.

Instead, The Curse of the Cat People is about Amy.  Amy is a shy girl who spends most of her time daydreaming and Ann Carter (who was 8 years old at the time) gives a very real and very authentic performance, one that is totally the opposite of the type of performance that we often expect from child actors.  I was a shy child myself (I was famous for always hiding behind my mom whenever I saw a stranger approaching) and, from the minute Amy appeared, I knew exactly how she felt and what was going through her mind.

While Alice feels that Amy’s daydreaming is harmless, Oliver worries about her daughter.  At one point, he says that he fears that she’ll never leave her fantasy world and that she’ll grow up to be like Irena.  (Interestingly enough, this line suggests that Oliver still doesn’t believe that Irena was actually a cat person.)  Amy, meanwhile, has a vision of Irena standing in the backyard and soon, the two of them are best friends.

At the same time, Amy has also become friends with Julia Farren (Julia Dean), an elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood.  Just like Amy, Julia lives in a fantasy world.  She treats Amy like her own daughter.  Meanwhile, Julia refuses to acknowledge her true daughter, Barbara (Elizabeth Russell), accusing Barbara of being a spy and saying she is only pretending to be her daughter.  Barbara grows more and more resentful of Amy and that resentment leads her to consider doing a truly terrible thing.

I guess it’s debatable whether or not The Curse of the Cat People can truly be called a horror film.  While it does have elements of the horror genre, The Curse of the Cat People is ultimately both a coming-of-age story and a plea for adults to allow their children to be children.  It’s all so heartfelt and so wonderfully performed by Ann Carter, Kent Smith, Jane Randolph, Elizabeth Russell, and Simone Simon that I couldn’t help but cry at the end of the film.  The Curse of the Cat People is a great film to watch in October or any other month.

Horror Film Review: Cat People (dir by Jacques Tourneur)


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The 1942 horror classic Cat People is often described as being a horror film where, up until the last few minutes, the monsters are mostly psychological.  And there is some definite truth to that.  The title creatures remain a mystery for the majority of the film and, up until those final minutes, the audience would have every right to wonder whether or not they actually existed.  This is a film that seems to take place almost totally in the shadows, a film noir without detectives or gangsters but featuring a memorable and compelling femme fatale.

However, I would argue that there is a monster who is present on-screen long before the audience first sees the shadowy form of a cat person.  That monster is named Louis Judd and he’s the true villain of this story.  As played by Tom Conway, Louis Judd is a psychiatrist and, from the minute we first see him, we know that he’s not to be trusted.  He’s far too smooth for his own good and his soothing tones barely disguise the arrogant condescension behind his words.  If his pencil-thin mustache didn’t make him sinister enough, Dr. Judd also keeps a sword concealed inside of his walking stick.

Irena Reed (Simone Simon) is one of Dr. Judd’s patients.  A fashion designer from Serbia, Irena has recently married an engineer named Oliver Reed (Kent Smith).  Despite the fact that she loves Olivier, she cannot bring herself to be intimate with him.  As Dr. Judd discovers, Irena fears that she has been cursed and, if she ever allows herself to become aroused, she will be transformed into a panther.  Dr. Judd repeatedly tells her that her belief is just superstition and that her fears are the result of repressed trauma from her childhood.  When Irena refuses to accept his diagnosis and continues to insist that she is cursed, Dr. Judd assumes that he can prove her wrong by forcing himself on her.  (Big mistake.)

Meanwhile, Oliver loves Irena but her refusal to consummate their marriage is driving him away.  He finds himself growing more and more attracted to his co-worker, Alice (Jane Randolph).  At first, Irena is upset to discover that Oliver has been telling Alice about their problems.  But eventually Irena realizes that all she can do is watch as Oliver and Alice grow closer and closer.  Irena knows that she can’t give Oliver what he desires but the confident and outspoken Alice can.  As Irena grows more and more jealous, Alice starts to feel as if she’s being watched and followed.  She starts to hear growls in the shadows and when she’s at her most vulnerable — swimming alone at night — she is shocked when Irena suddenly appears and demands to know where Oliver is.

And really, that’s what makes Cat People such a great film.  It’s not necessarily a scary film, at least not to modern audiences.  Sadly, we have seen so much graphic real-life horror and have become so jaded by CGI that we’re no longer scared by the mere cinematic suggestion of a monster.  But the film still works because we can relate to both Irena and Alice.  When I look over my relationships, I can see times when I’ve been both the insecure Irena and the confident Alice.  For a film where the word “sex” is never uttered once, Cat People is a penetratingly honest look at relationships, love, and sexuality.

And it also features a truly memorable monster.

