Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, October 28, 2010



We've got a round-up of horror-related movies, TV shows, and books this week.

To my great surprise, no one came up with the correct answers for The Exorcist Blu-Ray giveaway.

Here are the answers: Jack MacGowran, who played Burke Dennings, also appeared in the British monster movie The Giant Behemoth as the paleontologist, Dr. Sampson. The connection between Behemoth and the original King Kong is that famed special effects man Willis O'Brien worked on both pictures.

William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, helmed two controversial films that dealt with aspects of the gay community: The Boys in the Band in 1970 and Cruising with Al Pacino in 1980.

Abby was the 1974 "blaxploitation" film inspired by The Exorcist. It was directed by William Girdler.


THE HAUNTED STRANGLER (1958). Director: Robert Day. 

James Rankin (Boris Karloff), a writer, is fascinated by the case of the presumably long-dead Haymarket strangler. Rankin is convinced that the wrong man was hung for the crimes, and that the real killer disappeared after his surrogate's death. Rankin eventually becomes possessed by the spirit of the true killer and begins a murder spree of his own -- but there's a clever final twist on top of that. The great Karloff is at the top of his form in this very entertaining and well-made horror-mystery, which is completely absorbing and has many effective sequences. Anthony Dawson is Superintendent Burke and Tim Turner is Rankin's handsome young assistant; Elizabeth Allan and Diane Aubrey are the women in Rankin's life.

Verdict: Highly watchable chiller with an exemplary Karloff. ***.


DEMENTIA 13 (1963). Director: Francis [Ford] Coppola.

When Louise Haloran's (Luana Anders) husband John has a fatal heart attack, she decides to cover up his death and pretend he's gone on a trip so she can still inherit from his mother. [Apparently it doesn't occur to her that a widow might still come into a share of the estate.] But this is only one of the secrets at the spooky and stately Castle Haloran in Ireland, where a barely seen figure with an axe roams about hacking and beheading his victims, and each year the family reenacts the funeral of the young daughter, Kathleen, who drowned seven years before. [None of the characters seem to realize the terrible impact the child's death would have had on Kathleen's mother, who is a bit "off."] This early film from the director of The Godfather trilogy is modeled on Psycho in that we at first follow a blond character who is then brutally dispatched a la Janet Leigh nearly forty minutes into the film. Anders is very vital as Louise, as are Bart Patton as her brother-in-law, Billy; Ethne Dunn as Lady Haloran; and Patrick Magee as the family's creepy and tactless physician. William Campbell is Billy's brother, Richard, and Mary Mitchel is his oddly-named girlfriend, Kane. The film is atmospheric, has an effective score by Ronald Stein, and boasts a very well-handled and suspenseful sequence in which Simon, a poacher (Karl Schanzer), is stalked and decapitated. Bart Patton did mostly television work; Luana Anders, who also appeared in The Pit and the Pendulum with Vincent Price, was a busy actress up until her death in 1996. 

Verdict: Odd, confusing at times, but strangely compelling and vivid! ***.



The second season of Hitch's half hour series -- not to be confused with The Alfred Hitchcock Hour although it often is -- presents more interesting stories of the macabre and dark humor with more hits than misses [although the final dozen or so episodes all fall kind of flat despite some interesting premises]. Jessica Tandy gives an excellent performance as a nervous mother with a secret in "Toby." Dorothy Stickney and Carmen Mathews have a "Conversation over a Corpse." "Jonathan" is an intriguing, hard-hitting story about the rivalry between a son (the excellent Corey Allen) and his father's new wife. In The Rose Garden" with John Williams, Patricia Collinge writes a book about her brother-in-law's murder, which certainly upsets her domineering sister. "A Bottle of Wine" pits Herbert Marshall against his wife's lover and "The End of Indian Summer" stars Gladys Cooper as a widow who may be the next target of a con man. Claude Rains offers a superb performance as a desperate actor in "Cream of the Jest." To read about season one of the show, click here

Verdict: More black comedy and chills from the Master. ***.


A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010). Director: Samuel Bayer.

Young people in a small town discover that they are being pursued in their dreams by a crazed maniac, Freddy Krueger (Jackie Earle Haley), and that if he manages to kill them while they're asleep, they're dead for real. Krueger, now a demon, was roasted alive by the parents of small children whom he molested years ago, and who have now become his victims-in-nightmare. While this remake of the 1984 A Nightmare on Elm Street is perhaps a bit slicker and less cheesy than the original, it still misses the mark for the most part. Haley does his own take on Freddy and is fine, and the other members of the mostly unknown cast are at least adequate. The film has limited gore and special effects, which probably did not sit well with its core audience of young adults. It's just a bit on the slow side, and doesn't exploit its horrifying situation with the required intensity. I mean, here we have a bunch of youths too frightened to fall asleep because once they do they know that they'll die. The movie is not bad, just disappointing. And it's never very scary. Maybe all those earlier Nightmare films have just blunted the edge.

