Whistle and I’ll come to you

According to the IMDb, the following film doesn’t seem to exist. Yet I know it’s been released on DVD and that BBC Four has showed it this week. Looks like it’s the ghost of a film and, given the film’s subject, that’s quite appropriate.

Whistle and I’ll Come only lasts 42 minutes and was made for television back in 1968. It’s one of those telly chillers people caught (accidently or not) and never got over the experience. I know the feeling: back in the 1980s I saw a series with a frightening soundtrack (turned out it was the theme of Halloween), a blind man, a computer system gone berserk, a young heroine and all of it’s set in a dystopian future or parallel world. The final episode allegedly had the computer being overrun with (or spitting out) maggots, but don’t take my word for it: I was too scared to watch it by then and had to rely on other peoples’ recollection. Those who watched it still remember it, but – apart from one scene being shown in a compilation show back in the late nineties – it has never been shown again. (And yes, I was able to identify the show after just two seconds.)

The problem is: some of these shows have become so gigantic in your brain seeing them again after a couple of decades may cause you to be utterly disappointed if they’re finally released on DVD. Some remain as powerful as they used to be. Take The One Game for instance, a British four-part thriller from 1988. I still remembered a couple of scenes (the protagonist being cornered in a closed-down shopping centre by a group of bikers, someone drowning in the water with only a hand sticking out…) and though the series did look a bit dated when I watched it again in 2004, I still understood what had impressed me the first time.

Peter Sasdy made The Stone Tape back in 1972, based on a Nigel Kneale script. It’s a supernatural chiller, often cited along with Ghostwatch, but unlike that latter title, I couldn’t be impressed by The Stone Tape when I watched it a couple of years ago. Despite really like Kneale’s work, especially Quatermass and the Pit. Maybe I should watch it again one day, now my expectations are considerably lowered, but it’s not high on my list and my ‘to see’ pile is still huge.

Whistle and I’ll come was also released on dvd by BFI (like The Stone Tape). Jonathan Miller directed it as well as adapted it from a M.R. James short story. Now look up this writer on the IMDb and you’ll spot Whistle and I’ll come on the IMDb after all, cleverly disguised as an episode of Omnibus. So it’s there and it isn’t. Told you it was fitting for a ghost tale.

You probably know James, even if you didn’t know you did. His stories were the basis of several tv and film adaptations. Michele Soavi‘s La Chiesa (The Church) was based on one of his stories, but by far better known is the Jacques Tourneur classic Night of the Demon.

Like Night of the Demon, Whistle tries to chill you with things you can’t see. Sadly, Tourneur was way better at executing this kind of horror film than Miller. In Whistle and I’ll Come an eccentric professor finds an old whistle on the beach, blows it and summons a spirit. Actually, writing that down just made me want to see this film more than the film I actually saw.
Let’s blame Miller for this, after all he shortened the story’s title (from Oh whistle and I’ll come to you, my lad) and took some other liberties as well: he made the protagonist more eccentric, changed some of the dialogue (not being happy with the original). On the other hand, several scholars say – and who are we to disagree with them? – Miller stayed faithful to the original spirit of the story.

But I felt myself being disappointed by it. To use a metaphor, I started watching it with a healthy appetite, but still felt hungry by the end of it. It’s actually a fitting metaphor as the film does feature five minutes of non-stop eating: a scene where the professor is having a high-brow conversation at the hotel while eating his meal is followed by a stroll to the beach, where the professor eats some sandwiches, while talking to himself in what was probably an academic monologue.

The film’s theme is “losing your mind” and the fact it’s a professor who has confronted by this problem apparently makes it more interesting. In fact, the moment the professor closes his eyes and is subjected to a series of nasty dreams was visually most pleasing (catch it below), but that’s about it. It did feature a lot of weird angles, which is another sign this was made in the sixties (when filmmakers were still discovering television and saw it as a playground for some eccentric shots, the best of which ended up in movies).

It does use the beach setting to its advantage (if used right, it can help to build horrific images) and some of it lingers longer in the brain than the rest of the film (or indeed most other films), but overall I found Whistle and I’ll come to you quite dated and I couldn’t be convinced to see it as the iconic television movie it was portrayed to be. Then again, my expectations may have been too high and I’ll like it better if I see it again. But this one too isn’t high on my list and the ‘to see’ pile is huger than ever…

Curse of the Werewolf

If there’s one earthly creature that should also get a mention during this lunar week, it’s the werewolf. After all, no other living earthling is affected more by the Moon. Because of this special week, I wanted to watch a werewolf movie I hadn’t seen. It may sound shocking to some, but that was Curse of the Werewolf, Hammer’s entry in the werewolf saga.

