CATACOMB OF TERROR
 
I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE
 
1943
.  Directed by Jacques Tourneur
 

When I was younger and watched this film through horror hungry eyes I can tell you in no uncertain terms that I was more than a little disappointed. Having watched it again I gladly give this a definite thumbs up as the essential atmosphere, wonderful essence and sincere subtleties are not lost but lapped up from a movie that is delivered with genuine delicacy.

Betsy Connell (Frances Dee) is a young Canadian nurse who is sent to the West Indies to care for the zombified Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon), wife of plantation manager Paul Holland (Tom Connell). Upon arrival the nurse finds out that Jessica has been struck down by a terrible fever which has left her in this trance-like state. Living in the household is Paul’s half brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison), whom likes a good drink and, as it transpires, had a serious affair with Jessica, of which Paul is only too aware. The tension between Paul and Wesley heightens the films intrigue and when Betsy falls in love with Paul and vows to cure Jessica so as to make him happy the true tale of how the adulterous lady fell into the catatonic state is revealed. Voodoo seems the only cure for Jessica but will it ease Wesley’s guilt whom seems to think that her condition is all down to himself. What follows is beautifully delivered with some keen directorship on show.

Rustling leaves, shadowed wind-blown fields, creeping zombies, eerie incessant drums and whispered dialogue all combine to make a gentle film drip soaked with suggestion, ambiguity and unforgettable visuals. Anyone yearning for a bloodfest will surely find fault with this but they are in the wrong as all the ingredients are here for something supernatural, sinister and very unsettling. A minor gem!

   

THE INVISIBLE MAN
 
1984
.  Directed by
 
A wonderful 6 part version of the H G Wells classic with this particular adaptation being the most faithful to the authors original text.

Deranged scientist Peter Griffin (Pip Donaghy) arrives in the subdued village of Iping and hires a room at Mr and Mrs Halls local inn. Covered from head to foot in black attire and with his face bandaged and his eyes sporting a pair of dark glasses this strange visitor unsettles all and sundry. When the experiments begin everyone in the inn begins to voice their concerns and when the hidden one falls behind with his rent and is confronted he becomes a little tetchy to say the least. It soon becomes apparent that our disguised deviant is hiding some sinister secret – whatever could it be? Eventually, after a solid reveal, he is on the run and with the aid of a tramp he steals his precious books with all their encrypted formula. The tramp however betrays Griffin whom seeks revenge and after attempting to kill the tramp Griffin is wounded by a gunshot whereupon he flees to the residence of his old college pal Kemp played by David Gwillim. Here we learn of Griffin's megalomaniac plans and the story builds up to a great finale.

Fascinating stuff this with all actors competent (especially the obscure and unorthodox Donaghy) and the sheer feel of the production definitely of its time. Apparently this series was quite unsuccessful when first aired and I really cannot understand why. Anyone with a liking for a solid tale done in true BBC fashion will love this - brilliant!

   

FOG ISLAND

1945. Directed by Terry O. Morse

A Christie-esque horror whodunit with a potentially intriguing story that gets rather convoluted and trips over its own tail somewhat. The ambience set is adequate, the yarn full of 'guess who' intensity and deliciously contrived so overall, one expects.

A group of business associates have been invited to the home of ex-convict and work colleague Leo Grainer (George Zucco). The reason for Grainer's invites is that he bears a grudge for being framed by his ex-associates as well as suspecting one of them of killing his wife. Awaiting the arrivals at the island home is what is hinted at being a hidden fortune but what actually turns out to be a series of secret passages, hidden traps and untold danger. Assisting Grainer is an ex-cell mate who also has a personal grudge to bear - people hey? The questions are - who will survive, is Grainer really an insane man bent on revenge and will the film deliver as much as it promises.

This is a short film and thankfully so as anything beyond would be too much to bear. The film starts with so much to offer and somehow goes the wrong way and eventually leaves one dissatisfied. It is far from a poor effort with a few unpredictable moments and with Lionel Atwill involved we have a bonus. I really don't know where the movie fails but something is just amiss. Expect plenty of frustration folks.

   

CROCODILE
 
2000
. Directed by Tobe Hooper
 
A film you can almost guess at with that usual teenage gang picked off at the will of the monster leaving you with a trail of blood and guts along the way.  A tried, tested and tedious formula that goes around in an eternal loop it seems but this film does squeeze out a few good sequences to hold on to.
 