Verdict: A really great film has yet to be made from this terrific premise. **1/2.


KING KONG COMETH! Edited by Paul A. Woods. Plexus; 2005.

Published to coincide with the release of Peter Jackson's version of King Kong, this trade paperback presents essays, most previously published, about the original 1933 film, Son of Kong, Japanese Kong movies, Kong rip-offs, the silent Lost World (with stop-motion effects by Kong's Willis O'Brien), which prefigured Kong, and so on. It is similar in some ways to Ray Morton's massive King Kong book [Morton nearly ignores The Lost World, however] but because there are many different authors, a lot of material is repeated and some sections are monotonous. There's an interesting section on the restoration of The Lost World. The most forgettable essays offer pretentious Freudian analyses of what is essentially a very entertaining monster movie and nothing more.

Verdict: If you can't get enough about Kong. ***.


BLACK CHRISTMAS (also known as Black Xmas/2006). Uncut version.

Director: Glen Morgan.

This is a remake of a film originally released in 1974 (known variously as Black Christmas, Stranger in the House, and Silent Night, Evil Night.) During Christmas break some sorority sisters and their den mother are celebrating in a sorority house that used to be the home of a young maniac named Billy. Now someone has broken out of the local asylum, and is creeping around and under the sorority house. It isn't long before the young ladies are gruesomely dispatched one by one. The problem isn't so much the numerous flashbacks showing us Billy's awful early life, but that the film seems to go in stops and starts, taking quite awhile to really cut loose. There's an exciting climax in a hospital, and some macabre [if familiar] bits and pieces. Among the actors, Kristen Cloke as Leigh, Oliver Hudson as Kyle, and Andrea Martin as the den mother [Martin was also in the original film] make the best impression.

Verdict: Just another splatter movie but not without its moments. **1/2.



In its final season, this series remained quite entertaining despite a surplus of mediocre episodes. While even the lesser episodes generally hold your attention, the best stories either have you on the edge of your seat or make you somewhat nervous. "Water's Edge" unites John Cassavetes [as an ex-con] and Ann Sothern [his cell mate's girlfriend] on a hunt for hidden stolen loot. "Power of Attorney" pits con artist Richard Johnson against two ladies played by Geraldine Fitzgerald and Fay Bainter. "The Thanatos Palace Hotel" presents a bizarre resort where people planning suicide come to die. "The Life Work of Juan Diaz" is a truly grotesque affair about a man who can't afford a proper burial while "The World's Oldest Motive" features Henry Jones as a man with a mistress who wants to get rid of his wife, the eternal problem. "Night Fever" is a moody piece with Colleen Dewhurst as a nurse who finds herself falling for a criminal patient played by Tom Wilcox. "An Unlocked Window" -- one of the series' very best episodes -- features two nurses in a mansion with a maniac on the loose; it is both chilling and darkly amusing in equal measure. 

Verdict: All in all, lots of creepy pleasure. ***.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Don't forget the two GREAT OLD MOVIES contests. So far no one has come up with the correct answers to win a brand-new Exorcist Blu-Ray set so why not give it a try? The answers aren't that difficult. You still have a couple of days left to try your luck and you could win a beautiful 2 disc Exorcist Blu-Ray set with lots of extras! Details here. [U.S. residents only.]

And don't forget to sign up for MovieFlix and a chance to win a six month membership to MovieFlix Plus. Details are here.

Good Luck! And thanks for reading!


TWO LOST WORLDS (1951). Director: Norman Dawn.

James Arness [billed as James Aurness] plays Kirk Hamilton, who leaves Salem in a clipper ship only to get injured when the ship is attacked by a pirate band. While recuperating, Hamilton falls for Elaine Jeffries (Laura Elliot, pictured), who has a precocious little sister named Janice (Gloria Petroff). When the pirates raid the land, they carry off Elaine, and Kirk -- along with stowaway Janice -- takes off in hot pursuit. They all wind up in the Dutch East Indies, where the principals are seemingly trapped on a volcanic island full of prehistoric animals, all of them courtesy of stock footage from One Million B.C. Pierre Watkin, who played Perry White in Atom Man vs. Superman, is cast as Elaine's father. This odd hybrid movie throws in a "lost world" of dinosaurs only at the very end, and suffers from completely unnecessary narration. Although Two Lost Worlds is perfectly professional, it's also distinctly minor-league. Laura Elliot was also known as Kasey Rogers and did mostly TV work after this, appearing frequently on Bewitched. She had a notable part in her most famous film, Hitchcock's Strangers on a Train (also 1951), and was quite good as Farley Granger's wife, who gets murdered by Robert Walker.

