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Zombie Cinema: Phase II, 5 October 2015

Edward L. Cahn…I'm definitely a fan! The name of this b-movie director probably won't ring any bells, but I invite everyone here to click on his name and check out his impressive repertoire! He was an incredibly busy bee, with sometimes up to twelve movies directed per year, and active in various fields and genres like crime, western and horror. Admittedly he never made any true classics or influential milestones, but he did deliver a lot of fun movies like "It! The Terror from Beyond Space", "Invasion of the Saucer Men" and "The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake". And, most of all, he – unwarily – contributed to the historic development of cinematic zombies with this unbelievably underrated and surprisingly suspenseful "Creature with the Atom Brain". This is just my own personal theory, but creation of zombie cinema roughly occurred in four phases and, as far as I know, this cool little movie kick-started phase II… Phase I started it all with the legendary pioneer movie "White Zombie", featuring what is arguably Bela Lugosi's best performance (yes, better than "Dracula"). In these very first zombie movies the living dead are portrayed as disciplined and docile slaves, solely resurrected from their graves to work for evil plantation owners. To a lesser extent, "I Walked with a Zombie" and "King of the Zombies" also fit into this initial phase. Then we have phase II with this "Creature with the Atom Brain". The zombies are still just slaves, but now they are brought back from the dead to serve as controllable murderers with superhuman strengths. The idea is brilliant, as far as I'm concerned, and results in a handful of truly suspenseful and innovative sequences. "Invisible Invaders", also directed by Edward L. Cahn, also belongs in phase II and here the zombies are controlled by extraterrestrials. Phase III – a very short one – almost exclusively contains the very first adaptation of Richard Matheson's monumental novel "I Am Legend", retitled "The Last Man on Earth" and starring genre icon Vincent Price. After a worldwide deadly plague, the dead rise again and act entirely by themselves for the very first time, but they are more reminiscent to vampires since they only come into action after dark. Then, of course, we have George A. Romero to thank for phase IV, as he made zombies to what they still are to this date with "Night of the Living Dead": vile and merciless undead monsters that hunt down the living in order to feast on their flesh and brains.

So, I'm probably exaggerating a bit, but I personally think that "Creature with the Atom Brain" is a historically relevant little B-movie. But more importantly, it's a very clever and entertaining '50s horror gem with action and suspense. Frank Buchanan, a nation-wide feared mafia gangster enlists the help of a brilliant former Nazi-scientist to extract vengeance on all the people responsible for his conviction. Through zombies that are brought back to life with atomic energy and remote-controlled through brain wave manipulation, he kills off prosecutors but also fellow gangsters that betrayed him, while he remains within the safe and heavily isolated walls of his mansion. The screenplay of "Creature with the Atom Brain" is very talkative and many of the dialogs are quite tacky, but the underlying ideas of the film are compelling and – as stated above – quite renewing. The film does remain a low-budgeted '50s Sci-Fi/horror production, so naturally the special effects are cheap and cheesy. Still, the close-up zombie hit men are rather uncanny. Edward L. Cahn also maintains a grim atmosphere throughout and even the sequences with the head investigator's 6-year-old daughter aren't that irritating. Good movie, strongly recommended to horror fans with an open-minded mentality.

What a cast! And yet … what a waste!, 4 October 2015

I often wonder… Instead of receiving a salary, were horror icons paid per word that they said in the old days or something? The amount of old (1930s, '40s and '50s) horror movies in which great actors appear, and even receive top billing, but hardly have any lines or dialogs is enormous. Particularly Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr. were specialists in this, although this probably had something to do with the fact that they were both very unreliable due to their alcoholism/drug addiction issues in the fall of their careers… The very first screen is perhaps the best thing about "The Black Sleep", because that's the opening image that lists the names of Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney and John Carradine underneath each other. What an awesome line-up for a horror movie, you'd think, and we even get a little cherry on top of the cake when also the name of Tor Johnson appears on the second credits' screen! Yes, the line-up is definitely incredible at first sight, but I've rarely witnessed a bigger waste of talents. Basil Rathbone – history's greatest Sherlock Holmes – is the only one with a prominent role, whereas the others merely just serve as set decoration. Lugosi is a mute butler (again…), Chaney Jr is a mad-raving brute (again) and Carradine appears as a kind of wizard but I honestly don't understand who his character was and what his role added to the plot.

