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

Thursday, October 27, 2022



Enjoy some pumpkin pie while perusing these reviews of horror flicks, and then put on one of your favorite fright films!


And if you're looking for a creepy read, don't forget the SCHOELLECTION: four volumes of paperback books with two vintage Schoell horror novels each. Also available as e-books from Cemetery Dance publishers. 

Not to mention my non-fiction books on THE HORROR COMICS and CREATURE FEATURES. Kindle and book editions available on Amazon!


Unraveling: Terry O'Quinn
THE STEPFATHER (1987). Director: Joseph Ruben. 

A man who calls himself Jerry Blake (Terry O'Quinn) is married to a lovely woman named Susan (Shelley Hack) and is stepfather to a teenage girl named Stephanie (Jill Schoelen of Billionaire Boys Club). Widowed Susan is starry-eyed in love, while Stephanie is much more wary of her new "dad." Neither of them know -- as we do -- that "Jerry" slaughtered his previous family and changed his appearance and identity. When Stephanie finds out about the horrible murders in another town, and that the perpetrator is still on the loose, she determines to discover exactly who "Jerry Blake" really is -- if she lives that long. 

Jill Schoelen and Terry O'Quinn
The Stepfather
-- scripted by Donald E. Westlake -- is an absorbing suspense film that is greatly bolstered by the performances, especially that of O'Quinn. who makes a highly compelling sociopath. Jerry also has to deal with Steph's psychiatrist, Dr. Bondurant (Charles Lanyer) -- and deal with him he does! -- and Jim Ogilvie (Stephen Shellen), the brother of Jerry's last, dear departed wife. The film builds to a very dramatic and explosive climax. If there is one problem with the movie, it's that there are an awful lot of loose ends and the police seem incredibly inept. This was followed by two sequels and was remade in 2009. 

Verdict: A cut above a slasher flick. ***.       


TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976). Director: Peter Sykes.

Author John Verney (Richard Widmark), who frequently writes on the occult, is importuned by a frightened man named Beddows (Denholm Elliott) to look after his daughter, Catherine (Nastassja Kinski), after she arrives in London. Catherine is a nun who belongs to the Church of the Children of the Lord, a sect that worships Astaroth. The leader of the church, Father Michael (Christopher Lee), is anxious to get his hands on Catherine because of certain bloody rites that must be performed. Initially sweet and compliant, Sister Catherine eventually becomes a danger to Verney's friends, including his literary agent Anna (Honor Blackman) and her boyfriend David (Anthony Valentine). Catherine makes her way to Father Michael as her own father writhes in terror and Verney learns what he can do to fight against the god -- or devil -- Astaroth's entry into earth via Catherine (or something like that). 

To the Devil a Daughter is a co-release of Hammer Studios but don't expect a Hammer classic with this atrocious movie. Most of the actors give it their all (one suspects Widmark wishes he had stayed in America) but they're fighting a losing battle with a hopelessly erratic script and sequences that are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. The last quarter of the film is hilarious, especially a sequence when a character is embroiled in fire and reduced to ashes so quickly that it is more comical than frightening. A bit of business in which a woman commits suicide by draining all of her blood into those special plastic bags turns hysterical when Chris Lee intones with consummate understatement: "she gave her life's blood." An orgy sequence is equally laughable. It's hard to imagine how anything could have been made out of this awful movie, which even Chris Lee can't save. 

Verdict: One of the worst Hammer movies ever made. *1/2. 


THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (aka Die Schlagengruber und das Pendel/1967). Director: Harald Reinl. 

35 years ago Count Regula (Christopher Lee) murdered 12 virgins in an attempt to gain immortality. For his trouble, he was drawn and quartered as his two chief accusers stood watching. Now the descendants of these people, Roger Mont Elise (Lex Barker) and Baroness Lillian (Karin Dor), have received an invitation to the crumbling old Castle Regula, both unaware of what transpired in the past. Accompanying them by coach are Lillian's maid Babette (Christiane Rucker) and the rather shady Father Fabian (Vladimir Medar). 

The first half of the film is a protracted journey through a creepy forest in which trees have limbs growing out of them and skeletons are hanging from nooses. At the castle the group run into the long-dead Anatol (Carl Lange), the count's major domo, who plans to bring the count back to life. Wanting his revenge, the revived count places Roger under a slowly descending pendulum even as Lillian is nearly thrown into a pit full of writhing snakes. Yes, this is a very loose adaptation of Poe's classic The Pit and the Pendulum

Pitiful victim of "Dr. Sadism"
Although one could certainly quibble with some aspects of the screenplay, Torture Chamber not only holds the attention but has some classy and macabre art direction and is colorful in every sense of the word. Lex Barker appeared in several West German films and eurospy movies after he wrapped up his run as Tarzan. Karin Dor was a German actress who appeared with Barker more than once and was also in You Only Live Twice. Christopher Lee only appears in the prologue and at the very end and probably did all of his scenes in a couple of days  -- he appears to be the only actor who isn't dubbed. Carl Lange certainly makes an impression as Anatol.