Verdict: Not enough monsters -- boo! **.


CREEPSHOWS: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide. Stephen Jones. Billboard Books; 2002.

This volume offers an excellent look into the many film, television and cable adaptations of the many works of the prolific Stephen King, from Carrie -- which put the author on the map -- to Rose Red, with a look at [at the time of publication] upcoming projects. The book proceeds chronologically from one film to the next with essays on each film relating its literary origins, how it came to be made, and how successful it was [or not]. Jones on occasion reveals works by other writers that may have heavily influenced some of King's stories. The book concludes with Jones' interesting interview with King. Jones now and then offers up a negative comment on a particularly meretricious work, but by and large this is more of an entertaining overview with behind-the-scenes details than a critical study. The section that offers mini-biographies of actors who have appeared in King adaptations is unnecessary, but on the plus side, Creepshows is loaded with lots of photographs.

Verdict: A must for the King fanatic, and fun for the rest of us as well. ***.


FOXY: MY LIFE IN THREE ACTS A Memoir. Pam Grier with Andrea Cagan. Springboard; 2010.

Actress Pam Grier came to prominence in the seventies when she appeared in a number of popular "blaxpoitation" pictures such as Coffy and Foxy Brown. The only flaw in this otherwise excellent memoir is that she doesn't discuss those films very much [perhaps because they were not exactly cinematic masterpieces] nor her attitude toward the movies that gave black actors jobs but were often considered inherently racist with their stereotypes and negative depictions. Grier prefers to see the movies as depicting empowered [i.e. tough] female characters, but one wishes she had included a few on-set anecdotes and the like. [She does write about working on her early "women in prison" films that were made in the Philippines.] However, Grier does write very compellingly of her childhood and youth [when she was raped by cousins], her work on Jackie Brown [which Quentin Tarantino wrote with her in mind] and on the cable TV show The L Word, about lesbians, in which she played a straight character. She also describes her several unfortunate relationships with men: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who expected her to adhere to the outrageously sexist tenets of his Islamic religion; Freddie Prinze, who had a serious drug problem that led to his early death; a black man who virtually abandoned her when she developed cancer; and a white man who claimed his attraction to women of color wasn't a fetish but who ultimately couldn't see her as his wife because she didn't belong to the "country club" set. There are horrifying passages about her sister's painful death; her husband insisted she stick to their religious principals and she wasn't even allowed painkillers -- her 15-year-old son was so upset the poor boy committed suicide. Grier intelligently writes of the need for women to be themselves and make it on their own so they are not hung up by bad choices made by the men who supposedly want to "take care of them." Many books written by "B" or "C" list celebrities aren't worth the paper they're printed on, but Foxy is an exception and is a very worthwhile read.

Verdict: Absorbing and entertaining. ***1/2.


THE SHORTCUT (2009). Director: Nicholaus Goossen.

It seems there's this shortcut through the woods that most people stay away from since some teens who wandered in there went missing decades ago. The chief suspect in their disappearance is a sinister old man who lives in a house near the woods, and whose family pretty much once owned the town. Now Derek (Drew Seeley) and some friends investigate when a pet disappears in the woods, and Derek's little brother says he found a dead dog with a hostile old man standing over him. The film switches back and forth from the 1940's and 50's and the present day, as we see the background of the main suspect intercut with the modern-day teens' investigations. In many ways this is a typical teen slasher flick, but it does boast some good characterizations, some neat twists that you don't see coming, and decent acting from the cast members, both young and not so young. Not as gory as many other similar movies.

Verdict: Credible, if minor, suspense item. **1/2.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


MOVIEFLIX GIVEAWAY FOR GREAT OLD MOVIES BLOG. is a free online movies library of over 4000 full-length movies, short films, independent films and television shows in over thirty popular categories -- many of which are offered to members for free! As a Plus member you'll have unlimited access to all films, premium content, personalized movie recommendations, online movie premieres, celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and more.


Three lucky readers of Great Old Movies blog will win a six-month membership to Plus and will have access to watch old movies online.


To enter the giveaway, please register for free at and post a comment below about your favorite old movie.

Good Luck!



* Both the original theatrical version and the extended director's cut.

* Hi-Def presentation.

