Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

directed by james whale
universal

These old horror pictures really appreciated comic relief, particularly from strident women portraying minor characters, and they also relished lampooning petit bourgeois authority, such as this film’s burgomaster. Plus, they really enjoyed overacting to the point of buffoonery, although that can be forgiven due the transition from stage to screen. Now, with all that musing done and out of the way, it is time to allow that this production, though a bit slight, is quite accomplished. “Karloff” – that’s all he’s credited as – does wonders with his role, even under heavy prosthetics, and the script does an excellent job of playing on any variety of emotions in underscoring the plight of “the monster.” The “monster’s mate” doesn’t appear until just five minutes remain in the picture, of course, which is another thing these great old-time movie stars had going for them: pacing and suspense. Realism may be another matter entirely, but given the subject at hand, any such observation is probably misguided.

why did i watch this movie?

Johnny Ramone awarded “Bride” first place in his rankings, which overall are pretty fair. (I personally don’t think The Wolf Man and Freaks hold up well enough, but who the hell am I.)


should you watch this movie?

When the mood is right for a picture from this era, such as during Samhain, it would be quite suitable.


highlight and low point

The sequence during which the MONSTER busts out of the dungeon in which he’s been confined, evades the hunt, and tumbles into the crypts from which Pretorius and his henchmen are commandeering corpse parts is pretty memorable. Once again, the studio-lot sets are awe-inspiring, at least the interiors. (The outdoor scenes, not so much.) I could have done without the “humorous” touches and their focus on the lowbrow.

rating from outer space: a−

Dwight Frye as Karl

The Invisible Man (1933)

directed by james whale
universal pictures

Although hampered at times by a bit of slapstick and what feels like leftover vaudeville attributes, and a little too enamored of the photographic trickery by which the effects of the invisible antagonist are achieved – though it’s hard to fault them for that – this SF tale of the inexplicable manages both to convey more tension than you might figure and to be downright creepy at times. When the title character first reveals his condition, it’s pretty disturbing, even as you are obviously prepared for it 85 years later. And at least one other scene along the way provides more than a bit of a shock, albeit tempered a bit by the fact that it is unmistakably done with miniatures. Claude Rains gets top billing for a role which he performs mostly by voice alone, and his dialogue ratchets up the intensity and insanity as this picture progresses. All in all, this one rather deservedly can be called a classic, and remains a significant precursor to more than one film genre.

why did i watch this movie?

The Invisible Man occupies the second slot on Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

In discussing classic horror with others, it repeatedly arose that most had never seen this picture. I hadn’t, either, and honestly never had much interest, figuring I was familiar with the story – despite the fact that I’d also never read the novel. I’m glad I’ve now rectified this oversight.

highlight and low point

As alluded above, a few too many shots here feature things flying around by themselves and people reacting in astonishment or fright. The representation of malevolence by the title character reaches the pinnacle, highlighted by curt pronouncements such as “At 10 o’clock tomorrow night, I shall kill you.”

rating from outer space: B+

a poignant deathbed scene

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

directed by tobe hooper
vortex, inc.

To paraphrase Chuck Eddy on Motörhead, “If you don’t know by now, you’re sure as hell not going to learn from me.” That’s more or less how I feel about this devastating picture, which retains its deeply unsettling effect with every viewing. No, it’ll never be the way it was the first time, when it felt the way a nightmare does – everything confounding, elements changing without rhythm or reason, with no apparent end to the confusion and tension – but it doesn’t need to be. This movie still gets my vote for terror champion of all time. Tobe Hooper never came close to matching it, but you don’t catch lightning in a bottle more than once.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s a personal favorite, but this time I watched it because Johnny Ramone ranks it third on his list. Only third, John? (Johnny also thought that “loud guitars” were what made the Ramones great, so … )

should you watch this movie?

Of course, but again, I’m a bit biased. Not only is this the pinnacle of horror in my opinion, it’s also one of my three favorite movies of any sort. (Trivia! The other two are Fargo and Repo Man.)

highlight and low point

The moment when film audiences first meet Leatherface is one of the greatest moments in scare cinema, and Sally and Pam variously exploring different rooms of the house are highly disturbing moments, but the scene that begins as Sally seeks refuge in Drayton’s gas station barbecue outpost does it for me every time. Some of the vaguely suggested parallels between the teens and the family of killers are never explored, and Sally escaping the remote farmhouse twice in the same manner might be a bit questionable (although the first time is astonishing).

rating from outer space: A+

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

directed by george a. romero
image ten

This being one of the more influential and critically assessed horror flicks of all time, I’m not going to waste a whole lot of words here, though I do find it highly amusing that I’d never seen this picture. (I’ve seen Day of the Dead, the completely irrelevant Return of the Living Dead, and such variants as Zombi3, but never the foundation film.) Having previously watched Romero’s Season of the Witch (“aka Hungry Wives”) and The Crazies, I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with his work, but I wasn’t prepared for the early going of this picture to emulate a silent movie, nor the workaday nature of the living dead themselves. The social commentary can be a bit heavy-handed, but that’s kind of a Romero calling card, at least in his auteur guise. A few quibbles: One, the film lacks for a certain logical consistency in how the zombies – er, I mean “ghouls” – act; two, and this just occurred to me during the latter portions of this film, why in the hell do zombies have to eat? They’re dead!

why did i watch this movie?