Purely talking in terms of plotting "The Black Sleep" does form an interesting footnote in horror movie history, as it somewhat builds a bridge between the old-fashioned mad scientists from the Universal era (Victor Frankenstein and such…) and the more emotionally tormented mad scientists from the 1960s and onwards. The former group contains merely just megalomaniac geniuses, whereas the latter group is driven by severe personal problems, usually to cure their terminally ill wives or to save their daughters that got horribly deformed in accidents. The classic French masterpiece "Les Yeux Sans Visage" (1959) was officially the first and most famous of the 'tormented scientist' flicks, but perhaps "The Black Sleep" was really the first one. Physician Joel Cadman (Rathbone) is looking for a cure for his wife's brain tumor and therefore conducts unorthodox experiments in a remote old castle, primarily experiments that teach him how the human brain is mapped and structured. He uses an oriental drug, nicknamed black sleep, that puts the patient in a death-like coma and subsequently cuts open their skull to explore the brain functions. Unfortunately things usually go awry during this process and therefore the castle is full of failed experimental subjects. "The Black Sleep" benefices from the professional direction by Reginald LeBorg and strong performance of Basil Rathbone, but the screenplay is often boring and there disappointingly aren't any real Grand Guignol highlights. As stated already, the phenomenal cast is underused and it's a bit sad that Lugosi's very last role is such a pitiable one.

Mother Nature is a serial killer… And she wants to get caught!, 1 October 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Remember when horror movies, and zombie flicks in particular, formed an exclusive niche looked down upon – and literally nearly spit upon – by Hollywood? Yeah, I miss those days too… Ever since the modest British hits "28 Days Later…" and "Shaun of the Dead", zombie cinema turned into a big and profitable business. In less than a decade, we were literally overloaded with far too many uninspired zombie splatter flicks and incredibly lame zombie comedies. These days it's getting even worse, as the living dead have now also become mainstream material and we have A-list directors unleashing big-budgeted splatter flicks and former poster boy actors like Brad Pitt fanatically smashing zombies' brains! "World War Z" fundamentally isn't a bad film, of course… It benefices from its elite production values and its professional cast & crew. And since zombie movies used to be intended for restricted target audiences, I can imagine that the screenplay still has quite a lot of suspense and surprises to offer to the bigger movie-going public. However, if you have been watching zombie flicks your entire life already, the script of "World War Z" has absolutely nothing original to offer and every next sequence or supposedly shocking revelation is very predictable. Horror fans will have seen it all before and numerous times, albeit realized with much smaller budgets and thus cheesier special effects… In fact, not even that, because "World War Z" evidently is a PG-13 movie and thus there isn't much carnage or bloodshed on display, and whenever Mr. Pitt crushes a zombie's face with a crowbar or something, it occurs off-screen. Every tiniest story detail about "World War Z" is either preposterous or derivative. The virus outbreak and the subsequent mayhem in the busy streets of Philadelphia, the families torn apart, the quest for the virus' origin and the so-called patient zero and even Brad Pitt's groundbreaking solution to hold off the zombies… it's all very predictable. And whenever the script isn't predictable, it's downright absurd, like for example Brad Pitt and his Jewish lady sidekick surviving a plane crash that cannot be survived. The quote in this user comment's subject line is spoken by an acclaimed virologist in the film, Dr. Fassbach, who's allegedly the savior of mankind and heads out to South Korea with a full team. He's clearly full of himself and thinks he's very intelligent, but then he trips and shoots himself through the head… That actually was the best part of the film. That, and the Israeli zombie wall…

