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, 2021



Make some pumpkin pie -- so easy even I can do it -- put some whipped cream on it, cook up the cocoa (with more whipped cream) and watch a nice scary horror movie on Halloween! Maybe one of the movies reviewed in the posts below.

Have fun! 



Merry Anders 
HOUSE OF THE DAMNED (1963). Director: Maury Dexter. 

Architect Scott Campbell (Ron Foster of The Music Box Kid) is hired to survey Rochester Castle and bring his wife and partner, Nancy (Merry Anders), along. Eventually lawyer Joseph Schiller (Richard Crane of No Man's Woman) and his excitable wife, Loy (Erika Peters), also arrive on the scene. There are 13 keys for the house and a variety of rooms, as well as strange people skulking about in the shadows. Then Loy is chased by a giant figure (Richard Kiel of "To Serve Man" on Twilight Zone) and disappears, until Merry seems to find her headless corpse ...

Peters, Crane, Foster, Anders
Be warned that the above description makes House of the Damned sound a lot better than it is. The whole project just seems so languid and mediocre. It was as if this great location, the castle, were chosen first and then a script was hastily -- very hastily -- scripted around it, so there are no real characters and only one genuinely creepy moment, when some thing sneaks into the bedroom and borrows those keys. The house is beautiful, but it's not enough to save the movie. You might groan when you discover exactly who or what is behind the "horror." 

Ron Foster was a handsome and talented actor who chiefly appeared in "B" movies, and despite the fact that this was produced by 20th Century Fox in CinemaScope, this is no different; he couldn't catch a break. Henry Vars has contributed a nice and eerie theme, but otherwise the score is just too lethargic.   

Verdict: Promises a lot but delivers very little. **.   


Lloyd Nelson, Asa Maynor, Tom Maruzzi
MAN BEAST (1956). Director: Jerry Warren. 

Connie (Asa Maynor), has come to the Himalayas with her friend Hudson (Lloyd Nelson) in search of her brother, who is on an expedition with Dr. Erickson (George Wells Lewis). They hope to find a Yeti, or abominable snowman, in the higher altitudes. Connie and Hud, with the aid of Steve Cameron (Tom Maruzzi), manage to catch up with the expedition, but instead of her brother they find a man named Varga (George Skaff), who they deem suspicious. They are right to feel this way, as Varga turns out to be have a special relationship with the Yeti who turn up and threaten the others. And Varga has special -- and rather horrifying -- plans for Connie. 

One of the Yeti
Man Beast can't compare to the British Abominable Snowman that came out the following year, but while it's not a particularly good movie it does have its points of interest. The acting can best be described as adequate but George Skaff actually turns in a more than decent performance. Out of all of the performers he unsurprisingly racked up the most credits, although Maynor and Nelson also had more work after appearing in this picture. This was the sole film appearance for both Maruzzi and Lewis, and "Rock Madison" was just a made-up marquee name with producer/director Jerry Warren hoping audiences would think they were getting Rock Hudson or Guy Madison for their money -- there is no such actor. The picture's main strength, aside from its short length, is the atmospheric filming (with the slopes of California filling in for the Himalayas) of snowy vistas, deadly crevasses, avalanches, and the like, although undoubtedly stock footage was also employed. A scene when the Yeti come after the group inside a cave (there is no set, just surrounding blackness) is amateurishly staged and awkwardly shot, although I must say the first appearance of the Yeti is a mite startling. The soundtrack consists of very well-chosen stock musical cues. Jerry Warren also directed The Incredible Petrified World, which was similarly low-budget but a much better picture. 

Verdict: Not nearly as awful as its reputation, but not worth missing an episode of your favorite TV series. **. 


Klaus Kinski and Anthony Franciosa
WEB OF THE SPIDER (aka Nella stretta morsa del ragno/1971). Director: Antonio Margheriti.

While Edgar Allan Poe (Klaus Kinski of Slaughter Hotel) is visiting London, he is approached by an American reporter named Alan Foster (Anthony Franciosa of Tenebrae). Lord Blackwood (Enrico Osterman) offers Foster money if he can spend one night in his supposedly haunted estate from which no one has ever returned. Once there, Foster meets two beautiful women: Elisabeth (Michele Mercier) and jealous Julia (Karin Field), who has a hankering for the former. Dr. Carmus (Peter Carsten) appears out of nowhere and shows Foster visions of what transpired in the past: the sexual intrigues of Elisabeth, her husband, William (Silvano Tranquilli), her lover Herbert (Raf Baldassarre), and, of course, the horny Julia. It slowly dawns on Foster that he may be in a house of ghosts, or worse, vampires ... 

