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The Face Behind the Mask (1941)
Peter Lorre's finest hour
After seeing this years ago on TCM, I was finally able to track this down on Youtube. I had remembered the beautiful love story it had portrayed between a disfigured immigrant and a blind girl. It has always stuck with me, and it was a pleasure to see it again. While the story is familiar, I have a soft spot for movies about "different" people, and the story this film tells is tragic and touching.
Peter Lorre's performance is top notch, with a sensitive and well written script to boot. The character development here is fantastic. Janos Szabo goes from an innocent foreigner who can barely understand English, to a hardened criminal in less than an hour. What's remarkable is, he retains some of the good natured qualities he had at the beginning of the film throughout the movie. He knows who his friends are, and never forgets who he is. I guess he reminds me most of Jurgis Rudkus from "The Jungle".
The film also features some elements of horror. There is one scene where you can see Janos' face after the accident, and it is quite unsettling. The mask he wears about halfway in is quite grotesque as well, and the sight of him dressed all in black with the pasty white face and bulging eyes is certainly something to behold.
Except for the somewhat clichéd premise, my only real complaint about the film is it's somewhat anti climactic ending. The gang all get their just deserts, but the way it happens seems a bit out of place. In spite of that though, the movie holds up well, and manages to tell a compelling story, and may even make you shed a tear or two.
X the Unknown (1956)
Entertaining sci-fi romp
Made in the heyday of radioactive sci-fi monster movies, 1956's "X-The Unknown" is all at once archetypal and original. The plot is very creative, concerning a mass of energy which feeds on radioactivity and can take on any form it wants. All of the familiar characters are here. Soldiers who become food for the monster, scientists, and other assorted victims who are typical of this kind of film make appearances. Dean Jagger plays an atomic researcher who attempts to destroy the monster by removing it's radiation. He turns in a dignified and respectable performance, in spite of the pseudo science he speaks throughout the film.
There is plenty of action and monster slop to go around, and, this being an English production from Hammer Studios, the dialogue and story seem a lot more intelligent than it should be. The film is much gorier than most 50s sci-fi movies, featuring scenes of burn victims, and even a couple of melting bodies, (Check out the scene with the doctor in the hospital) with some great special effects.
Near the end of the film, the monster takes on the form of a big pile of oozing mud which resembles chocolate mousse , and you can see where "The Blob" may have got it's inspiration. My only problem with this film is, if it can take on any form it wants, couldn't it have taken on human form? Maybe it just wasn't intelligent enough to. Either way, it seems like that could have been a neat plot point.
Still, this is fun fare that any fan of 50s science fiction shouldn't pass up.
Invisible Ghost (1941)
"I must've been sleep walking"
Well, the title doesn't make any sense. Aren't all ghosts invisible? Either way, there are no ghosts in this movie, transparent or otherwise. The film is about Charles Kessler (Bela Lugosi) who unknowingly commits a series of murders after his wife seemingly dies in a car accident. This is a fine effort for a cheap Sam Katzman production. Most of the performances are good, and Clarence Muse steals the show as Mr. Kessler's butler, Evans, who gets a decent amount of screen time, lines, and isn't too stereotypical. Muse doesn't portray Evans as the typical "Oh Lawdy" scared black servant that was popular in old dark house horror movies at the time. Something in his facial expressions and delivery gives him a sarcastic and humorous edge. Unfortunately, this isn't one of Lugosi's best performances. He is so expressionless throughout, it's hard to tell when he is or isn't in a trance. However, he still has that certain something that always makes him fun to watch.
The story also leaves something to be desired. Unless I missed something, I don't think it ever explains why he killed anyone. I must say though, it does have some artful cinematography and lighting. The scenes where Kessler sees his "dead" wife through the window are expertly shot.
Overall, I have to say this is fun rainy day entertainment. If you have a tolerance for low budget 40s horror movies, you just might have a good time watching this one. Also, watch for the scene in which Lugosi has his butler serve him and an empty place for his wife at the dinner table. Definitely the eeriest scene in the film.
Deadly Friend (1986)
Works, in spite of itself
Talk about a far-fetched plot! Just as a guy is falling in love with the girl next door, her abusive father knocks her down the stairs, causing brain death. The guy has a miracle chip which he inserts into her brain, causing her to regain life. The downside is, she has the mind of the guy's vengeful robot BB,(who was destroyed by an evil neighbor), and she goes on a killing spree, murdering those who were mean to her.
This movie just doesn't work as a horror movie, as there are very few genuinely creepy moments. It also tries to be funny, but ends up being lame most of the time. However, for some reason, I was glued to my set the entire time. I think the cast is genuinely endearing and really helps this bizarre picture along. All of the main characters are at least somewhat likable. Even the mom is enjoyable. Kristy Swanson is great as Sam, but her performance as the BB/Sam robot thing was unintentionally funny. Richard Marcus is very Freddy Kruger-ish as Sam's Father. The BB robot looks like it was trying to be a copy of Gizmo from Gremlins thanks to it's annoying speech patterns. Fortunately, he's dispatched pretty early on. Anyway, despite it's many mistakes, "Deadly Friend" manages to present characters you can root for, a few good death scenes (I think you know which one I'm referring to), and even has a few moments of poignancy.