Escapes (1986) (TV)
Vincent Price can't escape his '80s destiny…, 1 October 2015

Vincent Price was arguably one of the greatest actors that ever lived and inarguably the greatest horror protagonist of the 1950s and 1960s. But the horror genre changed drastically in the year 1973 (mainly due to the release of "The Exorcist") and, all of a sudden, there weren't many roles anymore for an actor of Price's caliber. Gothic and Grand Guignol horror movies suddenly weren't popular anymore and got replaced by raw and gritty exploitation movies. Throughout the rest of the '70s, the almighty Vincent Price was a bit lost, but in the 1980s he gave his career its final boost by briefly appearing as the typically sinister host in low-keyed anthologies or as the narrator in macabre fairy-tales, for example his legendary contribution to Michael Jackson's "Thriller". The very modest and inconspicuous made-for-TV anthology "Escapes" is another title that probably never would have caught any attention if Price's name wasn't attached to it. Price only briefly appears at the beginning and the ending of the wraparound story, but his stern voice and sinister laughter are doing all the necessary work. Furthermore "Escapes" is not much more than a cheap attempt to cash in on the successes of "Creepshow" (1982) and "Twilight Zone: The Movie" (1983). The short segments, five in total, are child-friendly but definitely not childish, and the least you can say is that they offer unpretentious good fun! None of the stories are frightening, not even remotely, but they are interesting enough and the atmosphere of the film is exactly right. The first two segments are my favorites, notably because they are both fairly ominous whereas segments three and four are sillier and more fantasy-like. In "Something Fishy", a fisherman physically experiences how the rules of his favorite sport are turned upside down, and "Coffee Break" gives a whole new and uncanny meaning to the term "slowing down"… This second segment mainly benefices from the creepy performance of John Mitchum as the seemingly friendly local yokel who advises a stressed-out delivery boy to relax, enjoy the scenery and stop for a good cup of coffee... The third segment involves a chubby jogger and three bizarre creatures that escaped from a medical lab. Apart from a fairly admirably attempt to build up suspense, there's very little to say about this short story and the denouement is just too silly for words. I didn't like the fourth segment "Jonah's Dream", as it reminded me too much of a Walt Disney story. Being more of a fan of raw and gritty horror anthologies, I personally very much prefer the '80s outings "From a Whisper to a Scream" (also starring Vincent Price), "Deadtime Stories" or "Screamtime", but I certainly don't consider watching "Escapes" as a waste of my (not-so-precious) time

Ancient Alchemists in a Girls' Dormitory…, 1 October 2015

Perhaps I've seen way too many overblown and pretentious would-be cult movies lately, but I really enjoyed "The Man Who Turned to Stone" a lot and therefore I reward it with a rating higher than it probably deserves… The plot of this modest '50s production – courtesy of the legendary Sam Katzman – is definitely interesting and compelling, albeit highly unoriginal and full of holes and illogicalness. Victor Jory leads a group of selfish scientists that discovered the secret to immortality and have been around since the 18th Century. In order to unnecessarily prolong their own precious lives, they need the life-extract of other human beings; preferably fertile young women. And what place is better to scout for fertile yet disposable young women than a women's prison? The administrative employee Carol Adams grows suspicious of all the sudden and unnatural deaths at the prison and receives help from an acclaimed state psychiatrist. Although close to getting caught the alchemists must continue their treatments, otherwise their skins literally petrify… The central idea is quite derivative, as the quest for immortality at the expense of innocent people is an often recurring horror movie theme, but the "turning to stone" aspect is a nifty little gimmick. The film also features the cool sub plot about one of the scientist group members – Eric – being a lot less resistant and in need of receiving the treatment more frequently than the others. It's Eric who often roams around the prison's dormitory at night with a half-stoned face and causing mayhem. The script naturally features many holes and dumb elements as well. Why aren't these alchemists relocating more frequently, for instance, or even more importantly, why aren't they sedating their victims in order to prevent them from screaming their lungs out? The filming location is very unconvincing, as the place doesn't look like a prison but merely resembles a campus college or an all-girls summer camp. At first I even assumed it was a summer camp because two of the leading ladies are talking about boxes of Girl Scout cookies… The acting performances are collectively wooden and uptight, but I admit that's also part of the '50s horror charm. The actor who depicts Eric, Friedrich von Ledebur, is menacing enough and the film never once bored me throughout its (short) running time of 70 minutes.