Verdict: Fun horror film from West Germany that has some of the qualities of Italian horror features. ***. 


 NEW YEAR'S EVIL (1980). Director: Emmett Alston. 

Diane Sullivan (Roz Kelley) is a famous Los-Angeles based DJ known as "Blaze." During a New Year's Eve celebration at a hotel, she gets a phone call from a man with a disguised voice who tells her that he will kill one person each time it strikes midnight in a different time zone (he himself stays in Los Angeles). Blaze isn't certain whether or not to take the call seriously but calls in the police, who tell her that a dead body was discovered just where the killer said it would be. As cops try to track down the maniac and guard Blaze, the killer proceeds to put on one disguise after another as he dispatches women and the occasional man who gets in his way. 

New Year's Evil is a fairly zesty slasher that relies on some suspense and interesting developments instead of extreme gore. There's a clever bit involving a dumpster, an amusing protracted sequence when the murderer has to run from a gang of motorcycling morons, and a good twist as to the identity of the mad slasher. A decided weakness is the lackluster performance of Roz Kelly, who isn't even convincing when she is supposedly dangling from the bottom of an ascending elevator car. She is best known as Fonzie's girlfriend Pinky Toscadero on Happy Days, although she only appeared in three episodes. After this film, she had only five more credits. Kip Niven and Grant Cramer [Killer Klowns from Outer Space] are better as Blaze's neglected husband and son. 

Verdict: Minor but entertaining psycho-thriller with some exciting sequences. **3/4. 


INVISIBLE GHOST (1941). Director: Joseph H. Lewis.

Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) lives in his creepy mansion with his daughter, Virginia (Polly Ann Young), and a household staff which includes the black butler Evans (Clarence Muse). Kessler's wife (Betty Compson of Escort Girl) ran off with a lover who was killed in an accident even as Mrs. K's body disappeared. She is presumed dead, but actually the gardener (!), Jules (Ernie Adams), has somehow managed to hide the woman in a chamber below the garage. Periodically she escapes confinement, and when her husband spots her poking in the window or prowling the grounds, he has a psychotic episode, throws his cloak over his victim, and suffocates or strangles them. (This is revealed very early on in the film.) As the movie  opens there have already been a number of murders and the latest is of the maid, Cecile (Alice Dahl). Virginia's very handsome fiance, Ralph (John McGuire, who also plays Ralph's twin brother), becomes a suspect when it is discovered that he argued with Cecile, a former girlfriend, shortly before her death. There are tragic consequences to this but the murders continue.

Lugosi in a contemplative mood
You don't expect all old movies of this nature to necessarily proceed upon a logical course or have any veracity when it comes to police investigations, forensic evidence and the like, but Invisible Ghost -- one of Lugosi's cheapie creepies for Monogram studios -- is especially ludicrous, with huge dangling loose ends that pretty much make the whole enterprise seem ridiculous. Lugosi manages to hold on to his dignity despite this, and the others are generally on target. I was impressed by Clarence Muse [In the Meantime, Darling], who also plays his role with dignity -- no jabbering or eye rolling for him, typical of this talented performer. (The artwork for the poster gives him a bug-eyed appearance that he never displays in the film itself.) While some may feel that McGuire's chief asset seems to be his good looks and wavy hair, he actually gave a very good performance in Stranger on the Third Floor the year before. The film is more than competently directed by John H. Lewis, but the screenplay is a true stinker. Lugosi and company deserved better.

Verdict: Lugosi gives this a professional gloss but the script is hopeless. *1/2. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022


On the moors with Holmes and Watson
(1939). Director: Sidney Lanfield. 

"Oh, Watson, the needle." 

This is the first of two Sherlock Holmes films made by Twentieth Century-Fox and the first in which the wonderful Basil Rathbone created perhaps the definitive movie portrayal of the famous detective -- he is simply outstanding. The plot has to do with Holmes and Watson (Nigel Bruce) trying to save the life of an heir (Richard Greene) while dealing with rumors of the huge title beast roaming the foggy moors where the story takes place. John Carradine has a small role as a servant, and Wendy Barrie is the love interest. Lionel Atwill, who played Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty in a later film, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, is excellent in the more sympathetic role of Dr. Mortimer. Mary Gordon played Mrs. Hudson for the first time in this picture. Barlowe Borland scores as the cranky, litigious old Frankland. Morton Lowry is fine as John Stapleton. The 1959 color remake is also quite creditable, and some may feel it has the slight edge. Followed by The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 

Verdict: Fine introduction to the Rathbone portrayal. ***.


