Monday, November 24, 2008

Long In The Tooth: The Werewolf(1956)

There are a lot of horror movies from the 1950's and 1960's that were made on modest(or less than modest) budgets and have "flown under the radar", so to speak. One of the purposes of this blog is to promote these kinds of movies which, despite their budget limitations, provide a better than average return of entertainment value. One such film I believe does exactly that is The Werewolf, released in 1956, directed by Fred Sears and starring a then unknown actor named Steven Ritch in the title role.

The film's story: a lone man enters a small town's bar, disoriented and clearly traumatized. He seeks solace from a glass of whiskey and the warmth of a nearby fireplace but neither work. After departing the bar he is assaulted by a burly, and greedy bar patron-their scuffle ends up in a dark alley where the bar patron is killed, his throat slashed, the killer fleeing into the woods. Subsequently, another man is attacked in the neighboring woods, which prompts a manhunt for the killer, who has left some strange footprints in the snow. Meanwhile, two men, scientists, enter town looking for the killer as well. The killer is in fact one Duncan Marsh, an average, everyday guy who, we learn, was injured in an auto accident, "rescued" by the two scientists, and injected with a mysterious serum which causes Marsh to transform into a very hostile werewolf. Marsh, now hunted by both the law and the two scientists, seeks refuge in the surrounding countryside and woods outside the town limits. Marsh's wife and son arrive and help the sheriff coax him out from hiding. While in a jail cell the two scientists responsible for Marsh's condition secretly enter his cell(after knocking out the deputy), only to be surprised by the werewolf, not Marsh! The werewolf immediately preys on and kills both scientists, then escapes into the woods once more...(no spoilers).

Observations: This movie is a solid, creepy affair. Marsh is a very sympathetic character, a father and husband who through no fault of his own has had his life altered, irreparably as it turns out, by two nefarious and unethical scientists. The surrounding woods and rugged terrain used for many of this movie's shots adds to the creepy tone of the film, which is shot in black and white. The use of shadows is also expertly done, especially the "alley" skirmish at the beginning of the movie, and the scene where the two scientists sneak into Marsh's cell, thinking(incorrectly) that he is still Marsh. Duncan Marsh himself comes across as a genteel, sensitive fellow when not the beast. Give actor Steven Ritch credit for conveying these things about the character, which adds a tragic element to the man he plays in this movie.

This film used to appear on AMC's Monsterfest, though I have not seen it on this cable channel in recent years. After what seemed like an eternity this film has been officially released to Region 1 DVD as part of the Icons Of Horror Collection-Sam Katzman DVD set. Here's the link to this DVD set for sale at

For any fans of horror, especially those fans of werewolves, who have not seen this movie I highly recommend this melancholy and creepy classic!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Shell Game: Giant Monster Gamera(1965)

While Godzilla justifiably dominates many discussions of giant monsters on internet message boards there is another monster from the Orient that has also enjoyed quite a big screen career as well: Gamera. This monster made its debut in 1965 in a black and white, letterboxed film released theatrically by Daiei Studios, the movie called Giant Monster Gamera.

Like any "origin story" film this movie goes about introducing Gamera to those watching the film. The storyline: a mysterious country(presumably the U.S.S.R.) drops an atomic bomb at the Arctic(near the North Pole) which causes a huge fissure to open in the ice. Awakened by the atomic blast a 150 foot tall turtle erupts out of the ice from a long slumber. The giant turtle immediately destroys an icebreaker/research vessel, then flies south, where it stops long enough to befriend a boy with a pet turtle and then engage the local military tasked with stopping it. Scientists discover that Gamera "feeds" on energy, especially fire, which makes attacking the monster with conventional weapons ineffective. To that end scientists and the military forum and come up with the "Z Plan", by which to lure the giant monster into the enormous, and opened, nose of a rocket, then close the rocket's nose and send the giant fire breathing turtle into outer space, never to menace mankind again.

To save budget this movie was shot in black and white. The aspect ratio of the movie is 2:35.1 widescreen. Giant Monster Gamera was directed by (the late) Noriaki Yuasa. Yuasa has done, IMO, a marvelous job of creating an entertaining kaiju film, in light of the time and budget constraints he always worked under while in Daiei's employment. Yuasa was also greatly fond of children and this no doubt factored into the inclusion of a child(the little boy) into the movie's storyline.
Admittedly I found the little boy an annoyance and distraction more than anything but this movie is just serious enough in tone otherwise to keep my attention.

Giant Monster Gamera(1965) was re-released in an "Americanized" version in the U.S. with the title Gammera The Invincible, and with the inclusion of American actors Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker. Both of these films were released on VHS by Neptune Media back in the late 1990's, these VHS releases stellar, both versions presented uncut, in the original aspect ratio(2:35.1 letterbox), the prints very clean and looking quite good.

There has been no official region 1 DVD release of Giant Monster Gamera(1965) or its Americanized version. There are a lot of cheapie DVDs of the American version(Alpha Video comes to mind) but these do the movie no favor: they're usually grainy looking and have been cropped to a pan and scan format(shaped to fit a standard TV screen). These versions can also be seen on "Mystery Science Theater" re-runs as well.

Giant Monster Gamera(1965) is on Region 2 DVD but this disc is getting harder to find. The entire 60's Gamera films are sold at Amazon Japan as a Region 2 DVD box set which is, not surprisingly, very expensive.

Hopefully this film will be released to quality Region 1 DVD soon.