Franciosa with Mercier
Web of the Spider begins in an intriguing fashion, but it soon becomes apparent that its mess of a script is a stew of barely coherent cliches that hardly holds together. By the final quarter you're just hoping it will hurry up and end already. The tenuous connection of Poe -- who only appears at the opening and the very end -- is almost insulting, as this has nothing to do with the writer, despite the creepy house and the screwed up family who inhabit it -- this is no Fall of the House of Usher

Karin Field
Franciosa gives a decent, if dubbed, performance, the other actors are all fine, and the film can be quite good to look at. The trouble is that the movie is so over-lit that the atmosphere evaporates and it becomes comical how bright everything is when you're in a house at night with a couple of candles (sometimes no candles), and there isn't much moonlight, either. Sure, you want the audience to get a look at the sets, the superior art direction, and the attractive color schemes, but a few realistic shadows wouldn't have hurt that much. For all the ghosts running around the house, the film never works up an especially spooky ambiance. The picture does have a satisfactorily ironic conclusion for those willing to stick around until the end. Antonio Margheriti also directed Battle of the Worlds and many other lousy movies.

Verdict: Watch Tony in Career instead. **. 


Wasp woman goes on the attack! 
THE WASP WOMAN (1959). Colorized. Directed by Roger Corman. 

Sales for Janice Starlin's (Susan Cabot) cosmetic company have been dropping since she stopped using herself in advertisements, but as she's on the wrong side of forty, she figures she has no choice. But when elderly Professor Zinthrop (Michael Mark) tells her that he has come up with an age-defying formula using royal jelly from wasps, she has hope and insists he use her as a guinea pig. At first the results are miraculous, with Janice looking as if she's in her twenties (Cabot was 32 at the time), but when she uses more and more of the formula to remain young, the results are less than felicitous. Janice turns into a horribly mutated wasp woman who attacks and feeds upon various people around her, including a solicitous nurse (Lani Mars) and a very obese night watchman (Bruno VeSota). 

Susan Cabot with Michael Mark
I have always gotten a kick out of this fun Corman cheapie-creepy, and I enjoyed it even more in well-done color! In addition to Cabot's excellent performance, this time around I appreciated Lynn Cartwright as the saucy secretary Maureen, who is given some amusing dialogue and runs with it. Fred Katz' jazzy musical score is a little odd, but it works well enough, and the film is full of a whole host of interesting B movie players: Anthony Eisley of Hawaiian Eye; Roy Gordon from Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman; Barboura Morris from Bucket of Blood; the aforementioned VeSota; and even Aron Kincaid [The Girls on the Beach] as a briefly-seen beekeeper, Roger Corman himself also shows up briefly as a doctor, so briefly that I didn't even notice him! I love the scene when Cabot and Morris have excited, happy girl talk over Janice's new youthful appearance. 

Verdict: Be careful what you wish for! ***.


I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1998). Director: Danny Cannon. 

Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) has tried to forget the bloody events of I Know What You Did Last Summer (the epilogue to which turns out to be a dream). Julie's friend, Karla (Brandy Norwood), wins a radio contest which is amazingly simple, and the two women -- along with Karla's boyfriend, Tyrell (Mekhi Phifer) and pal Will Benson (Matthew Settle) -- find themselves on an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas. Unfortunately, the resort is practically empty because the rainy season is about to begin, the manager (Jeffrey Combs) is a weird-looking grump, and someone is stalking the few people who remain on the island. Meanwhile back on the mainland, Julie's on again/off again boyfriend, Ray (Freddie Prinze Jr.), learns something that propels him to take off pell mell to the Bahamas to warn her and save her life. The mysterious fisherman from the first film is back and using his big hook to slice and dice employees and guests. Potential victims include not only the main foursome but also a likable doper (Mark Boone Junior) and sassy, attractive bartender (Jennifer Esposito).

Jeffrey Combs as the weird Mr. Brooks
I Still Know is an entertaining and generally fast-paced slasher film, but it is so ridiculously contrived that it almost seems like a cartoon parody. The killer or killers in the film have come up with such an absurdly convoluted and elaborate revenge scheme that you wonder what they might have accomplished had they put all this energy and money to something that might have actually improved their lives. I must say that the cast in this is likable and enthusiastic, which helps put the whole thing over; Matthew Settle makes a particularly good impression. Muse Watson also has fun as the man with the meat hook. 