We start with the aforementioned drug taking, beer swilling, good time seeking bunch of annoyances heading out on a trip to a remote Southern California Lake where they plan to get blasted and have some genuine highs.  The group come across a nest of crocodile eggs  where one of the group, Hubs (Greg Wayne) steals one and hides in the bag of Claire (Caitlin Martin) who ludicrously doesn't realise until the last throes of the movie.    A couple of fisherman destroy the nest and are duly eaten by the giant Croc as is the thieving Hubs whereupon the boat the teenagers are on is let adrift.   What ensues is a series of attacks, a bit of love interest which is totally pointless, a whole heap of irritating screaming, some dubious special effects and a story line that is utterly predictable.  Occasionally we get the odd memorable sequence where the Croc looks believable and the film has a good pace to it but these are broken up by scenes that are run of the mill with average acting and useless dialogue.
 
I purchased this as part of  a B-Movie box set and that is exactly what I got.  Routine, loads of whining kids and lacking in depth.  It is an easy curio to peek at now and again but nothing to take too seriously and certainly nothing to rant and rave about.  It makes me wonder why people make these films and who they are aimed at as the horror nut will find them second rate nonsense for sure and anyone else will just disregard as unwatchable.  Mind you I bought a copy so there ya go! 

   

LET ME IN
 
2010.  Directed by Matt Reeves
 
A gentle vampire film that plays on inner emotion and personal childhood loneliness that really does pluck at the heartstrings in such a well crafted and knowledgeable way.  The book, upon which the film is based, is something I have yet to come across but judging by the presentation of this film and the tale found therein it seems as though I am missing out on some essential reading matter.
 
The film basically is about a troubled young boy called Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who is being bullied at school and seeks solace in the company of his mysterious new neighbour Abby (Chloe Moretz) who comes across as a disturbed, tragic and somewhat needy individual.  Both outcasts create some fantastic on screen magnetism and work with one another in a very convincing way.  Abby, who is responsible for the local gory vampiric murders, is soon revealed to be the guilty blood sucker and yet despite the brutality and insane lust for blood one can't help but sympathise with this young bare-footed lady who is a truly hypnotic character.  The contrast between light and dark, warmth and calculated cold is beautiful and for me this is most certainly a modern day classic.  The general flow of the film is incredibly consistent and of a medium pace which in many cases can be seen as a flaw, but not so in this instance.
 
I picked this film up due to it being on a cheap offer and being a curious chap.  Many times I come unstuck with the modern day offerings and uncover some pure bilge but now and again it pays dividends and one mighty effort knocks me for six.  This is one of the best new films I have seen and comes forth as highly recommended. 

   

DEAD SILENCE

2007. Directed by James Wan

A crawling film that lays on the atmosphere a little too thickly and unravels what is a potentially enthralling plot in poor and predictable style. This tale of devilish dolls and a ventriloquist hell-bent on revenge could have been so much more – oh well.

We begin with young couple Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) and his wife Lisa (Laura Regan) whom receives a ventriloquists doll called Billy from a mysterious sender. Lisa soon falls victim to the murderous doll and is found by Jamie who is appalled by the level of violence and equally puzzled by the fact that he is the main suspect for murder, enter Detective Jim Lipton (Donnie Wahlberg). Jamie is determined to find the real killer and sets about uncovering the truth behind the folk law which involves a local ventriloquist called Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts) who was accused of being a fraud by a boy who soon went missing thereafter and who was killed by the townsfolk who deemed her guilty of the boys murder. Shaw was buried along with her collection of dolls and since then the families of those that took her life have been punished and subjected to a series of gruesome murders. The questions posed:- Is Mary Shaw back from the dead and is she the culprit behind the ghastly goings-on?

The potential of this film was massive but I feel with the end product we didn't get what we should expect. The eeriness is well built up, the tip-toed approach a choice direction but something is lacking. The characters maybe fall short of the mark and the story sort of fizzles out - a definite average flick to maybe re-assess after a couple more viewings.

   
THE PHANTOM FROM 10,000 LEAGUES
 
1955.  Directed by Dan Miller
 
Super blooper 1950's Sci-Fi monster gloop dripping your way and making for quite a mess but, a pleasing one nonetheless.  Cheap, of the certain sub-genre and with ludicrous special effects this one has many trimmings the cult followers will find comfort in.
 
Bodies that are charred and oozing radioactivity are being washed up on the shore of the Pacific Coast and a government investigator, Dr. Ted Stevens (Kent Taylor), suspects that a local oceanographer, Professor King (Michael Whalen), may have one or two clues as to the cause of these mysterious deaths.  The scientist uncovers a plot that negotiations to sell the atomic inventions, and the very strange monster, to a foreign power are underway and the aforementioned Professor is in a little too deeply.  Meanwhile the Prof has a daughter, Lois (Cathy Downs) which (surprise, surprise) attracts the attention of the oily Dr Stevens whereupon the love interest (if you are interested at all) arises!  Into the mush we have a secretary and assistant to the Professor, both of whom are shifty characters and contributors to the overall plot and general intrigue.  Add to all this the essential radioactive monster (a bloke in a rubber suit hanging around in the water) and you could almost write the script yourself.
 