The original trailer for Giant Monster Gamera(1965):

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Second Helpings: Feast 2 - Sloppy Seconds(2008)

Whenever I feel like I'm in a rut or just feeling generally "blah" I always reach for a giant monster movie or Godzilla film on DVD to cheer myself up. When giant monsters don't work I resort to Plan B: horror movies, more specifically gory and violent films that provide a jolt to my visual cortex. One such movie I recently bought on DVD jolted me out of the temporary doldrums just fine, thank you very much. I'm referring to Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds(2008). This film is a direct sequel to 2006's Feast, a movie directed by John Gulager(son of character actor Clu Gulager), which features an isolated and remote diner in the middle of nowhere that is suddenly attacked by marauding and grotesque looking humanoid monsters. In Feast 2, also directed by John Gulager, things pick up right where the first film left off: another group of people hole up in a nearby small town, trying to survive the monster's attacks on them. The group consists of a black used car salesman, a gang of tattooed and well armed female bikers, a pair of Mexican midget wrestlers, and finally "The Bartender"(played by Clu Gulager) and "Honey Pie"(played by Jenny Wade), both survivors from the first film.

Like the first installment Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds is a meat grinder, perhaps even gorier than its predecessor. There are arguably as many shots of human innards, including brains, intestines and other internal organs in this film as there are in surgical training videos. There is also one particularly nasty scene that is so disgusting, involving a dead monster carcass, that many in the group of survivors upchuck in a group vomit fest. Add to the mix a death by a pair of hammers, one especially gruesome impaling scene and a sequence in which one of the monsters fornicates with a cat . Starting to get the picture here? There is, predictably, a great deal of profanity spoken by the characters in this film, ironically most of it not prompted by their dire predicaments, courtesy of the hostile and bloodthirsty monsters that are after them, but rather because of their own disdain for each other. Humor creeps into this film, to be sure, though I did not find this movie to be nearly as humorous as it's been described in other reviews.

If you're like me, a great fan of violent and gory horror films, then I would definitely recommend this film as a DVD buy. A release of a third "Feast" film is forthcoming in the first quarter of 2009.

The trailer for Feast 2: Sloppy Seconds:

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Going Green: Die, Monster, Die!(1965)

I am a great fan of actor Nick Adams. I always have been. I grew quite fond of the actor's steady and solid presence in the Toho films Invasion Of The Astro Monsters(1965) and Frankenstein Vs Baragon(1965), the latter also known as Frankenstein Conquers The World. Sometimes when I watch these two movies it's easy to forget that Mr. Adams also appeared on television. One of his many TV appearances was in a 1964 season one episode of Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea entitled "Turn Back The Clock". Adams was actually nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as well(he didn't win) in 1963 and enjoyed success as the character "Johnny Yuma" in the TV series The Rebel.

One of my favorite movies featuring this actor is a horror movie directed by Daniel Haller and released to theaters in 1965 called, Die, Monster, Die!, an 80 minute feature based on the story The Colour Out Of Space, written in 1927 by H.P. Lovecraft.

The film's story: American Stephen Reinhart(Adams) has traveled to England to visit his girlfriend and former college classmate Susan Witley, who resides in the gloomy Witley mansion, along with her father Nahum Witley(played by Boris Karloff), and her ill, bedridden mother, played by Freda Jackson. It doesn't take long for Reinhart to discover that something is definitely rotten in the state of Denmark, in this case the town and the local citizenry, who immediately shun Reinhart at the mention of the name "Witley". Reinhart arrives in town to a sullen and close-lipped populace, and finally makes it to the gloomy, fog-shrouded Witley estate on foot. The elder Witley(Karloff) wants Reinhart to leave and Susan and her ill mother want him to stay. Reinhart hangs around, his curiosity and caution about the Witley place understandably aroused by bizarre shrieks in the middle of the night, a mysterious cloaked and veiled figure prowling the grounds, even attacking Reinhart with a knife at one point, and the mysterious death of Merwyn, the elder Witley's personal assistant. As Reinhart and his girlfriend Susan discover, there's something in the greenhouse, and it's definitely not your typical vegetable garden. There's also something in the cellar of the Witley mansion, and it's not a wine collection. Turns out Nahum Witley has been giving sanctuary to a large green and glowing meteorite, which has caused some unusual plant life to flourish in the greenhouse, the space rock also having a decidedly catastrophic influence on various occupants of the Witley mansion, including old man Nahum Witley himself!

Observations: I believe this film is solid. The presence of legendary horror actor Boris Karloff is a big plus, despite his advancing age(he's 78 years old at the time of this film's lensing). The visual effects used to depict the Witley mansion and surrounding estate are basic, with matte paintings, some fog effects and the occasional screech of a crow. Still, they work. Combine these with the cacaphony of shutters slamming, doors creaking and the occasional animal-like shriek and you have the necessary audio effects upon which to play out the character's interaction with each other. The makeup effects are serviceable. There is something of a "cheese" factor in this movie, and I think the "dinner table" scene may have been a bit too long, but this movie has, like a great pair of jeans, aged well, for me anyway, and it has become a steady comfortable fit for me as well, whenever I need to watch an older horror classic, that doesn't take itself too seriously, to cheer me up. The Region 1 DVD of this movie(a MGM Midnite Movies title) is good quality, and offers scene selection, language options, and a theatrical trailer. It is presented in 2.35:1 letterbox format.

The trailer for Die, Monster, Die!