Sunday, December 1, 2019

November Quick Picks and Pans

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) The wealthy and powerful Martha Ivers (now O’Neil) (Barbara Stanwyck) is married to meek district attorney hopeful Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas in his film debut). Both individuals harbor a dark secret about her past, which is brought to light when her childhood friend rolls into town. Van Heflin plays Sam Masterson, a man from the wrong side of the tracks with a shady agenda. Stanwyck presents a complex, morally ambiguous performance as Martha, who still holds a flame for Sam. Lizabeth Scott is also good as Toni Marachek, a young woman with a checkered past, who vies for Sam’s affections. Filled with intriguing characters and more twists than a mountain road, you’re never sure where it’s going until the final scene.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime

Criss Cross (1949) Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo star as Steve and Anna, formerly married, now locked in a risky affair. Despite warnings from his friends and family that she’s nothing but trouble, he keeps returning to Anna like a moth to a bug zapper. She’s now married to a dangerous crime boss Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), who begins to suspect something isn’t right. In order to nullify Slim’s concerns, Steve agrees to participate in an armored car heist. Meanwhile, Steve and Anna plot to double-cross Slim so they can be together again. Criss Cross illustrates how the heart may want what it wants, but it’s liable to drive you to ruin.

Rating: ****. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Bone Tomahawk (2015) The debut feature from writer/director S. Craig Zahler plays like a mix of The Searchers with The Hills Have Eyes. Kurt Russell stars as Sheriff Hunt, who leads a small posse to rescue his deputy (Evan Jonigkeit) and a young doctor, Samantha (Lili Simmons), from a band of cannibals. Zahler’s horror western is grim and gory, with moments of unexpected humor. Many of the lighter scenes can be attributed to Richard Jenkins as Chicory, Hunt’s eccentric second deputy with a postmodern sensibility and an unfortunate tendency to run off at the mouth. Bone Tomahawk is a disturbing, well-acted film that might not suit everyone’s taste, but it’s a refreshing departure from the expected.

Rating: ***½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Amazon Prime

Hangar 18 (1980) A decent cast and a wacky premise can’t save this dull conspiracy movie from seeming like a TV movie of the week with a slightly bigger budget. Space shuttle astronauts Steve Bancroft and Lew Price (Gary Collins and James Hampton) witness a fatal encounter with a UFO while they’re in orbit. Once they’re back on Earth, they’re pursued by feds (led by Robert Vaughn) that want to keep them quiet. While the chase is on, NASA official Harry Forbes (Darren McGavin, in an underwritten role) leads an elite team of scientists, who attempt to unlock the secrets of the captured alien spacecraft. Bad special effects, cheap looking sets and an uninspired UFO design elicit yawns rather than awe. It’s a shame the results are so lackluster. With the right filmmakers, this could have been fun.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Short Take: D.O.A.

(1949) Directed by Rudolph Maté; Written by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene; Starring: Edmond O'Brien, Pamela Britton, Luther Adler, Beverly Garland, Lynn Baggett and William Ching; Available on DVD, Kanopy and Amazon Prime 

Rating: **** 
“You knew who I was when I came in here today, but you were surprised to see me alive, weren’t you? But I’m not alive, Mrs. Phillips. Sure, I can stand here and talk to you, I can breathe, and I can move. But I’m not alive, because I did take that poison, and nothing can save me.” – Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien)

D.O.A.* starts off with a dynamite premise, told from the perspective of a man whose hours are numbered. In the opening scene, our protagonist, Frank Bigelow (Edmond O'Brien), arrives at a police station to report a murder – his own. The ensuing story, told in flashback, recounts his strange tale about how he came to be fatally poisoned, and his thirst for vengeance. His frenzied quest, as a man with nothing left to lose, takes him to Los Angeles (where the famous Bradbury Building makes an appearance) to track down a business associate, and back to San Francisco.

* Fun Fact: D.O.A. marks the film debut of Beverly Garland, who appears as Miss Foster, Mr. Phillips’ secretary.

