This is going to be the start of something I hope to update at least every few days. I have, in my possession, a few of the Mill Creek Entertainment multi-movie sets. They sell things like 50 Science Fiction Classics and 10,000 Ways to Die: 12 Classic Spaghetti Westerns . So, naturally, I had to pick up something titled 50 Horror Classics . It even has Lon Chaney Sr. on the cover as the Phantom!
I think it cost maybe 10 bucks? Yeah. WalMart special, folks. So, anyway, me being the supposed nutball about horror that I am I started looking over the listing of the films. So, one thing you notice right away aside from the "Featuring" billing on the cover is there is a TON of Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Sr. and even a few Vincent Price flicks in this collection. Not to say they didn't make some real bad movies because they did but usually those flicks are going to be the more tolerable of the bunch. These are bare bones releases, as to be expected, with no features other than a movie on the disc. Some of them even have 3 to a SIDE. Yes! I'll have to flip the discs over to watch some of these! BEEN A WHILE!
They snuck a few Roger Corman low-budget rush jobs in here too. Between the actual horror classics and the random schlockiness this should be a pretty boffo set! That's right. Boffo.
So. Let's start from the beginning shall we? Disc 1. Side 1.
Carnival of Souls (1962) - Unrated - 91 minutes
A drag race takes two cars down a rickety bridge. There is a brief collision between the two and one of the vehicles careens into the murky river below. This awful scene is bookended by a woman standing on the riverbank covered in mud and looking so very bewildered. She, the lone survivor, attempts to sort out her life soon after and heads off to a new town after taking a job as a church organist. She attempts to lead a normal life but keeps finding herself drawn to a run-down carnival on the outskirts of town. She starts seeing ghouls everywhere and even finds herself unable to interact with anyone around her at times (as if, perhaps, she were invisible. Hey there M. Night ? Remember that?). She soon cannot resist the siren's call of the carnival anymore only to find that those ghouls she's been seeing have congregated there. She is swept up in the madness and then we're back at the river. The car, which was never found prior, is dredged up from the riverbed. Mary's corpse, just like the other girls, is still inside.
Ghost stories are tough to pull off honestly. Most horror tends to be about make-up, effects and gore. Atmosphere and good scripting/pacing are much harder to execute and the 60's proved this to be true. Gone were the early years of horror where atmosphere, dread and acting were essential to the crafting of a horror film. Now we had things like I Was A Teenage Frankenstein and Corman's latest stinker (to be fair most were the enjoyable sort of bad movie). Drive-in movies were the rage and thus not much thought was put into these chillers of the 60's.
This is where Herk Harvey, a man with 30,000 dollars and an idea comes in. He, prior to directing his one and only film, made training films for the Kansas based corporate and educational film company Centron. You know those usually schlocky office behavior videos that MST3K and RiffTrax likes to make fun of? Those. He had an idea for a ghost story. He got some of his friends together who, at the time, were hardly what you would call actors for the most part and used Lawrence, Kansas and the Salt-Air Pavilion in Salt Lake City, Utah. The sets were nearly as important as anything else in this movie. The carnival, in particular, had such an ominous look to it. It really helped to sell the last act.
What is interesting about this film is not that the sound is fucking atrocious. It is so bad at times I had to repeat a few scenes because of the blaring organ music (which there is an abundant supply of) or dialogue that is so tinny at times I hard trouble catching all the words. The DVD transfer is horrible but, then again, it's not like the source was all that great. This is also part of a 50 movie compilation. So, we must cut it some slack. No, what was interesting about this movie is that you can see that this is the beginning of a lot of other things that would spring up in the horror genre later on down the road.
Watch this film and tell me George Romero didn't crib the stark black-and-white style of it for Night of the Living Dead. The low budget really works to it's advantage here as this move straddles the line between serious and camp at times but, for the most part, presents itself with a ghastly seriousness that was nice to see. There is nary a special effect in this aside from a little camera trickery and a few wavy lines when we start to have a blurring of realities.
One of the best scenes involves Mary, doing her best Janet Leigh here (played by Candace Hilligoss - Seriously. She's a hottie.) going through a department store looking for a dress. She attempts to talk to one of the women helping her prior but she doesn't hear her. The sound slowly drops out and, here, there isn't any of that organ music. It's just the sound of her heels hitting the ground as the rest of the world moves on without her. It was in this moment that it became clear what the reality of her situation was but, ultimately, I can imagine seeing this back in 1962 and it being pretty damn shocking.