It Follows (2014)
0 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Relax, it's just sex… Or is it?, 15 September 2015

I'll admit that my main motivation to see "It Follows" was probably the wrong one… I didn't necessarily want to see it because it's labeled as one of the freshest, most original and genuinely frightening American horror movies of recent years, but I watched it because I was literally sick and tired of reading how everybody is talking about this movie on film forums! In the message boards section of this lovely website, for example, there are – without exaggerating – ten discussions going on about "It Follows" on a daily basis and I got really fed up with avoiding all of them in order not to read any spoilers. Usually when a certain horror film is trending or being the hype of the moment, I postpone my personal viewing so that I can't get influenced too much by the opinions of others. There just isn't coming an end to the hype that is called "It Follows" around here on the message boards. Since 7-8 months non-stop already, everybody shouts out his/her opinion and most of them are very positive and enthusiastic. And is "It Follows" really worthy of all this interactive attention and mouth-to-mouth publicity? No, of course not… I don't think that any film should receive this much exposure, in fact, except maybe in case Alfred Hitchcock would rise from his grave and direct "Psycho V: Happy Mother's Day".

But hey, at the same time I will gladly admit that "It Follows" quite a few positive aspects going for it. More positive than negative ones, in fact. The basic plot concept is original as well as unsettling, the soundtrack and several unexpected scenes are genuinely petrifying and most of the lead protagonists come across as authentic and identifiable young adults. The successful combination of all these aspects already makes "It Follows" a dozen times better than the vast majority of US-horror releases nowadays, since most of them are either redundant remakes or lame direct-to-DVD zombie comedies. The cute and friendly girl-next-door Jay Height thinks that she found happiness with her hunky new boyfriend Hugh. However, after they made love for the first time in the backseat of his cool car, everything changes abruptly. It seems as if Hugh was only looking for a victim to physically pass on a terrible kind curse. Since the sex, Jay gets stalked by nightmarish entities and ghastly figures. Jay's closest friends want to help, but naturally no one else sees the entities that she sees, and passing it on herself via casual sex doesn't necessarily make her safe. So, the idea is very good and the handful of genuine shock/fright moments likewise, but sadly the film also contains far too many boring and pointless footage. Writer/director David Robert Mitchell often undercuts the suspense by overlong dialogs and extended scenes of absolutely nothing. Unfortunately he also knows that his script is fairly clever, so several twists (especially near the finale) feel somewhat pretentious. Don't count on proper explanations either, of course. That being said, I would still definitely recommend horror genre fans to check out "It Follows", even if it were only for the downright fantastic soundtrack by Disasterpeace. The music fits the atmosphere and grisly images perfectly, and it's arguably the greatest horror score since John Carpenter's music for his own classic "Halloween".

By the way, I just had a daughter. In case this movie will stand the test of time and it becomes a cult classic, I will definitely show it to her in sixteen years or so. Before she starts dating and clubbing, just to make her think twice about random unsafe sex and one night stands; ha!