As he’s introduced to us, Frank is a bit of a heel, but as the film progresses, he gradually becomes more sympathetic. He plans a solitary vacation to San Francisco, which doesn’t sit well with his co-dependent girlfriend/secretary Paula (Pamela Britton). Apparently never hearing the aphorism “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” she calls him repeatedly, sends a bouquet to his hotel room, and sensing that he’s in big trouble, travels to San Francisco to meet him. As obnoxious as her behavior seems on the surface, it serves to ground Frank, causing him to re-evaluate his relationship with her, and form a belated appreciation for her efforts.

In the space of a few days, Frank experiences all five stages of grief, as outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her book Death and Dying (Source: : 1) Denial – After he begins to feel a stomachache, a trip to the doctor confirms all isn’t well. Due to the poison he’s unwillingly ingested, he only has days to live. His incredulous reaction is understandable, given the circumstances (“This is a mistake. This could be a mistake.”); followed by 2) Anger – Unwilling to accept the bad news, Frank storms out of the office (“You’re crazy!”); 3) Bargaining – Frank visits another doctor, which only confirms the first prognosis; 4) Depression –This is best illustrated by the scene when Frank waits by a newsstand, watching happy couples pass by on the street. They’re presumably investing in bright futures – a future he and Paula will never share; and finally, 5) Acceptance – As indicated by the somber opening and closing scenes, Frank is resigned to his fate.

The filmmakers are purposefully coy about the poison, referring to the substance as “luminous toxin.” Judging by its glowing properties, we can deduce it’s something radioactive, but that’s about it. The end credits assert that luminous toxin is a real poison, but we’re left in the dark (pun intended) about what it is, specifically. The acting, along with the music from Dimitri Tiomkin, is turned up several notches, matching the frenetic pace of the film. This tone works well for Neville Brand’s memorable performance as Chester, a sadistic thug who takes pleasure in causing pain (He hits Frank in the stomach just to increase his suffering). D.O.A. packs a lot of entertainment in a scant 83 minutes, with a labyrinthine plot, ambiguous motivations, a host of colorful characters, and a fatalistic streak running throughout. If there’s one lesson the film teaches us, whatever you do, don’t notarize any illicit radium shipments.

One word of caution: Since this film is public domain, poor copies abound. The DVD I rented from Netflix looks like it was copied from VHS. Alas, there’s a better version streaming on Amazon Prime.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Some Belated Acknowledgements

Time has a nasty habit of getting away before you know it. Way back in January, I was nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award by the hardest working blogger on the web, Gill Jacob of Realweegie MidgetReviews. Fast forward several months to September, and I was nominated for the LiebsterAward by the wise and powerful Rebecca Deniston of Taking Up Room.  But as ‘80s TV pitchmen hawking their wares would say, “Wait, there’s more!” About a week ago, the dynamic duo of Michael Denney and Andrew Stephen from Maniacs and Monsters nominated me for the Sunshine Blogger Award. I’m truly fortunate to have met such wonderful people through Twitter and the movie blogging community.

 Rules? Where we’re going, we don’t need rules.  

Since this is a joint Versatile Blogger/Liebster/Sunshine post, I’m throwing out the rules, and simply acknowledging a few bloggers you ought to know. If you’re listed below, there’s no need to do anything – just give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done! If I’ve left anyone out, I sincerely apologize, and hope to get to you on the rebound.

Just to show that I haven’t gone completely off the rails I’ve listed seven facts about myself (per Gill’s challenge), and answered 11 questions apiece from Rebecca and the Maniacs and Monsters team.

But first, a tip of the hat to:

Ernie Fink of Until the Lights Go Up
Hanley Peterson of Patron Devil Book Reviews
Terence Towles Canote: A Shroud of Thoughts

…And a hearty “back at ‘ya” to: Realweegie Midget Reviews, Taking Up Room, and Maniacs and Monsters.