Verdict: Sequel goes in a bizarre direction to put it mildly but is fun if you're not in a discriminating mood. **1/2. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021


Scotty Becket and Susan Morrow
GASOLINE ALLEY (1951). Written and directed by Edward Bernds. 

Corky Wallet (Scotty Becket) is out of college and newly married to Hope (Susan Morrow). Corky's father, Walt (Don Beddoe), hopes that Corky will join his father's firm, but Corky wants to make his own mark in the world. A stint as a dishwasher leads to him buying his own diner with financial help from his brother, Skeezix (Jimmy Lydon), and waitress assistance from Hope. When a businessman makes the landlord an offer he can't refuse, Corky has to come up with a plan to save the diner after all of his hard work. 

Don Beddoe and Jimmy Lydon
"Gasoline Alley" was a very long-running newspaper comic strip by Frank O. King in which the characters aged normally as they would in the real world. The strip began with bachelor Walt Wallet discovering an infant boy, Skeezix, on his doorstep. Walter eventually got married and had two more natural children, including Corky, who also married. Skeezix  married and had children as well, including Skipper the sailor. Reading the strip as a child I remember it as being a pleasant comedy-drama but nothing out of the ordinary. I'm afraid the same is true for this low-budget theatrical version of the comic strip.

Director Edward Bernds keeps the pic moving but he should have allowed someone else to do the script, which is mediocre and full of old gags. Scotty Becket, the very talented child actor of My Son, My Son and others, is fine and sympathetic but kind of wasted, as his was a very strong talent. Jimmy Lydon [Strange Illusion], famous for the Henry Aldrich films, is also good but isn't given much to do. The other assorted players are all okay -- especially Byron Foulger as a customer -- but the material is pretty much beneath everyone. There was one sequel, Corky of Gasoline Alley. These were Beckett's last starring roles although he did a few pictures afterward until tragically succumbing to a drug overdose at age 38.

Verdict: Probably not as good as the comic strip. **. 


Wanda McKay, Joe Sawyer, and Dennis Moore
RAIDERS OF GHOST CITY (13 chapter Universal serial/1944). Directed by Lewis D. Collins and Ray Taylor. 

Near the end of the Civil War an organization of Confederate spies is actually the front for gold thieves operating out of Oro Grande, California. But even these desperadoes are being double-crossed by a couple of Prussian agents who need the gold so that they can buy Alaska! Trying to thwart their efforts is Captain Steve Clark (Dennis Moore) of the U.S. Secret Service, aided by Idaho Jones (Joe Sawyer), a Wells Fargo detective, and Cathy Haines (Wanda McKay), a Wells Fargo county agent. 

Lionel Atwill and Virginia Christine
Their main antagonists are Erich von Rugen (Lionel Atwill of Captain America) and the deliciously ruthless Countess Elsa von Merck (Virginia Christine of Three Brave Men), who doubles as a saloon singer named Trina Dessard. They report to a Count Manfried von Richten (Emmett Vogan of Docks of New Orleans). Regis Toomey is Captain Clay Randolph, a legitimate rebel who doesn't realize what the others are up to and only wants the gold to aid the war effort.

Moore, Christine and Sawyer
Westerns have never been my favorite serial genre, but I must say that Raiders of Ghost City -- the title refers to a ghost town not far from Ora Grande -- has made a believer of me, for this is quite well-made, with an especially flavorful screenplay. In cliffhanger sequences a runaway stage coach falls into a river, and Steve is trapped in a cave with rapidly rising water. Chapter eight features a thrilling, expertly-edited chase scene with an entire gang in pursuit of Idaho. The first and tenth chapters have the best cliffhangers: an uncoupled car begins rolling backwards towards disaster during a frantic fist fight; and Idaho is nearly drawn and quartered by Modoc Indians in a very suspenseful sequence. The four main players are all excellent and the supporting players are well cast. 

Verdict: Very exciting, well-made, and well-played Columbia serial. ***1/4. 


THE BRIEF, MADCAP LIFE OF KAY KENDALL. Eve Golden with Kim Kendall. University Press of Kentucky; 2002.