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
And we are dull and overrated…, 13 September 2015

I'm not entirely sure why several people recommended this film to me… I guess that everyone still assumes that an art-house horror flick is automatically a must see in case it a) got made in a Spanish speaking country – preferably Mexico, b) played at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and c) quickly received an American remake. Well, newsflash, "We Are What We Are" most certainly isn't a must-see. Quite the contrary, in fact, this is an incredibly dull film with loathsome characters, implausible and outdated plot elements and severe pacing issues. This irritating hybrid between uninspired cannibal flick and pretentious coming-of-age story starts out fairly promising, with the rather disturbing death of a seemingly sick and perverted man in front of a shopping mall. He turns out to be the patriarch of a cannibalistic family and the sole provider of human bodies on their diner table. It's now up to the oldest son Alfredo to go out hunting, and together with his psychopathic younger brother Julian he brings home a prostitute, much against the will of their mentally unstable mother. After this incident all family members go hunting for their own victims, but they are closely followed by a determined police detective. "We Are What We Are" is unimaginably slow-paced and boring, but most of all terribly pretentious. For example, the screenplay never talks about cannibalism but about "performing the ritual". You can tell that some of the plot evolutions were intended to be shocking and controversial, but they actually aren't taboos anymore since a very long time, like gay adolescents or vigilante prostitutes. The filming style is exaggeratedly melodramatic, with colorless set-pieces and a deeply unpleasant ambiance. I assume that the young and overly ambitious writer/director Jorge Michel Grau also deliberately stuffed his film with social criticism about the poverty and hopelessness in certain big Mexican cities, but first he should try to pen down better scripts before getting politically engaged...

Hitchcock (2012)
The greatest horror movie ever made; the horror movie nobody wanted to produce…, 13 September 2015

When you're a genuine fan of cinema, it's almost a matter-of-course that you're a Hitchcock admirer as well. In my case, it goes a little further… I've always been fascinated by Alfred Hitchcock's persona and, more particularly, by the variety of his repertoire. The main reason why I really wanted to check out this semi-truthful/semi-fictional Hitchcock biopic is because I honesty always wondered what drove an eminent and well-respected director to make "Psycho"; which is fundamentally a grim and nasty horror tale. In 1958 and 1959 Hitchcock was still making polished and sophisticated thriller classics like "Vertigo" and "North by Northwest"… How come not even one year later he delivered the groundbreaking horror movie that would alter the genre forever? The film "Hitchcock", by Sasha Gervasi and based on a book by expert Stephen Rebello, gives quite a lot of insights on the tiresome production of "Psycho" (like the troubles with the financing, disagreements with the production studios and heavy censorship issues) but sadly focuses even more on the – largely fictional – pressure that the film put on Alfred Hitchcock's marriage with Alma Reville. The script abundantly hints that Hitch is obsessed with all his blond leading ladies, like Janet Leigh in "Psycho", and that he could be quite tyrannical on set. Then the script also suggests that Mrs. Reville is extremely close with Whitfield Cook; a largely unsuccessful writer. Is "Hitchcock" a good film? Well, it somewhat balances between an interesting biopic and a farcical comedy. Whenever we're on the set of "Psycho", this is a vastly entertaining film and I definitely wanted to see a lot more background to the production difficulties as well as the battles with the censoring committee. The film also introduces a lot of fascinating characters – real people, in fact – but largely neglects them. For example, I would have loved to find out more about the casting of Anthony Perkins or the imaginative conversations between our director and deranged serial killer Ed Gein (who formed the inspiration for "Psycho" as well as several other horror movies), but apparently there wasn't any room left for that. Instead, there's a lot of focus on the alleged romance between Alma and Whitfield, but this isn't very interesting. Several people in the cast give a splendid performance, like Helen Mirren and a fantastic Scarlett Johansson, but I still haven't quite figured out what to think of Anthony Hopkins' performance… I assume that his depiction of the world's greatest director is simultaneously a parody and a homage.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
High priest of putridity, depravity personified, enemy of Christ, adversary of life, abomination of abominations…but we can call him Klaus Kinski!, 7 September 2015