Seven Facts About Myself (Note: My apologies if some of these are recycled from earlier posts)

  1. I’ve lived in four states: California (my birthplace), Washington State, Texas and Pennsylvania.
  2. I've flown in a glider (what a view!).
  3. My wife and I met while working at a mom & pop video store – We will be celebrating our 27th wedding anniversary in February.
  4. My most prized convention trinket is a Hellraiser puzzle box signed by Clive Barker.
  5. I have an M.A. in Counseling, and two bachelor’s degrees, in English and Psychology.
  6. I’m an incurable roller coaster junkie. Many, many moons ago, I worked at Six Flags Magic Mountain (No, I wasn’t a ride operator).
  7.  I love the ocean and all things nautical. I don’t think I could ever live in a landlocked state.

My answers to Rebecca’s questions:

  1. If you were a plant, what kind would you be and why?
My knee-jerk reaction would be some sort of carnivorous plant, like Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. I’m not necessarily enamored by the diet, but world domination is a nice perk.
  1. What’s a talent you wish you had?
I wish I had some graphic arts training, so my blog was more aesthetically pleasing.
  1. Would you rather have coffee or tea?
Coffee is the fuel that got me through grad school a decade ago, and it keeps me blogging.
  1. You can own costumes and props from one film. Any era, any genre. Which film would you pick?
I’d go with Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956), although I understand he was recently purchased by a private collector for a princely sum.
  1. If you could have anyone follow your blog or your social media accounts, who would it be?
Guillermo del Toro. I think he’d be…mildly interested.
  1. Do you think vampires should sparkle?
Nope. Never, unless it’s for comic effect.
  1. Who’s your favorite film critic or historian?
Roger Ebert – His love of movies was contagious. He had such a lively writing style and an encyclopedic knowledge of film, yet somehow never sounded pedantic or pretentious. His writing continues to provide inspiration for me to do what I do.
  1. What are your top three must-play songs for a road trip?
Oh, it’s too hard to narrow down to three songs, but three artists I often feature on road trips are: David Bowie, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and T-Rex.
  1. Which film or films should not be remade under any circumstances?
Any of Hayao Miyazaki’s movies. They’re absolutely perfect as they are.
  1. Do you ever think you’d like to work in films instead of just writing about them?
At one time, I wanted to be a screenwriter, but that ship has sailed. I’d still love to appear in films in small but memorable roles. Hey if Sydney Greenstreet could do it, why can’t I?
  1. What’s your favorite thing about blogging?
Without question, my favorite thing is hearing readers comment that they learned about a movie they never knew about through my blog, and were prompted to watch it, based on my recommendation. It’s times like that that remind me why I blog about movies.   

And last but certainly not least, here are my responses to 11 more questions from Maniacs and Monsters:

  1. Do you consider yourself a fan of horror, averse to horror, or a patron of any genre including horror if it is entertaining?
I’m a lifelong fan of horror in its many forms, although slashers are generally not my thing.

  1. What is the first horror film you remember watching and what was your reaction?
The first I recall was Frankenstein (1931), watching it through my fingers (when the monster appeared) on my parents’ small RCA TV in their bedroom. Shameless plug: For more musings about the stuff that kept me awake at night, see my piece, “Scared Sh*tless in the ‘70s.” 

  1. What is your opinion of real-world paranormal activities such as ghosts, spiritualism, UFOs, cryptozoology, or extrasensory perception?
To quote Winston Zeddmore, “If there’s a steady paycheck, I’ll believe anything you say.” But seriously, I consider myself an empiricist – if it can’t be recorded or measured in some way, it’s not a real phenomenon. However, I remain open to the possibility of any of these things. As the late great Arthur C. Clarke was fond of saying, “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I’m afraid of them.”

  1. Have you ever had what you believe to be a paranormal experience or at least an experience you could not explain?

Not exactly, but I’ve visited places that had a strange “aura” about them, for lack of a better term. Nothing’s convinced me there were supernatural forces at work…yet.