The chance to play a werewolf went to Oliver Reed, whose acting skills were only matched by his drinking problem. Normally we wouldn’t have brought that up, but ironically the first job Reed gets in this movie is in a brewery.

By this time, Leon (Reed) is a grown man and you’re already half an hour into the film. For those wanting to seek a distrought werewolf feasting on victims, please go elsewhere (we recommend Paul Naschy‘s films). Curse of the Werewolf plans to tell a story and so it begins with a long historical look back. The film opens with a wandering beggar who wants some food, drink or money. He’s sent to a castle where a wedding is taken place. There the man is deeply humiliated and so the story begins… it’ll take quite a while before Reed will devour his first victim.

Or doesn’t he? The film tries to leave you guessing as to whether Reed is a werewolf or not: as a young boy, it isn’t quite clear whether the sheep were butchered by young Leon or a dog. (Narcoleptic fits could explain the bullet in Leon’s leg.) In a way, that’s odd: every poster of the film portrays Reed as a werewolf, so you’d be foolish to think otherwise.
It does work for the other characters in the film, though: Reed could stay unnoticed thanks to people believing in other explanations.

Weirdly enough, there’s also a while Leon doesn’t change into a werewolf and even this is explained. This makes it all the odder that, towards the climax of the film, this is abruptly forgotten and it’s off to a long chase scene with Reed on many rooftops.

One of the reasons this film wasn’t on my A-list is because I’ve always had problems with Reed’s make-up. To me, it’s on the same level as the lesser convincing disguises of Paul Naschy. During the credits, Reed’s face even reminded me of Jaani Duschman, the Bollywood werewolf classic. And that isn’t a compliment.
During the opening credits we see Reed crying. This is another thing that doesn’t get much attention during the film: surely the thought of becoming a werewolf every month and being unable to change this must be excruciating. This is something that the werewolf movies starring Lon Chaney Jr. are much better at: Chaney’s werewolf is a much more tormented character.

All in all there’s too much talent present present (the director is Hammer veteran Terence Fisher) to turn this into a turkey, but I found it one of the lesser fulfilling Hammer movies. I loved that they were trying to give the character some depth by opening with a large family history, but sadly that’s what this film missed: depth.


Halloween Highway: Scream and Scream Again

Vincent Price, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in one movie? With the addition of Hammer girl Yutte Stensgaard (Lust for a Vampire, Zeta One), surely such a movie can’t be bad! That movie is Scream and Scream Again and unfortunately I couldn’t find myself enjoying it.

Scream and Scream Again was a co-production of AIP and Tigon, released in 1970 and directed by Gordon Hessler. Hessler is mainly known for three other movies: The Oblong Box, Cry of the Banshee and KISS meets the Phantom of the Park. All movies which rate him as a cult movie director, just not a director of good cult movies. All have a certain je ne sais quoi (note we’re trying to overcome our shortage of French words at the Avenue) which make them watchable but not exceptional.

In Scream and Scream Again we witness a maniac on the loose, nicknamed ‘the vampire killer’ because he also sucks the blood out of his victims. We hardly see this happen, as this isn’t the focus of the movie. Which brings us to my key point: what is the focus of the movie? The film begins with an exhausted jogger dropping on the ground, someone trying to get into some sort of Nazi-like regime (yes, they even copied the red and white design, just with a different symbol in the circle’s middle), a überstrong killer on the loose… this movie is going places!

Sadly it’s going in four directions at the same time, which leaves the viewer feeling quartered. It’s a cop thriller, a sci-fi movie and a vampire flick. As mentioned before, the vampire scenes are barely mentioned, the sci-fi element seems directly lifted from an episode of Doctor Who or The Avengers and the cop thriller is so overexposed and stretched it’s still full of cops, but not exactly thrilling. And don’t be fooled by the poster of the movie: the acid bath is hardly there.

If there’s still a chance you want to watch this, it’s because of the cast. Cushing, Lee and Price in one movie is always worth an hour and a half of your time. Even if Cushing was a late addition to the cast and only shows up in a couple of scenes. Of the three movie legends, Price gets most of the screentime. Sometimes it looks as if he’s rehearsing for Dr. Phibes. Well, who can blame the man? Years later, Vincent Price was interviewed about the movie and confessed he’d never understood the script. See, now there’s a consolation: you’re not alone.


