CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

1957. Directed by Jack Arnold

The story of Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is a 50's classic that has yet to be outdone. The ultimate in adventure and tension the tale is of a man who is exposed to a strange mist (suspected radioactive) that causes him to decrease in size. The ensuing tale is emotive and challenging and deals with various social themes particularly the approach to the afflicted. Carey is brutally stripped of all that makes him a man and his mental anguish is perfectly plausible. This film has some great scenes such as the cat chase, the cellar flood and the simply awesome spider battle. What begins as a seemingly medical drama, turns into a beautiful sci-fi treat that deals with mans survival instincts and determination to succeed. This is a film awash with special effects most of which still hold up, and despite the odd goof with size-relation the overall presentation is impeccable. A truly remarkable piece of work that every self respecting film buff should see.

 

THE OLD DARK HOUSE

1932. Directed by James Whale

And yet another Whale escapade into the dark comedic world of over the top characters and the tall yarns in which they dwell.  With the howling winds, lashing rains, creeping shadows and creaking walls this film simply boils over with now apparent clichéd effects but is in itself impeccably influential.  With several guests trapped for the night at the said ‘Old Dark House’ due to a furious storm and with none other than Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm) as one of the hosts and Boris Karloff (Morgan) as a temperamental mute servant we already have a recipe for melancholic mayhem.  Add to this a dangerous arsonist, a religious hag and an atmosphere of madness we are well on our way to a treat of the sinister and gothic second to none. Thesiger is a delight as he really camps it up in fine style and utters various classic lines, 'Its my only weakness' being the most memorable. Charles Laughton, Gloria Stuart and Raymond Massey add weight to a wonderful cast list and each character is perfectly positioned in a solid film.

 

HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER

1958. Directed by Herbert L. Strock

One from the Samuel Z Arkoff stable and very much a movie that tries and succeeds to rise above the all to obvious B-movie void. When a monster make-up maestro Pete Dumond (Robert H Harris) is sacked by the new bosses of American International Studios he concocts a special formula and uses it as well as a couple of budding horror stars to carry out his revenge. A teenage Frankenstein (Gary Conway) and Werewolf (Gary Clarke) add to the oh so cheap thrills but the film is still watchable. The story is a little elongated and the acting a little shaky but the salvation comes in the form of an all colour finale which is cutely done and works well. The flaming end is predicatable and badly staged but this is still an enjoyable picture.

 

CORRIDORS OF BLOOD

1958. Directed by Robert Day

Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee together in one film is something of a rarity so before viewing this picture the fang filled mouth is salivating in anticipation of an extra special indulgence.  There are no ensuing disappointments as the excellently acted tale unfolds and we are treated to an impeccable film with Karloff producing a credible and compelling performance.  Indeed it is Karloff who is the main character who as Dr Thomas Bolton is a highly skilled surgeon that becomes disillusioned with the pain his patients suffer during surgery in these pre-anasthesia days  and seeks out a remedy by mixing various chemicals, the chief of which is opium.  During several tests upon himself Karloff becomes addicted and loses his touch at his profession making an almost fatal mistake.  During these scenes we have a parallel plot in which local bar tender Black Ben (Francis De Wolff) hires the services of Lee (Resurrection Joe) to ‘see to’ some of his more disabled and drunken guests thus providing bodies for the local medical practice to work with.   The den of iniquity where Lee and his cronies reside is pure Dickensian and the atmosphere of inebriation and deviancy is almost tangible.  Karloff is initially tricked into signing a death certificate but later after a drug induced wander into the bar whereupon he loses his experimental notes he is bribed to sign more.  The desperation of Karloff is portrayed brilliantly and here we clearly have a sincere man caught up in a criminal world in which he seems purely lost.  The climax is perfectly delivered and has reminiscences of Oliver Twist in its deathly finale.  A total pleasure.

 

TOMB OF LIGEIA

1964. Directed by Roger Corman

'Even on her wedding night she must share the man she loved with the "female thing" that lived in the Tomb of the Cat!' is the tagline to this Corman delivery that lacks the polish and gusto of other similar productions. Vincent Price plays nobleman Verden Fell who has a disturbing obsession with his dead wife which results in him believing that his new wife is possessed by her spirit. Price is typically affected and turns in another good performance with his insane ramblings and haunted persona. The plot is a messy affair and labours too much rather than progresses with a purpose. The location is eerie and adds to the unsettling ambience but with a weak tale seemingly prolonged for no reason the film is a real let down. Fans may agree to differ but I have seen a whole lot better from the Corman/Poe stable. Watch for the Price 'cabbage' quotation early in the film!