  1. If you were cast in a horror movie, which of the following roles would you want and why:
    • last girl/guy
    • killer/monster
    • fodder for the slaughter
    • evil genius/mad scientist/cult leader
    • tortured soul
    • kick-ass hero/military leader
    • creepy caretaker/gas station attendant/neighbor/sea captain
    • member of the faceless zombie/demon/alien horde
    • wise stranger that warned those reckless kids

I’d probably be the “wise stranger,” although no one ever believes him//her. Just look at Crazy Ralph from the first two Friday the 13th movies, and see what happened to him. Hmm… On second thought, is it too late to opt for the “last guy?”

  1. Horror films, much like comedies, have been historically ignored by the Oscars. What horror film or horror performance do you feel deserved, but did not receive, recognition by the Academy?
I don’t hold a lot of stock in the Academy Awards – It seems the rule rather than exception that something I’d care to see wins. A couple of glaring omissions that spring to mind: Let the Right One In (2008) at least deserved a nomination for Best Foreign Language Film; Zelda Rubinstein should have received a Best Supporting Actress nod for Poltergeist (1982)

  1. Which subgenre of horror is most appealing to you (noting that these subgenres often overlap):
    • action horror
    • ‘B’ movies/camp
    • body horror
    • comedy horror
    • disaster/natural horror
    • giallo
    • gothic horror
    • horror thriller
    • kaiju
    • psychological horror
    • science fiction horror
    • slasher
    • splatter
    • supernatural horror
Psychological Horror (e.g., The Haunting) is my “go to” sub-genre. I love films that respect the intelligence of the audience, allowing us the freedom to fill in the blanks. On the other hand, there are times when only a good gothic horror from Hammer or Amicus will do.

  1. Assuming you observe Halloween, describe a favorite costume (scary or otherwise) that you have worn.
Nothing beats my old Megathor mask kit (see video below). I got a lot of mileage out of that mask over the years, adding LEDs to the eyes. To complete my costume, I wore a sweatshirt with a homemade glittery insignia and a bath towel cape. I miss my Megathor mask.  

  1. What is your greatest fear/phobia?
Crowds and social gatherings freak me out. I’m not a very social creature by design.
  1. You die only to awaken as a ghost, vampire, or zombie. What do you do?
After the initial shock has worn off, I accept my new reality. Sure, there’s the existential dread that goes along with being an ex-human, but I’ll try to make the best of things (Hey, this is me at my most optimistic).

  1. Darkness falls across the land. The alien invasion has begun. Civilization is collapsing.  The dead are returning from the grave. Cthulhu is rising from his eternal slumber. The Horsemen of the Apocalypse are on the ride. It’s the end of the world. You are among a small group boarding an experimental starship to escape to another galaxy. You are allowed to bring any three items of your choosing. What do you bring (and no fair bringing something ‘useful’)?
Does my Blu-ray/DVD collection count as one thing? If not, I’d have to flip a coin or choose a random number. I’d probably bring my camera (so I can document my journey) and new TV (I just bought it this year – I’m not parting with it).

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The Kiss of the Vampire

(1963) Directed by Don Sharp; Written by John Elder (aka: Anthony Hinds); Starring: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Noel Willman, Jennifer Daniel, Barry Warren, Jacquie Wallis and Isobel Black; Available on Blu-Ray and DVD

Rating: ****

“I decided straight away he was going to be a creature possessed of bloodlust and great sexual appetite. I focused on Ravna’s power.” – Noel Willman on his character, Dr. Ravna (from The Hammer Story, by Marcus Hearn and Alan Bates)

“I felt that the picture had to have a style about it, that it had to have a feeling of elegance and decadence.” – Don Sharp (from Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes, by Wayne Kinsey)

Note: This is an expanded version of a capsule review from July2015. After re-evaluating the film, I upped my star rating (did I mention I hate ratingmovies?).

Thanks (Or should I say “fangs”?) to Gabriela from PaleWriter for hosting Dark and Deep: The Gothic Horror Blogathon, a celebration of all things dark and mysterious. With this in mind, it was an easy choice for today’s review, one of the lesser-known but no less-deserving titles from the famed production company.