P.S. Anyone want to see the trailer?

A man is in love double bill (1)

Time now to enter the Kurtodrome Vault again. This time we’ve taken two films out, both movies on men madly in love with women. They’d do anything for her. Because they are… in love.


The Phantom of the Opera is a classic and probably doesn’t need much introduction: even if you haven’t seen this version, you’ve probably seen another version, read the book by Gaston Leroux or just heard about it. The Phantom is so famous they even made an action doll of him, even though it’s good they were nice enough to tell us who the doll was supposed to represent. Note the stunning resemblance with Lon Chaney‘s character.
Perfect twins, no?

Given that the story is so known, I won’t bother about the usual synopsis. (If you don’t know the story however, you can read it from scene 1 till The End here.)

Which leaves me with a few anecdotes on the film.
Now widely regarded as an all-time classic, the film was almost never released. The filming was painful, the assigned director Rupert Julian was an unbearable dictator who even bullied Lon Chaney, without a doubt the star of this production.

Yes, if even after a pack of remakes (not to forget the Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical version) this version is seen as the best version, this is mostly because of Chaney’s fantastic performance. Chaney was an excellent actor, but still it’s this movie that he’s mostly remembered for. Like Lugosi will always be Dracula and Karloff always Frankenstein’s Monster (and, to a lesser extent, the Mummy), Chaney is most of all Erik, Phantom of the Opera.
Chaney liked the part (and the opportunity) so much he wanted to star in the film, even though he wasn’t too fond of Universal and producer Carl Laemmle.

The Laemle shuffle
Laemmle wasn’t happy with Julian’s work after seeing the preview and asked for additional shots (directed by comedy director Edward Sedgwick). The ending was altered – originally the mob found Erik lying dead on top of his organ -, Mary Philbin got more romantic scenes and intertitles were written for the new scenes.

In April 1925, three months after the first version was finished, this second version was previewed in San Francisco, where the audience’s reception was lukewarm at best and Laemmle demanded another version.
Most of the new scenes (except for the climax) were thrown out and in came scenes with comedian Chester Conklin and new intertitles. When shown to Laemmle, he luckily hated the comedy scenes. They were thrown out, but the rest of this new version was good enough and this is how the movie finally premiered on September 6, 1925. It became a tremendous success (which makes it all the weirder that Universal let the copyright lapse in 1953. The timeless classic became public domain and the studio lost a fortune in royalties.)

In 1929 Universal wanted to reissue the film, but decided talking sequences had to be added along with a new soundtrack and sound effects. Chaney was under contract at MGM by this time, so someone else dubbed him.
Thousands of feet of footage were cut out to get the new version, other scenes were compressed or combined with other scenes. Virginia Pearson, who played diva Carlotta in 1925, became Carlotta’s mother in 1929, thereby making her one of the fastest-aging women in the movie history.

Okay, so it’s a classic, but is it good?
Yes, it is (as I’ve mentioned before) even though Mary Philbin occasionally slips into overacting mode and Rupert Julian clearly isn’t a great director. One of the best scenes in the film wasn’t directed by him, but by Lon Chaney (while Julian was, alledgedly, venting his rage somewhere else). This scene, the Ball scene, was shot in colour. It’s not the only scene shot in colour, but the only one that made it to the final version.

Lon Chaney was also responsible for his own (fabulous) make-up. He never wanted to reveal how he did it, so we’ll just admire it.
The dramatic unmasking scene was so unusual for those days that distributors reported it had made people in the audience faint. (But that may just be promotional peptalk, one never knows.)

Judge for yourself. Here are six minutes of the film, all surrounding that mythical moment:

Please do not faint when Erik unmasks himself, that way we can meet again for the second part of our “Men Who’d Do Anything For The Woman They Love” double bill, where I’ll tell you more about The Human Vapor. Part two will go online in two days.

For now, why don’t you watch The Phantom of the Opera for yourself? Here are some links (all of them legal, of course):
1. Watch (or download) the 1925 version at the Archive: link
2. Watch (or download) the 1929 version at the Archive: link
3. Or if you prefer, you can also watch it on YouTube: link

¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño?