* New 3-part documentary on the movie's production and legacy with new, never-before-seen set footage.

*38 page collector's book.

*And more.

This Blu-Ray set is now available in stores or direct from Warners. Courtesy of Warner Brother's, I'll be awarding one copy of this Blu-Ray Exorcist set to the first person who emails me at -- do not leave answers in the comments section -- with the correct answers to the following questions:

1.) One of the actors in the supporting cast also appeared in a monster movie that had something in common with the original 1933 King Kong. Name the actor, name the monster movie, and name what it has in common with King Kong.

2.) Exorcist director William Friedkin also helmed two controversial movies that dealt with aspects of the gay community, made ten years apart. Name the two movies.

3.) What was the name of the 1974 “blaxploitation” film inspired by The Exorcist and who directed it?

There can be only one winner as I have only one copy of The Exorcist Blu-Ray set. The contest will end either a.) as soon as someone comes up with all the correct answers or b.) on Sunday October 24th at midnight Eastern Standard Time. If no one comes up with the correct answers in that period, no prize will be awarded. [I will post the answers when the contest is over. Please understand that I may not be able to respond to every email.]

Sorry, this contest is only open to United States residents.

Good Luck!

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Oops -- the "dreaded deadline doom" has caught up with me as I put the finishing touches to a new book, so GREAT OLD MOVIES is taking a short break this week and will be back next week at its usual time. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


YOU CAN'T CHEAT AN HONEST MAN (1939). Director: George Marshall.

W. C. Fields is, as usual, excellent in this comedy, even if most of the material and supporting cast aren't on his level. Fields plays Larson E. Whipsnade, who is always trying to out-run and outwit his circus's creditors. His daughter Victoria (Constance Moore) decides to marry a persistent, wealthy suitor (James Bush) to help out her dad, even though she's really in love with Edgar Bergen, playing himself. [Bergen was a fairly lousy ventriloquist and his obviously moving lips are a perpetual distraction. In any case Bergen's dummies, especially Charlie McCarthy, exhibit much more personality than he does.] You Can't Cheat an Honest Man only really comes alive in the final quarter, when Fields arrives at the home of his future son-in-law's snobbish parents (Thurston Hall and Mary Forbes). He has a hilarious ping pong game in a scene that also features the amusing Jan Duggan [Cleopatra Pepperday in The Old-Fashioned Way.] Grady Sutton [The Bank Dick] and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson are also in the cast.

Verdict: You can't beat Fields playing ping pong! **1/2.


FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1964). Director: Nathan Juran. 

20th century astronauts make it to the moon, only to discover a British flag draped over a rock along with a note. Apparently people from the 19th century somehow managed to get there first. The rest of the movie tells us how this happened, as scientist Joseph Cavor (Lionel Jeffries) invents a compound that blocks gravity and hurls him and two other passengers -- Arnold Bedford (Edward Judd) and his girlfriend, Kate (Martha Hyer) -- through outer space in 1899. This loose adaptation of H. G. Wells' novel begins with an excellent, highly dramatic theme by composer Laurie Johnson that pulls you in and excites you, then fumbles the ball with a moronic, unbearably silly screenplay that makes the first half of the movie an effort to sit through [it takes a long 47 minutes for the cast to finally start off for the moon]. Worse, the normally reliable Jeffries' over-the-top, excruciatingly awful performance is cringe-inducing [Hyer and Judd are much better]. Ironically, Jeffries' character is much more intelligent and thoughtful as he watches, appalled, as the xenophobic Bedford introduces earth violence to the moon's insectoid inhabitants. The movie's second half is much more watchable and entertaining, introducing giant moon calves animated by Ray Harryhausen, as well a huge pit and gigantic caverns inside the moon and their weird inhabitants; the special effects throughout are fine. The ironic ending is a nice touch. 

Verdict: Once it finally gets going it's a lot of fun. ***.


FORBIDDEN MUSIC (aka Land Without Music/1936), Director: Walter Forde.

In the Grand Duchy of Lucca, Princess Maria (Diana Napier) is appalled to learn that her country is in debt to the tune of ten million and because of this may be taken over by Austria. It seems her countrymen spend entirely too much time singing and playing instruments, so she decides to ban music throughout the land upon punishment of prison. Jimmy Durante and June Clyde show up as a father/daughter team traveling through the Duchy, but of more importance is the re-appearance of Lucca's great singer, Mario Carlini (Richard Tauber), who romances the princess. There are some pleasant songs by Oscar Straus, very well-sung by the heroic Tauber, but both the characters and story line are unmemorable. The great Schnozzola is pretty much lost in this not so comic opera.