If you watch this one thinking it will be bad, it may be a pleasant surprise. Just don't go into it thinking it's one of Craven's masterpieces, which it most certainly isn't.
Jaws 3-D (1983)
Dead air- now in movie form!
It's amazing how tired a film series can become. Well, seeing as how this film is the third in a series all about the same exact thing, I'm surprised anyone decided to OK this one at all. Anyhow, a mere 8 years after the original "Jaws" scared the living you-know-what out of moviegoers, this bore fest was tossed in to theaters to milk the series of a few more bucks. The plot is exactly the same, only it takes place at Sea World, so we'll skip it. Not one of the cast members from the first two films showed up, but this was scripted by Carl Gottlieb, (original Jaws Screenwriter) ,and, for some peculiar reason, Richard Matheson. Dennis Quaid plays Michael Brody, the kid from the other movies (people age faster in sequel-land, I guess), and he is no substitute for Roy Scheider. Really, he's dweeby, unimposing, and an all around "nice guy". The coolest stunt he does in the film is crash a golf cart. None of the other characters really left much of an impression on me either.
The mechanical shark is as bad as in the first two films, but this time the film makers were dumb enough to show it all the time, showing just how fakey it is. At one point, it even crashes through the control room at Sea World, kind of like the Airplane in 1980's "Airplane", only even funnier. There's a lot of showing the shark swimming around, but not much action, making it very tedious and boring.
I only gave it 2 instead of one star because the make up effects on the mutilated dead guy they fish out of the tank, as well as a few of the "3-D" effects looked pretty cool.
Other than that, there's no reason to recommend this one. Stick with the classics. This ain't one of 'em.
Seven Days in Utopia (2011)
So dull, you'll wish you were watching an actual golf tournament
Trite, clichéd, predictable and dull, here's "Seven Days in Utopia". Stop me if you've heard this before- a down on his luck golfer becomes stranded in a small town where he just so happens to meet an elderly man (Robert Duvall) who just so happens to be an ex golfer. What are the odds of that? The old man becomes a mentor of sorts and reteaches him how to play the game, readying him for the next Texas Open. The golfer also finds love in a girl who just recently lost her father and has to contend with a few town bullies. Sound familiar? This movie borrows from virtually every single sports movie ever made ,but refuses to add anything new to the mix. You don't really need to even pay attention to it, as you know exactly what is happening the entire time.
While not technically a poorly made film, the performances are, for the most part, lifeless, as the actors portray characters who are flat and simply uninteresting. I bought this mainly because Robert Duvall was in it, and even he didn't do much for this film. "Major Predictable Spoilers ahead!" Anyway, up to the very end, I was planning on giving this a 3 or 4. It was bad, but at least it seemed to be able to tell a decent, if thoroughly covered ,story. However, this is what happened. The movie actually ends before you see if he made the last hole or not! Okay, leaving it up in the air is okay, but here's what sealed the "One Star" deal for me. Before the credits role, a note crawls up saying "To see if he made the last putt, visit blahblahwhatever.com...." are you kidding me? The film makers can't even tell the complete story within their entire freakin' movie? They're advertising a website to go to see if he won or not! That really ticked me off!
So, all in all, avoid this one. Entirely predictable, with an infuriating ending.
Jaws 2 (1978)
Cmparing it to the original-why bother?
This half baked sequel once again takes place on Amity Island, and, you guessed it, there's a giant killer shark on the loose to feast upon unsuspecting vacationers. I guess I have to compare it to the original, although it seems a bit pointless. While the film benefits from including several of the cast members from the original, the script is probably the weakest aspect of the whole production. Let's compare. The original had lots of humorous dialog from many of the quirky islanders and even added a bit of realism by often showing several conversations happening at once, whereas this one is flat and dull. Also, in the original, you can sense the strong bond Brody has with his family, with many little charming moments like the scene where he and his son make shark faces at each other. This one has nothing even close to that, except maybe when Brody hits his head on a low hanging lamp in their house. This movie also suffers from the inclusion of a bunch of annoying teen characters. Most of them have very little to add to the film, except to become "damsels in distress" of a sort for Brody to rescue at the end. Most of them have hardly any interesting character traits or even become shark bait, so there was really no reason to include so many of them. The original was the perfect "Man vs. Nature" film, but this one just feels like a bad slasher flick where barely anybody dies. To it's credit, this movie does try to have a real storyline involving Brody's dismissal from the police, not just the shark eating random people, but I would have liked to see more of that than scenes of the teens sailing. It's also nice that Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) has a more substantial role, and, to it's credit, it does have some nice shark attack scenes for undiscriminating movie monster fans. It's just nowhere near as good as the original. It may have been a bit better if Spielberg had stepped behind the camera again. Either way, while the original introduced us to the most terrifying killer shark in movie history, this one is little more than a cinematic plate of fish and chips.