I'm a tremendously massive fan of the works and persona of Klaus Kinski, but apparently I should praise myself lucky that I never had to work with him or maybe even meet with him person. Kinski allegedly was an incredibly arrogant individual and literally an impossible person to interact with professionally. During this particular period – the late 80s – he also was at the heights of his violent temper, which (nearly) ruined all the movies he starred in. Director David Schmoeller made the ironic short film "Please Kill Mr. Kinski", based on the disastrous experience that he had with him during "Crawlspace" in 1986 and even the long-running professional relationship with the acclaimed director Werner Herzog got destroyed in 1987 during the filming of "Cobra Verde". According to the documentaries Herzog and Kinski got into several vicious fights and openly threatened to kill each other. Also this "Nosferatu in Venice" suffered enormously from Kinski's eccentric quirks. He chased away the initially hired director Mario Caiano, he physically assaulted two of the lead actresses and he refused to cut his hair or wear any make-up. And yet, it's a Kinski film and I'd move heaven and earth just to see it!

I liked "Nosferatu in Venice" a lot, but not exactly because it's a good film… I'm much more fond of the whole idea and concept of the film. What a brilliant idea to set a vampire movie in the wonderful city of Venice! And not just any ravenous and mad-as-hell vampire, but a melancholic vampire figure like Nosferatu! That's just fantastic. The story initially follows Prof. Catalano, who's searching for the mysteriously vanished Nosferatu, but at the same time the professor is convinced that he is fed up with his immortal and roaming existence. Deep in the basement of a Venetian family mansion there is a tomb, and the heiress thinks that Nosferatu is buried here. They hold a séance to awaken him, but he resurrects somewhere on a tropical island. Nosferatu promptly travels to Venice, hoping to find love and eternal peace. "Noferatu in Venice" is slow-brooding and talkative, and thus definitely not recommended for the nowadays new generation of horror/vampire movie fanatics that swear by fancy computer-generated effects and monstrous transformations. This movie thrives on macabre atmosphere, moody set-pieces and sober cinematography. The plot is very messy and often doesn't make a lick of sense, and yet it's captivating from start to finish. This is also a very unconventional vampire story. Kinski's Nosferatu doesn't suck the blood from the virgin's necks, but he impales old ladies on fences and tears off the lips of jealous boyfriends. Kinski doesn't have to do a lot apart from demonstrating his naturally sinister charisma. The cast contains another two phenomenal actors, Donald Pleasance and Christopher Plummer, as well as a couple of beautiful actresses, like Barbara De Rossi.

Smile! You're on Catholic candid camera..., 2 September 2015

First of all I will state that I really, really… REALLY don't like "found- footage" movies and I don't deliberately seek out any of them to watch. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm automatically against every found-footage movie ever made, and I will always try to remain objective in my opinions if I do come across one. So, when I was on a business trip last week, I stayed in a hotel where "The Borderlands" was playing on the complementary free channel and watched it as much open-minded as possible. Well, I didn't like it… but at least it contains several strong and memorable aspects in comparison to other - and often far more successful - found-footage flicks, for example an intriguing background story and setting (the Catholic Church and a remote little parish in godforsaken England), identifiable characters (a cynical loner and a talkative Curious George) and cinematography that is not exaggeratedly annoying or headache-inducing. The latter is due to the fact that the protagonists – researchers working for the Vatican – are constantly obliged to wear headsets with integrated cameras, so the editing is a lot less hectic than in other found-footage movies and it occasionally even makes "The Borderlands" come across like a first-person-shooter video game. But then, unfortunately, the film still obviously remains a found footage horror movie and thus also features all the trademark flaws. It's basically a film in which absolutely nothing happens for about 95% of the running time, except for a whole lot of irrelevant gibberish and random padding footage. Then, there occur a few unclear horrific events in the blink of an eye – that remain unexplained of course – and then the film is done. Bam, just like that… "The Borderlands" distinguishes itself from the majority of found-footage movies because it nevertheless manages to gradually build up tension and because it features a couple of grisly "biblical" horror subjects, like stigmata etc., but you still need a lot of patience and tolerance to remain focused.

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