Verdict: Durante deserves better than this! **.


SVENGALI (1931). Director: Archie Mayo.

"Trilby in England would be like a butterfly in mutton soup."

The impoverished music instructor Svengali (John Barrymore) meets a young model named Trilby (Marian Marsh) and exerts his influence over her. Svengali has not stood the test of time, now coming off as quite dated and hokey, although the sparse, impressionistic sets with the huge corridors are striking. Barrymore can't seem to make up his mind if he's playing Svengali or Rasputin, and the picture doesn't seem to know if it's serious or a black comedy. In any case, it seems to be over just as it's getting interesting. Bramwell Fletcher and the always reliable Donald Crisp are also in the cast, and Carmel Myers makes an impression as a pupil of Svengali who loves him and makes the ultimate sacrifice.

Verdict: Barrymore should not be measured by this movie. **.


THUNDERBIRDS (2004). Director: Jonathan Frakes.

The Tracy family, headed by widower Jeff (Bill Paxton, pictured), form an outfit called International Rescue, and are idolized the world over as first-class, fearless heroes. The youngest of Jeff's sons, Alan (Brady Corbet), is itching to get into action as one of the Thunderbirds. He gets more than he bargained for when the group goes up against a villainous fellow known as The Hood (a completely and criminally wasted Ben Kingsley). If you're going to make a fairly big-budget, big-screen, live-action remake of a marionette kiddie show from the sixties -- and hope it turns into a popular franchise -- you better make sure it's a film for "kids" of all ages, which Thunderbirds definitely isn't. Focusing on the youngest characters, it seems geared for toddlers, who will probably be bored. The scientist "Brains" (Anthony Edwards) and his young, genius son both stutter. The Hood has a female associate played by an actress who's forced to wear huge gopher teeth. Lady Penelope (Sophia Myles) and her chauffeur Parker (Ron Cook) are also on hand. The biggest problem with this busy but silly movie is that the action scenes are not handled with any particular cinematic panache. This is almost as bad as Thunderbirds Are Go, a feature-length version of the puppet show.

Verdict: Thunderbirds are not go. **.


DECEPTION (2008). Director: Marcel Langenegger.

"Are you free tonight?"

A somewhat shy and nerdy accountant named Jonathan (Ewan McGregor) is befriended by the more outgoing Wyatt (Hugh Jackman), who gets him onto a list of people who indulge in causal sex with no names mentioned and no questions asked. Jonathan falls for one of the ladies (Michelle Williams) he meets through this group, and finds that she is being used in a nefarious scheme by one of the other players. I won't say any more than that about the plot, but it has a couple of predictable twists and one that is completely unpredictable and extremely clever. Unfortunately, Langenegger is no Hitchcock, and while the film has gloss it hasn't much style and not quite enough suspense. The ending is completely ridiculous. A bigger problem is that the cast [at least when you compare them to Hitchcock's more notable players] is distinctly minor-league. Admittedly Jackman isn't herein playing a dynamic character like Wolverine, but he only seems adequate as the supposedly more charismatic Wyatt. Likewise, McGregor and Williams are competent but little more. The original ice princess Charlotte Rampling has a small role as one of the women Jonathan hooks up with and is -- surprisingly -- fine in a role that suits her.

Verdict: A passable diversion with some good scenes, but watch the 1946 Deception instead. **1/2.


1000 COMIC BOOKS YOU MUST READ. Tony Isabella. Krause; 2009. NOTE: Given the number of comics now being turned into movies -- as well as the link between comics and films -- Great Old Movies will occasionally review books on comics magazines.

Comics professional Tony Isabella has compiled this list of important comic books from the golden age to present day. The book is a thick hardcover packed with color reproductions of classic comics covers as well as many new ones. Which chapter interests you the most depends upon which era and genre most intrigues you -- some may find the later chapters less interesting because they focus on newer comics and not classic ones, but these chapters serve to introduce the reader to many new series, as well as to illustrate the huge variety and many genres of the comic book market. [Comic books are more than super-heroes, yet costumed characters seem to bring out the best in comics and vice versa.] You won't find much critical meat in the book, but it's not that kind of volume. Isabella introduces each chapter with some historical notes, but the book primarily consists of covers and captions with credits and an explanation of why that particular comic was included. The title, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt, as most super-hero fans won't be interested in the many angst-filled biographical and counter-culture comics that have cropped up in recent years and vice versa, and readers of Maus may not necessarily go for Donald Duck and Archie -- but who knows?

Verdict: Fun and informative for the serious comic book fan. ***.