The Purge (2013)
A victim of it's own poor writing
The story, though extremely far fetched, could have made a very good dystopian sci fi horror flick. Unfortunately, this film takes that idea and goes nowhere with it. We never find out who these mysterious New Founding Fathers are or how such a law could have been passed in such a short time. On the other hand, the film's main villain, the "Polite Leader" is laughably one dimensional and shallow. Thanks to this character's ridiculously cheesy opening dialog, we know exactly what he and his friends want within 2 minutes of screen time. Any possible social commentary this film was trying to convey becomes lost in the awful script and wooden performances of most of the cast. Now, let's talk about the climax. My God, what a "I'm the screenwriter and this is the big twist I pulled out of my you-know-what" ending. Let me "spoil" it for you. The neighbors all gang up on our heroes and attempt to "purge" them themselves. Why? Well, because they got rich selling them expensive home security systems, that's why! Sorry, did I miss something? They traded their money for a product they wanted, and they're so mad about it that they would kill because of it? Basically, they're jealous they're not making as much money as our heroes, though they are clearly in the same basic financial situation as them, as they live in the same neighborhood. I'm sorry, but even for a movie like this, that makes no sense! Anyway, the movie kind of fizzles out after that, and the audience is left to ponder just how bad the effects of a "Purge" would be, though most people who saw the film would know such a law would be a bad idea in the first place.
While "The Purge" features some good action sequences, I found myself too distracted by the incredibly inane characters and ridiculous plot twists to care. Also, that robotic baby thing was clearly lifted from "Toy Story". Also, the masks were lame. Seems like if it's legal to kill all these people, you wouldn't need to hide your identity, and might make you really sweaty too.
A different (but still lousy) approach
The first one had a teenage girl in a life or death struggle against a horrifying monster who only exists in her dreams and the dreams of her friends, who are quickly dying around her. This one? This is the one where a guy in his underpants sits around in a hot room and sweats for half the movie.We hop from the greatest in the series directly to the worst, with this ,the first of many inferior sequels to the original classic. The filmmakers go for sort of a "Wolf Man" approach, in which our hero, played by Mark Patton, is possessed and eventually transformed into the dream stalking Freddy Krueger. While this movie deserves props for originality , the plot makes little sense. I guess Freddy wants to take over the body of Jesse so he can be free to kill people in real life and in the dream world. The problem is, most of the suspense and fear of falling asleep from the first film vanish when most of the deaths occur outside the dream world. And the death scenes that are there are among the worst in the entire series. A couch being towel whipped to death? Really? A bunch of people being chased by Freddy at a pool party? Who thought that was a good idea? The plot structures of the many sequels, while formulaic, work because of the constant fear that a madman will get you in your sleep. This one has none of that.Jesse's transformation scene and the death of Grady do include some great visuals, as well as the hell dogs at the end of the film, but all of the "Nightmare" movies have good visuals, and this one doesn't really stand out too much. And the performances? Ouch. This was after Freddy was ghoulish and scary, but before he became a tongue in cheek pop icon, so he's kind of just "there" in this one. He has a couple of one liners, but there's nothing too humorous or creepy here. Mark Patton is prissy, obnoxious, and screams like an 8 year old girl. Kim Myers is cold, and looks very bored in her role as Lisa. Clu Gulager is one of my favorite actors, but he doesn't have too much to do here.
And as far as the "gay subtext" is concerned, it's great they tried to give this film a little depth, but this doesn't help it out at all as a horror film. In fact, with the audience constantly looking for "gay stuff" throughout the film, any possibility of it being taken seriously is vanquished.
So, all in all, this is the film equivalent of a hotdog which has been sitting directly under the hot sun in a parking lot in New Jersey for the past week. It's ugly, nauseating, and you couldn't get me to look at it again if you paid me to.
Voodoo Man (1944)
About what you'd expect
This is about what you'd expect from a Bela Lugosi vehicle from the mid 1940s. At this point, his career was steadily sliding downhill, but hadn't quite reached rock bottom as he would in the early to mid 50s. This is a low budget Monogram quickie, with nothing particularly exciting or memorable going for it. The plot is predictable and derivative of an earlier, slightly better Lugosi flick- "The Corpse Vanishes". Bela plays a mad doctor (wow, really?) who drains the life out of several young women into the body of his decades dead wife(who happens to possess a stylish 1940s hairdo). He is aided by a Voodoo practicing gas station attendant and two imbecilic henchmen. All is going well until a Hollywood scriptwriter stumbles upon their little operation.
While some of the characters and situations are somewhat different from your typical low budget Monogram flick, it's mostly just same ol' same ol'. You've got a creepy house in the middle of nowhere, lots of driving through the woods, and Bela doing what he does best. (or at least most often). To it's credit, the movie does have a decent cast. Bela's great as usual, John Carradine and George Zucco make formidable secondary characters, and this does contain some nice looking ladies, including Louise Currie, who happens to slightly resemble Gillian Anderson of "X Files" fame, at least to me... Also, the set design is decent as well. The finale, which takes place in a cave, springs to mind.
But overall, this is just a mediocre 1940s horror flick, clearly only made to make a few bucks, with very little effort on the part of the writer or director.