If you pick this up and expect the world then its time to face up to the fact you will be sorely disappointed.  Purchase this and expect nothing and you may well just enjoy the stereotypical ride full of what we now deem to be traditional, cornball 50's nuclear nonsense.    It's something we know isn't going to be groundbreaking but we just gotta watch - you know how it is!
   
THE STUFF
 
1985.  Directed by Larry Cohen
 
An arduous flick to plough through with a half decent idea stretched out and given the cheapo treatment and as a result coming up way short of being anything notable.  I do wonder sometimes why anyone wants to go out and make something so shoddily.  Having said that - there is a budget appeal here and so I find myself lost in between two opposing decisions.
 
We begin with a reckless goon who finds a sweet sticky white substance oozing up out of the ground, immediately tastes it (like you do) and spreads the word.  The goo is marketed and becomes a national craze with its addictive qualities having a more than a sinister essence.  As a result of The Stuff's phenomenal rise to the top of the popularity stakes the ice cream industry is suffering and so the leaders of the said industry hire a former FBI agent turned industrial saboteur, David 'Mo' Rutherford (Moriarty), to investigate what the stuff is all about and hopefully destroy its grip on society.  Also on the case is Junk Food nut Charles W. 'Chocolate Chip Charlie' Hobbs (Garrett Morris), a cuckoo figure that only adds to the laughability of the film.  Anyway, we find out that The Stuff isn't all what it seems and is a parasitic substance that takes over the brains of the victims before leaving them as hollowed out shells.   An annoying young kid called Jason (Scott Bloom) who has found out the terror of the foodstuff and witnessed his family become a group of unsettling automatons is duly rescued by the aforementioned Moriarty and a love piece is thrown in for good measure - aagghh so predictable.
 
Effects wise this is good and awful, story wise - unoriginal but with a potential to be worked upon.  The acting and atmosphere leave a lot to be desired and some of the dialogue is both mundane and laughable.  It is what it is - a cheap jaunt that attempts and hits home primarily missed success.  A one view, two view (at a push) movie - and perhaps I am being generous at that!
   

THE GORGON
 
1964.  Directed by Terence Fisher
 
Not the strongest film to leap from the sinister stalls of the Hammer camp but one certainly worth peeking at and placing neatly in your ever expanding collection. It has the familiar atmosphere, Lee and Cushing at the fore and a few tasty moments to keep all enthusiasts entertained.

Castle Borski is feared by the nearby residents of Vandorf who believe that the recent murders are down to none other than the malevolent Gorgon Magaera. The authorities try to quell the rumours and so does the enigmatic Dr Namaroff (Peter Cushing) who has much to hide and equally much to fear. The tale gathers impetus as a local girl is turned to stone and her lover (whom is found guilty of the murder) duly commits suicide. The young mans father Professor Jules Heitz (Michael Goodliffe) defies the authorities and sets out to prove his sons innocence which, as you can guess, has petrifying consequences. We fire towards the finale - it's a nice build up and Hammer Studios go out in a traditional way - will you be disappointed?

So in summing up we have all the flavours of the celebrated studio, several top notch names and a decent storyline to boot and although perhaps not as monstrously fulfilling as other jaunts this is a good atmospheric offering you need to see.

   

TASTE OF FEAR

1961. Directed by Seth Holt

Known as 'Scream of Fear' in the US this film is a more psychological thriller than an out and out horror with a compelling edge and some sturdy acting performances. Again Hammer Films are at the helm and although not a monster movie this is a fine example of some of the other prized offerings the studio gave us.

Wheelchair bound Penny Appleby (Susan Strasberg) returns back to her dead father’s estate on the French Riviera after a break of ten years. The tension builds from the off as Penny starts seeing the corpse of her father in and around the estate, much to the disbelief of those around her. There is one exception, the sinister and over-friendly chauffeur Robert (Ronald Lewis) whom offers to help Penny get to the bottom of the mystery. Her fathers recent wife Jane (Ann Todd), whom Penny hasn't met, does her best to make Penny feel at home but the film is directed in such a way that all characters are under suspicion. Christopher Lee joins in on the fun as a local Doctor whom revives Penny after she falls in a small pool. As we progress each characters secrets come to the fore but who is responsible for trying to make our crippled heroine go over the edge?

Strasberg plays her role quite wonderfully, Lee is exact and Ann Todd puts in a sterling performance. The story holds attention and the black and white atmosphere is intriguing and ideal for a movie of this ilk. The verdict is best given by Christopher Lee who rated this as the best Hammer film he ever starred in - what more can I add?

   

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