When you think of Hammer films and vampire movies, the first that likely come to mind are the Dracula films with Christopher Lee as the titular Count, and Cushing as his archnemesis, Professor Van Helsing. You might also bring up the Karnstein trilogy, which helped make stars of Ingrid Pitt, Madeline Smith, and the Collinson twins. Following the success of The Brides of Dracula (1960), Anthony Hinds set his sights on another vampire film – this time without the presence of Lee or Cushing (even Hammer stalwart Michael Ripper was otherwise occupied). Australian director Don Sharp was approached by Hinds to direct his first Hammer film. Although The Kiss of the Vampire was filmed in 1962,*/** problems with distribution (distributor Universal-International, feared that the film’s climactic swarm of bats was too similar to scenes in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, released in 1963) delayed its release in the States until 1963, and in the U.K. until 1964.

* Fun Fact #1: The Kiss of the Vampire was filmed back-to-back with The Old Dark House and Paranoiac.

** Fun Fact #2: Ever budget-conscious, numerous set pieces in The Kiss of the Vampire appeared in other Hammer films. The production/art design team of Bernard Robinson and Don Mingaye recycled set pieces from various productions: the same stained-glass window was used in The Old Dark House, a staircase was repurposed from Paranoiac, and the stone griffins from The Brides of Dracula were re-purposed for Ravna’s castle.

While traveling in the Bavarian mountains on their honeymoon, Gerald and Mariane Harcourt (Edward de Souza and Jennifer Daniel) run out of gas. The nearby village appears deserted; likewise, the dust-coated inn where they decide to spend the night is suspiciously bereft of guests. The innkeeper and his wife, Bruno and Anna (Peter Madden and Vera Cook) are accommodating, but reticent about the conditions of the village, or Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), who resides in the nearby castle. Gerald soon discovers that their troubles have only begun, as Ravna fixes his sights on Mariane as his newest disciple.

It’s been said that vampire films (and by extension depictions of vampirism) reflect the times in which they’re made, and The Kiss of the Vampire is no exception. In this case, the central theme (the wealthy preying on the impoverished) is just as relevant today. When Ravna entertains Gerald and Mariane at his castle, he does little to mask his disdain for the common folk in the village, stating, “It often happens in life that the most beautiful things are made from the most unpromising of materials, don’t you find?” He further comments about the wine they’re drinking as being “made from grapes trampled by the feet of a peasant.” At once this reveals his attitude toward those less fortunate, but it’s also an indication about how he views his disciples, having saved them from a lesser existence. We learn that the innkeepers live in fear of Ravna, after he took away their daughter Tania (Isobel Black), who now serves as one of his undead minions.

Isobel Black makes an impressive film debut as Tania. She has few lines and relatively little screen time, but her presence makes a big impression, bringing an overt sexuality to the role. In one of the film’s more memorable scenes, set in a fog-shrouded graveyard, she claws at the dirt, in an attempt to recover one of her cohorts. Co-star (and headliner) Jennifer Daniel is nearly upstaged by Black’s mischievous, almost feral performance.

Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans) is first seen in the film’s stunning opening scene, where he impales his daughter’s coffin with a shovel. He’s sort of an alcoholic version of Van Helsing, drowning his sorrows in liquor after he lost his daughter to Ravna. Evans plays his character with zealous conviction – Zimmer doesn’t want to see history repeat with Mariane, vowing to destroy Ravna and his followers (“forcing evil to destroy itself”). In a cringey scene that’s surpassed only by Cushing in The Brides of Dracula (1960), he burns his arm over an open flame to ameliorate a bite he sustained from Tania.

As a protagonist, Gerald is a bit on the obtuse side, managing to get drugged twice in the movie. The first time, he drinks a glass of “special” champagne at Ravna’s masquerade ball. In the second instance, Zimmer gets the best of him, before he can impulsively run off to Ravna’s castle to rescue his wife, sans a solid plan. On the other hand, Gerald deserves credit where it’s due. During an initiation ritual, Tania scratches his chest, leaving streaks of blood. In what can only be described as one of the most “metal” moments in Hammer history, he smears the blood in the form of a cross, thwarting her ambitions.  