It’s the seventh day of the seventh month and it’s time for me to publish my 77th post. Coincidence? Frankly, yes. Anyway, it’s time for another movie review, but tonight it’s not just any movie that’s up for a review…

The next movie up for a review is ¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? , a sadly much too obscure Spanish cult film from the Seventies. I say ‘obscure’ because the movie hasn’t been seen or released that much, even though it has a good reputation.
The biggest culprit here may be the film’s subject: murdering children.
The movie starts with several minutes of news footage, showing us how badly children have been treated, contrary to common belief that noone wants to harm children. There aren’t many films that’ll start with footage of WWII’s concentration camps, wounded children in Vietnam and African infants starving to death. The accompanying soundtrack of children chanting seems awkward, almost perverse.
After seven minutes of hard-hitting history lessons the movie starts with kids enjoying themselves at a beach. Up to the moment waves carry a woman’s corpse to the shore. ¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? has started: enjoy yourselves.

Spanish coverCast and crew
Like so many other European films from the Seventies, ¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? (released in 1975) has more titles than anyone can remember: so far I’ve come across ‘Who Could Harm A Child?’, ‘Who Can Kill A Child?’, ‘Could You Kill A Child?’, ‘Trapped’, ‘Island of the Damned’, ‘Island of the Dead’, ‘Scream’ (I kid you not), ‘Todliche Befehle aus dem All’, ‘Les Revoltés de l’An 2000’, ‘Killer’s Playground’ and ‘Death is Child’s Play’. One title better than the other, still ¿Quién? doesn’t manage to beat possibly the best movie title ever, Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972).
The director is Chicho Ibáñez-Serrador, the son of two actors who made two movies for the big screen and two for tv. Ever since, Ibáñez-Serrador has made his living directing tv shows. The other movie he made was La Residencia (1969), a sleazy thriller best known as The House That Screamed.

Protagonists are Lewis Fiander (Tom) and Prunella Ransome (Evelyn), a happily married couple enjoying their holidays.
Ransome is best known for being in Alfred The Great and John Schlesinger’s Far From The Madding Crowd.
Lewis Fiander has the best cult credentials from being in Hammer’s underrated film Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde and the Phibes sequel, Dr. Phibes Rises Again.

The German poster informs you the deadly orders came from the cosmos, no reallyBack to our film.
Tom decides to visit a nearby island he remembers visiting when he was very young. This is the biggest mistake they could’ve made. They take the boat to a little village that seems to be deserted. The ice cream is runny and there’s noone in the pub. The couple can only spot a handful of kids. So what has happened? Where is everyone?
You don’t need too many clues to figure out that the children have started killing adults and there aren’t that many left. Some people are killed onscreen and this is quite upsetting: to the children, murdering someone almost seems like a game. And perhaps it is.

I can’t tell you more without revealing too much of the plot, but there are still a few things to be said. ¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? is a horror movie, but don’t expect it to be gory or you’ll be disappointed. I’d describe it as psychological horror, which is why the few gory bits are all the more unsettling. The movie has been compared with Children of the Corn, based on a Stephen King novel and many think King must have seen the Spanish movie before writing his book. This could have happened, but one shouldn’t forget there have been more movies and books where children end up taking over the world from adults (some of John Wyndham’s books spring to mind, especially The Midwich Cuckoos – made into two movies as Village of the Damned). ¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? is a far better film than Children of the Corn, so it’s a damn shame that up to 2006 the movie was only released on DVD by a Spanish label that couldn’t see the use of adding subtitled to please the rest of the world. If you’re lucky, you might have found a French dubbed version of ¿Quien? under the title of Les Revoltés de l’An 2000, but you’d probably hear of the movie while reading a specialized cult movie magazine. Maybe that was part of the charm of the movie: the fact it was so hard to obtain.
SceneThat may be partially gone now there’s a global DVD release, but for my money the movie is still intriguing as hell. By the way, I myself own it twice, but only as a lame VHS copy of a copy dubbed in French and as a Spanish DVD without subtitles. I’ve seen the movie twice now and it isn’t always easy to understand what it’s about, but here we have a movie so clear in image language that it doesn’t really matter you won’t understand most of the dialogues (and to be honest, many scenes don’t have dialogues as the couple find the only inhabitants of the village, the children, are far from talkative).
¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? does not need dialogue to be good. The film succeeds in being both entertaining (in the way psychological horror movies entertain) and asking an interesting question: what would happen if children stopped being innocent victims? So obscure, relevant and good: movies don’t need much more to end up being cult.

¿Quién Puede Matar A Un Niño? is currently available on Region 2 DVD in Spain (try dvdgo.com) and on a Region 1 disc in the US.