Night of the Living Dead is no. four in Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens.

highlight and low point

The very nature of the low-budget presentation aids it immeasurably, lending it an almost documentary feel at times, and the general lack of histrionics on behalf of the risen dead also helps, their implacable multitudes generating an overwhelming sense of dread as the scope of the danger becomes more clear. Romero’s unadorned direction of his actors at times gives the proceedings a distinctly stagy quality, and his statements tend toward the transparent.

rating from outer space: a-

King Kong (1933)

directed by merian c. cooper & ernest B. Schoedsack
an rko radio picture

I don’t think I’d ever considered this a “horror film” before, but viewing it now, I suppose I can’t think of a more apt genre to which one might consign it. And since the first time I saw it was at a grand old Theater near the house in which I grew up, on the BIG screen, it would have been impossible for me to note the parallels to, say, Jurassic Park, which was around 15 years in the future, or to be reminded of Aguirre: The Wrath of God, because I wouldn’t have seen that for at least a good 20 years. Sure, the big monkey isn’t terribly convincing nowadays, through jaded modern eyes, but it doesn’t strike me as much worse than most CGI, although reminding me of Rankin/Bass productions isn’t necessarily a positive. Given when it was made, it’s pretty astounding, if unintentionally funny at times. It also had me musing about pre-Hays Code Hollywood, for whatever that’s worth – so if nothing else, it was certainly thought-provoking.

why did i watch this movie?

This baby is no. 5 in Johnny Ramone‘s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

I haven’t seen the 2005 version helmed by Peter Jackson, but of course I’ve seen the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis extravaganza … and I avidly saw last year’s largely unnecessary Kong: Skull Island, which I did not until this moment realize was a “reboot.” Uh … how many have YOU seen.

highlight and low point

Carl Denham’s identification of the Stegosaurus the crew encounters on Skull Mountain’s island: “Something from the dinosaur family.” As the crowd awaits the unveiling of Denham’s spectacle, a remark: “Better be worth it after all the ballyhoo.”

(Two tickets cost TWENTY dollars – almost $400 now.) The big ape dies, you know, which isn’t too cool.

rating from outer space: B

Re-Animator (1985)

directed by stuart gordon
empire pictures

“H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-Animator,” the title card proudly boasts, and yes, it IS set at Miskatonic University, so it’s got that covered. Now, have I READ Mr. Lovecraft’s story of the same name? I do not think I have, despite the many times I’ve dipped into his oeuvre to while away some bleak hours enmeshed in his obfuscatory, eldritch and often oddly vague universe. This is a highly professional production, and the assured direction feels like kind of a blessing given what are often the limitations of these genre offerings. Absurdist at times, possibly to leaven the effects of its abundant grotesquerie, this picture nonetheless manages to disquiet, with Jeffrey Combs deserving much of the credit for his effective portrayal of an appropriately deranged Lovecraftian scientist. Although often rampantly silly, this is also undoubtedly a film that understands that horror doesn’t necessarily need to be laden with shocks and starts. It’s definitely not for the squeamish, though, as medical practicum and biological experimentation share screen time with copious bloodletting.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s no. six on Johnny Ramone’s top-10 list, and kind of a must-see in the annals of comedic humor.

should you watch this movie?

While I’m not sure I’d call it “timeless,” this flick still achieves everything it tries – and serves as perhaps the model for its particular brand of deranged horror-comedy, with some of its notes echoed a few short years later by Evil Dead 2, for one.

highlight and low point

The FX are pretty spectacular in this picture, really, especially given how outré some of the concepts are. (I’m thinking of the whole “head in a lab tray” sequence here.) Also, it’s impressive that no matter how ridiculous things get, no one ever really acknowledges that fact.

note misspelled label behind dead cat

rating from outer space: a

The Evil Dead (1981)

Directed by sam raimi
renaissance pictures

First. let me just put it out there: This is one of my favorite movies in this genre. Not only do I still find it to be way above average every time I watch it, but it still blows my mind that it’s as good as it is given that it was what it was. That some Three Stooges nerds from suburban Detroit could just decide, “Hey, you know what would sell? A horror movie,” and go ahead and produce an epochal achievement still defies description and belief. You know, a whole lotta people through the ages have had the thought that they could make a movie, and a great many of those people thought they could make a fright flick, and some of them did, and some of them even did a halfway decent job … but this crew made a bona fide classic. Reading about the process, particularly in Bruce Campbell’s If Chins Could Kill, is almost as much fun as immersing oneself in the films, but nothing compares to what transpires once the Kandarian spirits begin their inhabitations.

why did i watch this movie?

This time, because it’s number seven on the Johnny Ramone list. The first time was because I’d already seen its follow-up.

should you watch this movie?