The Kiss of the Vampire features some extraordinary sets and art direction. As mentioned in Fun Fact #2, the production design wizards at Hammer were masters at doing more with less, repurposing and re-arranging sets and set pieces until they looked like they were purpose-built for this production. In the masquerade sequence, our eyes are treated to a ballroom festooned with a colorful menagerie of paper lanterns, complemented by an equally colorful, bizarre assortment of masks (I’m not sure if Stanley Kubrick was a fan, but the masks and secret society element seem to parallel one sequence of Eyes Wide Shut). Overall, the movie looks like a much more expensive production – that is, until the final effects sequence, in which a swarm of fake, barely mobile bats* on visible wires spoil the illusion.  

* Fun Fact #3: 21 bats were manufactured by the prop department, but additional bats were purchased from several local Woolworths stores.

Sharp proved his mettle as a director for Hammer with this film (On a side note, isn’t “Sharp” the perfect name for a director of a movie with fanged creatures of the night? Okay, I’ll see myself out…), and would go on to direct other projects for the production company, The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) and Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966). If you can look past the underwhelming ending, the rest of the film works quite well. It warrants re-evaluation by Hammer and non-Hammer fans alike, delivering everything you might expect in a gothic horror film. Don’t let the paucity of Hammer regulars fool you. The Kiss of the Vampire is a Hammer vampire film that compares with the best of them.

Sources for this article: The Hammer Story, by Marcus Hearn and Alan Bates; Hammer Films: The Unsung Heroes, by Wayne Kinsey

Sunday, October 27, 2019

October Quick Picks and Pans – Horror Month 2019

The Evil (1978) Psychologist C.J. Arnold and his wife Caroline (Richard Crenna and Joanna Pettet) begin renovations on a decrepit antebellum mansion with the help of some volunteers. Before long, it becomes clear that the house wants them dead or at least prisoners. Meanwhile, a spectral visitor appears to warn Caroline. Most of the story is predictable, with the usual assortment of things that go bump in the night, followed by the requisite disbelieving husband (she’s a medical doctor, damn it!). What pushes this over the top from a pedestrian haunted house movie is the climactic confrontation with Satan, played with gusto by Victor Buono. Give it a try.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD and Amazon Prime

The Bells (1926) Director James Young directed this filmed version of a stage play, which in turn was based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Mathias, a tavern owner (Lionel Barrymore) who’s deep in debt, murders a traveling merchant with an axe. He profits from the merchant’s gold, but his troubles are just beginning. While the police and the merchant’s brother search for the murderer, he’s pursued by a mesmerist, played by Boris Karloff, who claims to have the power to discern between lies and truth. Barrymore is convincing as a man haunted by his conscience as he confronts the merchant’s ghost. Unfortunately, the film’s execution is a little too straightforward for the subject matter, which could have benefited from a more dreamlike approach. Despite the uninspired visuals and a tepid conclusion, it’s worth checking out for Barrymore and Karloff’s performances.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD

Mausoleum (1983) A woman possessed by a centuries-old family curse (Bobbie Bresee) becomes a lusty demon, and an ancient* crypt (adorned with green lights, fog and multiple rats) appears to hold the secret. No one seems to question when the people around her start dying, and her bland, patronizing husband (Marjoe Gortner) remains clueless about the strange occurrences in their house. It’s up to her psychologist (Norman Burton) to set things right. Don’t try to make any sense out of it – you’ll probably end up hurting your brain. It’s good dumb fun, and not much else. Sometimes, however, that’s all you need from a movie.

* How this centuries-old crypt ended up in an L.A. cemetery (judging from the palm trees) is anyone’s guess.