Bill Carter and Catherine |McLeod
I'VE ALWAYS LOVED YOU (1946).  Director/producer: Frank Borzage.

Famous pianist and conductor Leopold  Goronoff (Philip Dorn of Zeigfeld Girl) , who is quite a chauvinist, takes pretty Myra Hassmann (Catherine McLeod of So Young, So Bad) under his wing and teaches her everything he knows, although he seems to feel that no woman could ever be a true artist. At her first concert at Carnegie Hall, the audience seems to feel differently and Goronoff's jealousy causes him to make a foolish decision. Myra marries handsome farmer George (Bill Carter) and settles down, but years later her daughter Georgette (Vanessa Brown) starts on her own career. Will Myra's path cross with Goronoff's, and what will happen to all concerned when they do? 

Dorn and McLeod at Carnegie Hall
I've Always Loved You, like many romantic movies, throws logic to the wind and glosses over so much that it almost seems like a fantasy film. The ending, although satisfying in some ways, is especially ridiculous -- someone who played one concert 17 years ago gives another at Carnegie Hall without any rehearsal or prior announcement -- sure! Dorn gives a good performance in one of his largest roles, although James Mason might have done more with it. Catherine McLeod, who acquits herself quite nicely, did mostly television work. Bill Carter is appealing, but at times he's so nice that he's borderline cloying. One suspects he was trying to cover up his English accent as he is playing an American farmer. Apparently he didn't impress the right people because this was his last film role for over fifteen years.  

Bill Carter
There are also some excellent supporting performances in this, including Fritz Feld as Goronoff's long-suffering manager; Elizabeth Patterson as Myra's nanny and housekeeper; and especially Maria Ouspenskaya as Goronoff's very loving and wise "bubushka" or grandmother. The film moves at a good pace and is filmed in truly gorgeous Technicolor. But no matter how good the acting, the fact remains that most of the movie's power comes from Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, which of course was also used the year before in the far, far superior Brief Encounter. I've Always Loved You came from Republic Studios, once famous for its serials. In fact one of Catherine McLeod's earliest roles was as a dancer in The Tiger Woman

Verdict: Beautiful concert sequences tied to a rather contrived and foolish plot. **1/2. 


BEYOND TOMORROW (1940). Director: A. Edward Sutherland. 

Three elderly millionaires (Charles Winninger, Harry Carey, C. Aubrey Smith) get involved in the life of a handsome young singer, James (Richard Carlson), whom they meet on Christmas Eve, even after all three are killed in a plane crash. This rather silly, occasionally touching, movie presents the after-life as a misty limbo with voices calling you either up or down to you-know-where. There is a big difference between honest sentiment and sappiness, which this movie doesn't seem to realize. Jean Parker and Helen Vinson are the two women who get involved with Carlson. Frankly, it's irritating watching these ghosts trying to influence what a grown man should do, just as it's somewhat misogynous to suggest that the supposedly "bad" (or sexier) woman in the story is responsible for every terrible thing that happens. It's a pleasure to see Maria Ouspenskaya being warm, pleasant and grandmotherly instead of muttering gypsy curses. 

Verdict: This is no It's a Wonderful Life but it has its moments, however rare. **.


(1944). Director: John H. Auer. 

Daniel Arland (Alan Dinehart) goes to sea engaged to two different women -- Carol (Virginia Mayo) and Lucy (Amelita Ward) -- but his heart really belongs to Annabelle (Elaine Shepard). He has two buddies played by the strikingly mediocre team of dull Wally Brown and the thick-lipped, especially repellent Alan Carney. There's a midget-like girl singer named Dot Diamond (Marcy McGuire) who sings a snappy number now and then. But the most memorable scene in this mostly unmemorable movie is when Margaret Dumont, the Marx Brothers' favorite foil, warbles "Far Over the Waves" and is deliberately awful. 

Verdict: Seven days too many. **.


Rita Hayworth and Glenn Ford
(1965). Director: Burt Kennedy. 

Cop Joe Baron (Glenn Ford) is married to Lisa (Elke Sommer), and they have serious money troubles. When Dr. Horace Van Tilden (Joseph Cotten) shoots a burglar in his house, it turns out that the burglar's wife is Baron's old girlfriend, Rosalie (Rita Hayworth). Then there's Baron's partner, Pete (Ricardo Montalban), who would also like to get his hands on some green. I won't give away any of the twists or plot developments because that's about all this picture has going for it. Despite the gun play, love scenes, and so on, this is remarkably dull. Elke Sommer is as inadequate as ever, but the rest of the cast, especially Hayworth, is fine. This just never really comes to life. 

Verdict: A waste of money. *1/2.