OK, look, I’ve seen this, 2, Army of Darkness, a fan edit combining all three and clarifying the chronology, the remake, and I loved the recently concluded three-season run of Ash vs Evil Dead. Mine may not be the opinion to seek.

highlight and low point

So much here still holds up today: Raimi’s inventive camerawork, the creeped-out nature of the Deadites, some gruesome injuries that remain discomforting. The makeup, on the other hand, is pretty bad, and Ash exaggeratedly slapping his girlfriend around makes for a cringeworthy moment in the modern clime.

rating from outer space: A−

 

The Wolf Man (1941)

directed by George waggner
universal pictures company inc.

Not only is this movie not frightening in the least, this reviewer has no idea how or why it has been lauded through the decades as even a competent endeavor, much less an estimable one. Did I say “not frightening”? It’s completely ridiculous, helped in no way by the laughable attempt at dramatics presented by Lon Chaney, Jr. Let me emphasize the generational suffix; this is not the lauded “Man of a Thousand Faces,” it’s his son, who benefits from this picture’s dime-store makeup disguising his general inability to act naturally. Also not helping: the entire film is very obviously shot on the studio lot. Additionally, it’s dismaying to be treated to no shots of Larry Talbot’s transformations. (Those scenes take place in the various sequels.) A “B” picture through and through, presented such that even the underlying existential crisis isn’t at all provocative.

why did i watch this movie?

The Wolf Man is number eight in Johnny Ramone’s top 10.

should you watch this movie?

When we were small children, my older brother and I played with this ancient “Monster” Old Maid set

Milton Bradley, 1964

and I always gravitated toward the Wolf Man card.

(This one)

(Not this one)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you feel similar nostalgic twinges, I wonder. Maybe you’re a budding film historian. Or a Ramones fan.

highlight and low point

The sets are admittedly impressive. Indeed, it’s hard for me to conceive of how much work and preparation went into this two-month shoot, especially when the script itself is so slipshod. For a running time of barely an hour and 10 minutes, certain lines of dialogue are repeated an astonishing number of times. Endearing touches include some of the el cheapo effects and sly, sardonic details bordering on the self-referential, such as this one:

(click to enlarge)

rating from outer space: D+

Freaks (1932)

directed by tod browning
Metro-goldwyn-mayer

Disjointed as hell due to excessive editing undertaken in a doomed effort to make a disturbing revenge picture even somewhat palatable to a viewing public it never found, this disastrous flop remains one of Hollywood’s most ill-advised creations – for any number of reasons, not limited to how it may make its audience feel. One can only imagine how appalling the excised material must have been, and marvel as to the effect it could have added to a production that remains troubling after nearly a century. The decision to cast real circus sideshow performers was perhaps an inevitability, but the majority of them aren’t film actors and can’t much pretend to be. Saddest, though, is probably the loss of the chance to really experience the capacity for a full range of emotional responses from these morbidly maligned people, as only glimpses remain. As it is, 60-odd minutes doesn’t give anything of real resonance a real chance to coalesce, and what we’re left with often plays like a soap opera interspersed with sitcom skits. How this one ever got the green light remains a question to ponder.

why did i watch this movie?

It’s number nine on Johnny Ramone’s list, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise as it was a huge influence on his band. They identified, but that story’s been told elsewhere. (Marky’s Punk Rock Blitzkrieg might tell it best.)

should you watch this movie?

If the original print existed, I might say yes. But it doesn’t.

highlight and low point

The scene that most inspired the Ramones – the “One of us! One of us!” wedding dinner – remains a powerful and chilling experience. Those that seem to exist for comic relief at the expense of one or more of the title freaks are unfortunate.

rating from outer space: {   }

Psycho (1960)

directed by alfred hitchcock
shamley productions

I’m sure it’s been noted before, but the attention to detail in this movie astounded me, such as the scene wherein Arbogast is looking for clues to Marion’s disappearance in the Bates Motel’s office parlor – where Norman is displaying his stuffed birds – and the bookshelf behind him holds a full set of books entitled The Art of Taxidermy. So it’s a bit surprising, I guess, that certain other important factors seem so transparent, or even dishonest. Of course, that’s nitpicking, and anyone who doesn’t think this is a high-quality cinematic achievement … probably doesn’t care for noir films or suspense, or pulp fiction. Hitchcock himself must have thought he had a goldmine here, however, as he went ahead and made it despite Paramount’s objections and refusal to budget it appropriately. That worked out all right.

why did i watch this movie?

Noted horror film aficionado and memorabilia collector Johnny Ramone designated Psycho no. 10 in his personal Top 10 in the appendices to his posthumous autobiography Commando. Since the Ramones rank in my personal Rock Band Top 10, and I am a fan of these dumb films anyway, it seemed only right and natural to compare and contrast.

should you watch this movie?

Haven’t you seen it?

highlight and low point

I’ll pick two scenes to exemplify these extremes. The first is the scene where Arbogast is cagily picking his way through Norman’s story that no one’s been to the motel for a while. Anthony Perkins does a tremendous job stumbling over his lies and attempts to dissemble. The other is the terrible, terrible penultimate scene in which the psychiatrist explains the whole thing … and explains it, and explains it, and EXPLAINS it, sucking out a little more of the film’s mystique with every florid sentence. What. A. Drag.

Rating from outer space: B+

kids: don’t do drugs
(click to enlarge)