CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

NOSFERATU

1922. Directed by F W Murnau

Despite failing to span the years and falling victim to the hands of Father Time this is still a totally watchable film and the main vampire is still one of the most ghastly visions ever to creep into the cinematic virgin’s bedroom. The tale is close to Bram Stokers vampiric book and goes through the now well known routine with the black and white celluloid adding to an unsettling sense of evil and foreboding.  The fact that this tale is nearly a century old there are many fine scenes that will remain eternal.  The glimpse of the Nosferatu (Count Orlock) in his casket is a blood curdling moment as is the look on the said demons face when realtor Thomas Hutter draws blood when carelessly cutting a loaf.    The ships captain horribly dead at the wheel is cold and terrible and rat filled caskets enhance the feeling that here we are dealing with a decadent character second to none.  This is a must for the quintessential horror buff and even now when watched alone in the dark still gives a wonderful ambience of horror.  Max Schrek is the leading drinker of blood and the whole look and performance is truly terrifying.  A classic for its day.

 

THE BODY SNATCHER

1945. Directed by Robert Wise.

Set in Edinburgh where renowned surgeon Dr MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) is supplied with dead bodies for teaching purposes by cabman John Gray (Boris Karloff) who has a taunting hold on the doctor with his knowledge of past indiscretions. The sentimental side of this is provided by a sub plot regarding a crippled child and her need for an operation. Karloff is at his sinister best in this film and the gloating, spiteful character he plays is completely enthralling. Cold and calcualting he turns his hand to murder when cemetries become more closely guarded and the way he unblinkingly carries out his underhand work is chilling in itself. The finale is the epitome of horror and the cold and gory black and white celluloid adds to a skin crawling sight that shudders with psychological terror. From start to finish this film holds the attention and must be one of the most under-rated and more than likely underwatched films of this genre. Bela Lugosi has a bit part and adds that familiarity touch to a film that is just oozing character. Karloffs finest moment? Could well be and surely one to enjoy over and over again.

 

WEREWOLF OF LONDON

1935. Directed by Stuart Walker

A lycanthropic pearl here that revolves around the tale of two men whom are both werewolves and seek to gain temporary respite by use of a rare Asian Flower. Dr Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) and Dr Yogami (Warner Oland) are the afflicted pair that provide the main action throughout and all in all we have a very watchable film here. Despite Universals later release 'The Wolfman' starring Lon Chaney Jr being the film that most people remember this is a very good effort and there are some quite memorable moments throughout. The first main transformation scene is basic yet brave and sticks in the mind as does the scene in the zoo which has something to it I just can't place. I like this film a lot mainly due to a good atmosphere and some fine characters. Zeffie Tilbury and Ethel Griffies as the two drunken crones add a lighter touch but don't detract from a very fine film.The wolfman's make-up is primitive but rather unique and adds an individualistic touch to a worthwhile watch.

 

CURSE OF THE DEMON

1957. Directed by Jacques Tourneur

A masterpiece in suspense here with a film loosely based on MR James' short story 'Casting the Runes'. The main plot revolves around sceptic Dr John Holden (Dana Andrews) trying to expose satanic cult leader Julian Carswell (Niall MacGinnis) who has many a fine trick up his sleeve. The sinister character of Carswell is one of the most arroagntly, unsettling screen performances of all time and is so subtle in its delivery as to make it entirely believable. The film has an abundance of choice moments each one shrouded in tension and mystery. The conjured cyclone scene, the seance and the departure of Carswell from the library all add to a sensation of the supernatural and make this just a simply fantastic delight. The finale is superb and is really edge of the seat stuff in which Carswell's nonchalant confidence is finally put to the test with the perhaps predictable outcome still terrifying to say the least. Tourneur's greatest contribution to cinema history by far and an exemplary production. Sheer class.

 

FREAKS

1932. Directed by Tod Browning

In its own unique way Freaks is without doubt one of the most horrific films of all time. With wild abandon it dances back and forth across the nebulous boundary between what is acceptable fantasy and that which is tasteless reality and conjures up thoughts of mans darker side. The treatment of the deformed creatures is soberingly appalling and poses several questions. The way in which the tragic disabled persons are used in this film maybe a cold, calculated trick but it cannot be denied that it adds to the unsettling horror spectacle and helps create an impeccable masterpiece.

The story revolves around a circus and midget Hans (Harry Earle) who is besotted with trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova). The way in which Hans is mistreated and the subsequent poisoning all climax in a revengeful attack by the so-called 'freaks' which is one of cinema history's most terrifying moments. The crawling freaks are made to look frighteningly sinister as they crawl through mud and rain in pursuit of their prey. Excellent. Anyone who is looking for a touch archaic horror should latch on to this piece of brilliance and enjoy a truly disturbing film.

 

WITCHFINDER GENERAL

1968. Directed by Michael Reeves

Set in the middle of a civil war, Matthew Hopkins (Vincent Price) travels from city to city with his Sadistic sidekick John Stearne (Robert Russell) brutally extracting confessions from innocent people accused of witchcraft. The main plot revolves around Hopkins' persecution of a priest and exploitation of his niece for sexual favours. Robert Marshall who is a soldier and engaged to the neice seeks vengence on Hopkins and his assistant Stearne.