Since most if not all of the major stars have been covered ad nauseam, many publishers have come out with books on 2nd, 3rd and 4th tier celebrities. British actress and comedienne Kay Kendall [Les Girls; Wings of Danger), who did indeed have a brief life and career, fits into the lattermost of those categories. Kendall was talented and tragic, dying young of leukemia, which her husband and family tried very hard to keep her from knowing until nearly the end. Her husband was Rex Harrison, and Kendall would have probably been forgotten by all but her most obsessive fans, however many, if it had not been for that association with a much bigger star. Kendall's marriage to Harrison played out during a time when the latter was ascendant due to his triumphs in both the stage and screen versions of My Fair Lady. Eve Golden's entertaining and page-turning book won't necessarily have you admiring Kendall's character, although she was probably no worse than a lot of other husband-stealing, rather "trampy" and superficial starlets; Kendall also became full of herself. (Kendall stole Harrison from Lilli Palmer, who had herself broken up an earlier marriage to Harrison. Harrison claimed that he primarily married Kendall only because she was dying.) Kendall was great friends with Dirk Bogarde and his partner, Anthony Forwood. Biographer Golden does a very good job dissecting Kendall's films and performances while never neglecting her interesting personal life. 

Verdict: Good read for those interested in this talented if minor British actress. ***. 


Leonard Nimoy and Donald Sutherland

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978). Director: Phil Kaufman.

San Francisco health inspector Matthew Bennell (Donald Sutherland) is carrying a torch for his colleague Elizabeth Driscoll (Brooke Adams). Elizabeth is convinced that her live-in boyfriend, Geoff (Art Hindle), is not himself, that he's actually become a different person. Matthew's friend, David Kidner (Leonard Nimoy), a pop psychologist and author, says that other people are also claiming their loved ones are not their loved ones. Things take an even darker turn when a weird body turns up in the mud baths operated by Jack (Jeff Goldblum) and Nancy (Veronica Cartwright), a half-finished body that greatly resembles Jack. It seems that virtually everyone in the city has succumbed to this ghastly invasion of space seeds, which destroys humans and replaces them with unemotional duplicates ...  

Veronica Cartwright
On its own terms this remake of the classic fifties film of the same name is entertaining, and if this is one's first introduction to the story -- based on "The Body Snatchers" by Jack Finney -- it will probably give you a bit of the chills. But be forewarned that if you watch it back to back with the original it greatly suffers in comparison. Switching the locale from a small town to a big city does not do too much damage, but a bigger problem is that the film too often resembles a clumsy parody of the first film. Sutherland, Nimoy and Adams are okay, but Goldblum is irritating and Cartwright overacts almost from the first (compare her to a splendid Carolyn Jones in the first film). Some of the chase scenes just seem so stilted. 

Brooke Adams
Aside from the electronic noises during sequences with the pods -- the FX here are quite good -- the musical score only detracts from the film's effectiveness. Some of the other changes in this version are welcome: Elizabeth's "transformation" is handled much better and much more logically than Becky's "conversion" in the first film, and the weird way the aliens point and screech at ordinary humans is acceptably unnerving. A clever bit -- although it doesn't quite work -- has Elizabeth screaming when she sees a dog with a man's head (as opposed to Becky screaming when a dog is nearly run over), but the inclusion of Kevin McCarthy, acting much the way he does at the climax of the original film, while cute, also ruins the mood, coming off more comical than anything else. Director Philip Kaufman tries to create an air of disquiet by putting odd people in the backgrounds -- the aliens beginning to assert themselves, one supposes -- the oddest of whom is Robert Duvall, herein cast as a non-speaking priest on a child's swing. The director of the original, Don Siegel, plays a cab driver.

Verdict: Nice try, but the original is much, much better. **3/4. 


THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (1985). Director: Peter Masterson. 

A lovely, low-key movie and character study about an elderly woman, Carrie Watts (Geraldine Page, who won and deserved an Oscar), who desperately wants to go back to her childhood home for at least one last look. Carrie lives with her son, Ludie (John Heard) and daughter-in-law Jessie Mae (Carlin Glynn) in a small home and sometimes there is a definite strain. Based on Horton Foote's play (he also wrote the screenplay), the mood piece is moving because it invokes feelings of lost youth, distant times of (alleged) happiness, past regrets and wasted chances, and all the things that most human beings feel as they grow older. Still, the film primarily works because of Page's superb performance. She makes a woman that many of us would find quite tiresome in real life (what with her hymns and dumb religious assertions) perhaps more interesting than she deserves to be. Still she comes off as a very real person. Heard and Glynn are also quite good. Rebecca De Mornay and Richard Bradford are also notable as a fellow bus passenger and the local sheriff, respectively. One could quibble about certain things, but this is all about mood. 

Verdict. Quietly touching. ***.