Rating: ***. Available on DVD (out of print) and Amazon Prime

The Corpse Grinders (1971) This cheapie from Ted V. Mikels is basically Sweeney Todd for cats. As a cost-saving measure, the owners of Lotus Cat Food (a poster advertises “For cats who like people”) decide to find a new cheap source of meat (cue the ominous music), dead people. The cans are flying off the shelves as fast as they can manufacture it, and cats dig the stuff, but the felines develop a taste for human flesh. A burned out, alcoholic MD and his nurse-girlfriend (Sean Kenney and Monika Kelly) decide to investigate the dastardly goings-on at the Lotus plant. Bad movie fans will find lots to love, with the cheap sets (we never see more than one room of the “hospital,” and the pet food plant consists of an office and a small basement), bad acting and unbelievable plot. The Corpse Grinders is more fun than it has a right to be, even if it isn’t “good” by most sane definitions.

Rating: ***. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Tubi

Grace (2009) Writer/director Paul Solet’s debut feature recalls early Cronenberg (The Brood) and Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) with its subject matter and squirmy scenes. After suffering injuries in an automobile accident that kills her husband, mother-to-be Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd) fears that her baby is also dead. The child isn’t stillborn, although something’s not quite right. Madeline soon discovers that the infant thirsts for blood, and flies keep gathering around the crib. The film toys with themes of enmeshment, loyalty, and how a mother’s love conquers all, but doesn’t quite reach the heights it aspires to. The ending does little to wrap things up, suggesting a sequel that never occurred. It’s a rough sketch with some interesting moments, but it could have been so much more.

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Death Bed, the Bed that Eats (1977) I’m not sure how (or why) this movie was made – Is it a joke or is the joke on us? Narrated by a dead artist whose spirit resides behind a painting, we learn of the titular monster’s (I’m using the term “monster” loosely) beginnings, as a demon’s tears seep into a bed, creating a cursed piece of furniture that (ahem) eats anyone who dares to get too close. It’s a decidedly absurd premise for an absurd movie. Since the bed can’t run after anyone, the script must provide contrived reasons for people to end up in compromised positions. The results are about as good as you could expect, although it’s never boring.

Rating: **½. Available on DVD and Kanopy

The Vineyard (1989) This oddity from co-writer/co-director James Hong feels like it was cobbled together from several other (better) flicks. Hong stars as Dr. Elson Po, a wealthy vintner who’s discovered the secret to longevity through a jade amulet (combined with some bloodletting). A group of vapid 20-somethings are invited to his island enclave/winery under the auspices of a movie audition. Naturally, they don’t know they’re about to be harvested. Some of his victims, past and present, reside in a dungeon, while others squirm in the ground as zombies (how they got to be that way is never satisfactorily explained). The scattershot story is all over the board, filled with incompetent henchmen, and guests doing stupid things. Hong seems to be enjoying himself, though.

Horror fans, take note: Dr. Po’s estate is none other than the Dunsmuir House in Oakland, California, which featured prominently in Burnt Offerings (1976) and Phantasm (1979).

Rating: **½. Available on Blu-ray, DVD and Tubi

Blackenstein (aka: Black Frankenstein) (1973) Eddie (Joe De Sue) returns from Vietnam, missing his arms and legs.  All is not lost, however, when his fiancée, Dr. Winifred Walker (Ivory Stone) consults with her colleague Dr. Stein (John Hart), who’s developed a DNA-infused serum (don’t ask me how this is supposed to work). Dr. Stein successfully grafts new arms and legs (the film never addresses how Dr. Stein acquires the limbs) on Eddie, but the doctor’s jealous assistant tampers with the serum, turning him into a deadly, unstoppable monster.  No one seems to notice the nightly rampages or bothers to keep him secure. Also, except for his assault on a sadistic hospital orderly, there’s no rhyme or reason to his attacks. With its bad acting, bad makeup, and awful story this probably isn’t the blaxploitation horror you’re looking for. My advice: steer clear, and see Blacula instead.

Rating: **. Available on Blu-ray, DVD, Amazon Prime and Kanopy