Hopkins is a thoroughly menacing character throughout with his corrupted, unhinged piety used to its full effect so as to feed his righteous arrogance and perverse desires. Stearne is the quintessential thug and his delight in the torture and sufferance of others is truly horrendous. The iciness of death is without conscience and startlingly explosive which really gives this film a genuine shock factor. The relentless barrage of savagery and cold hearted imagery is magnificent and maintains its terrifying level until the very last when we witness a scene of gruesome horror.

All in all this is tremendous viewing and the Hopkins/Stearne relationship is brilliantly played with their dislike yet reliance of each other wonderfully apparent. Price is on top form here with a no-holds barred portrayal of one of histories real horrors.

 

ISLE OF THE DEAD

1945. Directed by Mark Robson

A slow, plodding film here with emphasis on atmosphere rather than action. We find ourselves on a Greek island in the 1912 war were several people are quarantined due to an all-conquering plague. Karloff plays a calm yet cold general who is one of the trapped along with an old peasant woman who suspects a young woman of being a vorvolaka (a vampire). The confined setting is eerie and sinister and this consumes the mind of Karloff who eventually comes to believe the old hags ravings.

The local graveyard, an incessant wind, the fear of a cataleptic and some fine imagery all add up to a pleasing production that thrives on being stifling and oppressive. Its only failing is that the whole production is too one paced and never really gets out of 1st gear which shouldn't detract from a well presented piece that has some excellent character performances. Karloff still produces the goods here and helps make the film enjoyable. One to watch but not a classic.

 

WHITE ZOMBIE

1932. Directed by Victor Halperin

Set within a Haitian plantation a young couple are persuaded to marry by a Monsieur Beaumont (Robert Frazer) who is besotted with the bride and tries his utmost to win her love. Rejected he turns to local voodoo witch, Legrande (Bela Lugosi) for assistance who uses a potion to transform the bride into a zombie. The rest of the film sees Lugosi in typical sinister, hypnotic style as he controls his team of zombies and sets about maintaining his evil ways.

This is one of the first zombie movies and relies more on atmosphere rather than the modern blood and gore fests. There are some nice moments and excellent scenes that are enhanced by the grainy, crackling film and almost absent soundtrack. The zombies lack the killer instinct and are merely tools of Legrande but they still have that unsettling edge with their blank expressions and fumbling gait. The sugar mill scenes are particularly oppressive.

Not a classic but worth watching due to its theatrical performances, the eerie settings and influential aspect.

 

TALES OF TERROR

1962. Directed by Roger Corman

A delicious trilogy of terror here as we have 3 re-workings of Poe classics served up in true Corman-esque style. The contrast in tales regarding horror and dark humour is superbly done with all 3 stories being of the highest order. Vincent Price stars in all 3 and adds his unique style to all proceedings in such an admirable way. In fact, this film really does display Price for the great actor he his and is truly one of his greatest works.

Tale one (Morella) is dark, eerie and foreboding and embraces all the qualities that made Poe so unsettling. It is a yarn of death, suffering, loss and revenge and is an appetising opener that drips with morbid tension.

Light relief ensues with a cinematic classic (The Black Cat). Here we have hapless and selfish inebriate Montresor Herringbone (Peter Lorre) in a wine tasting challenge against local wine expert Fortunado (Vincent Price) in a truly joyous scene. Price goes way over the top and Lorre is incomparable as the two go head to head. The ensuing story finds Herringbone discovering that Fortunado and his wife have become a little too acquainted and sets about his gruesome revenge. Despite now being renowned the Black Cat formula is still delivered in fine style.

The final tale (The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar) is my personal favourite with the focus on mesmirism being a real winner. A dying man, Valdemar (Vincent Price) agrees to be held in suspension on the point of death by crazed hypnotist Carmicheal (Basil Rathbone) the results of which are truly terrifying. Valdemar's utterances from beyond are truly horrible and combined with Carmicheal's cravings for knowledge and his lunatic insistence that Valdemar remains in sufferance we have before us an epic story. The finale is abhorrent and caps a trilogy of tales that are exemplary in both construction and deliverance.

 

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME

1932. Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack

A gripping adventure here with the makers of 'King Kong' coming up with an under-rated classic. Our main hero, big game hunter Rainsford (Joel McCrea) is the only survivor of a shipwreck who comes ashore on a seemingly desolate island. He soon finds the dwelling of eccentric Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks) whereupon he learns of his hosts insane fascination with hunting. Zaroff boasts of finding a new more challenging prey to hunt of which Rainsford soon realises that his hosts enthusiasm is not what it seems. The story evolves until we have a man hunting man scenario with Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) in tow for the glamour appeal. The jungle scenes are simply unforgettable and the slow dramatic build up in tension captures the chase brilliantly. The sets are simply oozing atmosphere and are a backdrop to an excellent film. Zaroff is the quintessential crackpot with his crazed ravings and idiosyncracies which are played out by Banks in fascinating fashion. This is a truly captivating film and gradually increases in pace making it vital viewing. An overlooked gem.

   

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