This was one hell of a way to start off this movie pack! The imagery presented within is, at times, genuinely creepy and is really a must-see if you're a fan of the genre. I had watched this once before but it was during a late night TCM watch-a-thon and I got lost in the murky dark of sleep. I didn't quite make it all the way through. I knew of this movie but this is the first time I've ever sat down and watched it. It's interesting how you see that things in this movie have been imitated countless times after. Romero, Tobe Hooper and even John Carpenter all followed in the footsteps of Herk Harvey. The acting, if amateurish for the most part at times, is decent enough and Hilligoss does a fine job. The music is awful and foreboding, as it should be, despite the quality of it. It isn't the best quality and it's clear this was TOTALLY made for 30k but it kept me intrigued up until the very end. It was a huge leap forward for horror as the last thing anyone had done of value since the 30's was Hitchcock's Psycho . It has all those higher-tier B-Movie qualities that I love but, honestly, this is better than that. It got added to the Criterion Collection for fuck's sake.
We're off to a good start. What's next? ..Holy crap. Atom Age Vampire?
So, this is an Italian film that has been dubbed into English. Oh boy. Also there really aren't any vampires in it. The fuck. FALSE ADVERTISING.
So, we begin with we have Jeanette having an argument with her boyfriend. I guess she's a go-go dancer or perhaps a checkout clerk at a local Italian Kroger's. Whatever it is her boyfriend is PISSED about it. She is upset and crashes on her way from the strip club/store. Her car bursts into a FIREBALL as it skids off the highway. She is scarred, though only on her face sorta. Like a fourth of her face. She is rather whiny and woe is me about it until Monique shows up offering her a potential cure for her "condition". Radiation therapy! Hell yeah! Atomic age!
He gives her the treatment which clears that scarring issue right up. She's not hideous anymore! Though it only really looked like someone slapped a bit of lumpy oatmeal onto her cheek prior. Now that Jeanette is all gussied up and ready to go to the diner it seems that Dr. Levin, the man in question giving her the treatment, is rather taken with her. Monique, the woman from earlier and also his lab tech (who is also WAAAAY WAAAAAY more attractive) is kinda pissed that the good Doc is throwing himself Jeanette's way.
So, in a show of good faith, Dr. Levin pulls a Bruce Banner and turns himself into a terrible monster so he can go out and kill women so that his newfound love's beauty can remain permanent. Now that's a boyfriend! Here's the thing. He isn't a vampire. He's just a mutant? Yeah. That's it. He just kills broads and brings the parts back to fix up Jeanette. He begins with Monique (Seriously dude? Kill the non-crazy smart one first huh? MEN, HUH? AM I RIGHT GIRLS?) and so forth. The authorities get wise and things come to a head. Things happen.. and.. yeah. People die. This wasn't very good.
The first problem is the English dub. I got used to it after a few minutes but what was worst was the music. There were these jaunty jazz numbers juxtaposed with supposed scenes of high drama. AWFUL. The editing is pretty bad along with the fact that, even for a movie made in 1960, it just looks bad. It's a bad sign when the movie prior to this, Carnival of Souls , looks better overall than this one with a bigger budget.
It was fun in parts but ultimately even for a "Bad" movie it was just bad. Not much good to come from it other than the monster makeup. Surprisingly grotesque but not much to be found in the monster or the transformation sequences. Pretty lame. It also takes WAY too long to get to that point. I mean CRAP. It nearly made me wait like 45 minutes to see this hokey monster! What gives?!
Mostly it just sucked because no one was really likable at all. The Doctor is a douchebag. Jeanette is a whiner. Monique sucks too despite being nice to look at. Pierre is dumb too.
Well! That's it! Disc 1 Side 1 is complete! Fuck. Talk about a study in contrast. Carnival of Souls was fantastic but that Atom Age Vampire bullshit? Damn it! Tune in next week to find out whether I can sit through a Roger Corman double-feature that includes one of his absolute best bad films (Creature from the Haunted Sea ) and one of the most atrocious he ever did, Nightmare Castle . Fuck me. I hope I don't buy a gun soon after and cut this series short! Tune in, folks! I'll have the next two up in the coming days.