 

TWINS OF EVIL

1971. Directed by John Hough

Within middle Europe, the nineteen century and religious nut Gustav Weil (Peter Cushing) and his crew are on the hunt for worshippers of satan stopping at nothing in their quest to cleanse the land of all its deviancies. Vampirism comes to town in the shape of Count Karnstein (Damien Thomas), an arrogant evil-doer who sets his sights on Weils orphaned teenage twins Frieda (Madelaine Collinson) and Mary (Mary Collinson). The plot is simplistic but the tension throughout is gripping and the rivalry between Weil and Karnstein is utterly tangible.

Cushing throws it all in and gains sympathy and loathing in the one performance. This is essential viewing for Hammer fans as it is one of the best productions from the stable and really packs a punch.

 

VAN HELSING

2004. Directed by Stephen Sommers

A film that promises much and delivers so little.  Here we have several of the great Universal monsters re-born into the 21st century with a glossy presentation and all the expected cinematic trimmings. Frankensteins monster, Dracula and the Wolfman all get the make-over treatment to varying degrees of success and are plunged into a plot of the lowest order.  The effects throughout are remarkable and the film is worth a look for this only as the story is paper thin and the dialogue bordering on the ridiculous.  Van Helsing is a Hollywood style macho man with the usual inane quips added for the unthinking masses.  Despite being approximately 2 hours the film has a high pace but lacks a subtlety of classier horror films that this was intended to pay tribute to.  This is a fantastic idea and should have been left to a Universal connoisseur and someone who has an eye for what made these films unique.  For anyone who wants a cheap thrill and a film laden with effects then check this out but anyone with an eye for the subtle side of horror then it’s a positive maybe.

 

THE MASK OF FU MANCHU

1932. Directed by Charles Brabin

It's a race against time as several English men set out to discover the lost tomb of Genghis Khan and the mythical sword and mask of the said warrior before the insanely evil Fu Manchu (Boris Karloff) gets his wicked taloned hands on them. Karloff kidnaps the leading lady's father and Nayland Smith (Lewis Stone) leads the team of typical rescuers. The film is set with glorious oriental scenes that really adds a fascinating touch. There are several torture scenes in which Fu Manchu takes sinister delight and the way in which Karloff portrays the power mad warlord is delightfully compulsive and horrific. Horror cum adventure it most certainly is and fans of the 'uncanny one' must surely see and enjoy this challenging role for an English gent with a lisp. The film is well structured and the dialogue adequate without being over elaborate. The fact that Karloff stars is enough of a recommendation but the film has more to offer for the student of terror.

 

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES

1959. Directed by Terence Fisher

One of many workings of the famous Conan-Doyle tale starring super sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his trustworthy sidekick Dr Watson. Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Lee) arrives to inherit the family estate but is threatened by a horrific curse, namely the dreaded hound which has killed several of his predecessors. Holmes (Peter Cushing) and Watson (Andre Morrell) are called in to solve the conundrum. High tension fuelled by Cushings all-in approach makes you wonder why the said actor wasn't snapped up for more Holmes roles. He is in his element here with all the detectives temperamental nuances delivered in perfect fashion. This is by far and away the best version of this overdone tale and the gloriously coloured sets and ominous moorland scenes add to the atmosphere. The acting is spot on and the film is full of familiar faces with all concerned making excellent contributions to a great film. Watch out for the sherry swilling, bug hunting local Bishop Frankland (Miles Malleson) - a joy and evidence of Hammer's tendency to throw in some fantastically quirky extras.

 

BRIDE OF THE MONSTER

1955. Directed by Edward D. Wood Jr

In spite of having the tag of being an Ed Wood film, king of the B-Movie, this rises above those laughable depths and is very watchable indeed. Ok there is a bit of ham acting and a ludricous rubber octopus that doesn't help the cause but this film still maintains a decent standard with a fairly good storyline and creepy sets. The main story involves a Dr Varnoff (Bela Lugosi) who is attempting to create a race of supermen using various atomic procedures. His henchman is called Lobo and is played by B-Movie monster maestro Tor Johnson, a face all too recognisable to buffs of this genre. The main drawback of the whole picture is the long bouts of stagy dialogue that just seem to be there for no other purpose than to expand the running time. Despite this it is worth a viewing just to see Lugosi in another over the top performance and to witness what made Ed Wood so infamous.

   

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