Seriously, that Dr. Judd is the worst!

sound + vision: THE SEVENTH VICTIM (RKO 1943)


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Producer Val Lewton revitalized the horror film during his tenure at RKO Studios in the 1940s. Working with a miniscule budget, Lewton used the power of suggestion rather than monsters to create a body of work that’s still influential on filmmakers today. Studio execs came up with the sensationalistic titles (CAT PEOPLE, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE) and gave the producer free rein to tell the stories. Using shadows, light, and sound, Lewton’s quiet, intelligent approach to terror was miles ahead of the juvenile (but fun) stuff cranked out at Universal and Monogram.

THE SEVENTH VICTIM could be considered lesser Lewton. It’s  not seen as often some of his other classics, and that’s a pity, because it’s superior to many of the better known horror movies of the era. This quiet psychological thriller with its civilized satanic cult was a rarity for its time. Only Edgar G Ulmer’s 1934 THE BLACK CAT dared to tackle this kind of material…

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Lisa Marie Reviews The Oscar Winners: The Bad and the Beautiful (dir by Vincente Minnelli)


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What can I say about The Bad and the Beautiful?

Released in 1952 and directed by Vincente Minnelli, The Bad and the Beautiful is arguably one of the greatest films ever made.  It’s certainly one of my favorite films.

Perhaps appropriately, The Bad and the Beautiful is a film about the movies.

Jonathan Shields (played in a truly amazing performance by Kirk Douglas) is a legendary film producer.  He’s won Oscars, he’s got a reputation for being a genius, and, as the film begins, he is one of the most hated men in Hollywood.  It’s been years since Shields made a succesful film but he thinks that he’s finally come up with a movie that can put him back on top.  His assistant, Harry Pebbel (played with a weary dignity by Walter Pidgeon), invites Hollywood’s best director, actress, and screenwriter to a meeting and he proceeds to spend the rest of the film trying to convince them to help Jonathan make his comeback.

The only problem is that all three of them hate Jonathan Shields and have sworn that they’ll never work with him again.  Through the use of flashbacks, we see how each of them first met Jonathan and how each eventually came to despise him.

Director Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan) first met Jonathan when Jonathan hired him to pretend to be a mourner at his father’s funeral.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred moves up from directing B-movies to finally getting a chance to make his dream movie, an adaptation of a believably pretentious novel called The Far Off Mountain.  With Jonathan’s help, Fred even gets womanizing film star Gaucho Ribera (a hilariously vain Gilbert Roland) to agree to star in Fred’s movie.  Jonathan also introduces Fred to Georgia (Lana Turner), the alcoholic daughter of Jonathan’s mentor.

Jonathan eventually makes Georgia into a film star and Georgia falls in love with him.  Of all the major actresses of the 1950s, Lana Turner seems to get the least amount of respect from film historians.  She’s more remembered today as the epitome of glamour and scandal but, in The Bad and the Beautiful, Turner gives one of the best performances of her career.  In her best scene, Georgia has a nervous breakdown while driving in the rain and, for those few minutes, you forget that you’re watching an iconic film star.  Instead, you’re just amazed by the performance.

Finally, the screenwriter is James Lee Bartlow (Dick Powell), an intellectual novelist who is brought to Hollywood by Jonathan.  While the reluctant Bartlow finds himself being seduced by J0nathan, his flighty wife (Gloria Grahame) is seduced by Gaucho.

The Bad and the Beautiful is perhaps one of the few perfect movies ever made, a film that qualifies as both art and entertainment.  There are so many reasons why I love this film that its hard for me to describe them all.  The film snob in me loves the fact that Minnelli directed The Bad and the Beautiful as if it were a classic black-and-white film noir.  The entire film is lit and shot to emphasize shadows and moral ambiguity.  As played by Kirk Douglas, Jonathan Shields is as seductive and dangerous a figure as Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  My inner film historian loves the fact that the film is full of barely disguised portraits of real life Hollywood figures like David O. Selznick, Val Lewton, Alfred Hitchcock, and Diane Barrymore.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my girly girl side loves that this film is basically a big melodramatic soap opera.  Lana Turner’s outfits are to die for and Jonathan Shields is the ultimate bad boy that we can’t help but love.

The Bad and the Beautiful received 6 Oscar nominations but it wasn’t nominated for best picture.  (This snub is all the more surprising when you consider what the Academy did name as the best picture of 1952 — Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth.)  Out of those six nominations, the Bad and the Beautiful won five Oscars.  (Of all the film’s nominees, only Kirk Douglas failed to win.)  As of this writing, The Bad and the Beautiful still holds the record for most Oscars won by a film that failed to be nominated for best picture.