Mini Review: Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde

Doctor and Sister

As I don’t have time to write a full new review tonight, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to dive into my archives and fish for an older review. I found this mini review of a movie that – according to me, anyhow – shouldn’t go unmentioned at DV: the classic tale of Jekyll and Hyde in the Hammer version.

Like Jack the Ripper, the tale of Jekyll and Hyde has been told so many times you gave up counting a long time ago. Would there be a single person on the planet who doesn’t know the story?

So when a director makes a movie on Dr. Jekyll or Jack the Ripper and plans to amaze us, he or she should come up with either an excellent movie or a daring new approach.

“Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” succeeds in doing both. It is a good movie and it’s quite original. Ralph Bates and Martine Beswick make a good Jekyll and Hyde and the movie is in the hands of a team that brought you very good episodes of ‘The Avengers’ (director Roy Ward Baker, writer Brian Clemens and the music of Laurie Johnson).

Some scenes could have been better, but a believable combination of Jekyll and Hyde is rare, so let’s give this movie the benefit of the doubt.

By the way, Susan Broderick is very good as the girl next door. Apparently she acted only in two movies (the other one is “Blow Up”), so there’s another reason why you should see this.

Mini Review: The Return of Doctor X

Director: Vincent Sherman
Starring: Wayne Morris, Rosemary Lane, Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Morgan, John Litel, Lya Lys.

Plot outline: A hotshot reporter and a young doctor team up to investigate a series of grisly murders and a mysterious sample of synthetic blood.

“This is one of the pictures that made me march in to Jack Warner and ask for more money again. You can’t believe what this one was like. I had a part that somebody like Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff should have played. I was this doctor, brought back to life, and the only thing that nourished this poor bastard was blood. If it had been Jack Warner’s blood, or Harry’s, or Pop’s, maybe I wouldn’t have minded as much. The trouble was, they were drinking mine and I was making this stinking movie.”

That’s Humphrey Bogart‘s idea of the film. And yes, Karloff was originally cast. And no, it’s not that bad a movie. Sure, some scenes were added for comedy purposes and hardly one of them works. Sure, it’s not a big frightener (not that I think it was intended as one – more like a detective story with a horror twist). And sure, the title is glorious exploitation as it has nothing to do with “Doctor X”, the 1932 classic horror film slash box office hit.

Nevertheless, if you want an hour of decent sleuthing, “The Return of Doctor X” isn’t all too bad.


William Castle double bill: House on Haunted Hill / The Tingler

William Castle Wasn’t it Peter Greenaway who recently lamented that cinema has existed for more than a century and that basically we’re still watching moving paintures? If there was one director who tried to change cinema by making it more interactive (long before movies like My Little Eye were made) it’s William Castle.

William Castle had been making movies since 1943, not necessarily the kind of movie you’d still remember the next year, but nicely made movies.

In 1958, however, he decided to make movies more interesting by adding gimmicks. People who went to see Castle’s Macabre were asked to fill in a form that would give $1,000 to their loved ones in case they would go and see Macabre and would die of fright. Add to this, the movie’s tagline (“Keep saying to yourself: it’s only a movie… only a movie… only a movie” – a tagline that Wes Craven would borrow a couple of decades later) and you’ll know why Macabre gave Castle’s career a boost.

Tonight we focus on two of Castle’s movies, both well equipped with an intriguing gimmick:The Tingler and House on Haunted Hill.
Because it’s a shame that Castle is contantly overlooked by movie buffs who want to write their history of the silver screen. If one really tried to innovate cinema by making it more interactive, we shouldn’t look down upon this director as a creator of gimmicks. Tonight we give Castle the spotlight he craved for and frankly really deserved…


(Thanks to House of Horrors) Here’s a reason never to have kids: Castle’s kids recently gave Hollywood the chance to remake some of his movies. But without the creative mind of Castle these remakes were even much worse than the remade fodder we’re normally subjected to. While Thirt13n Ghosts still had the merits of adding glass walls it didn’t come close to Castle’s original (13 Ghosts) and the way they wrote the title didn’t help much either. House on Haunted Hill (1999) didn’t even change the title, it just took out everything that was fun about the original Castle movie. And yes, House on Haunted Hill (1959) was lots of fun. Vincent Price stars as a millionaire who invites a group of people to spend a night in his house. If they survive the night they’ll get $10,000. And that’s when we get a display of blood dripping from the ceiling, moving skeletons… all the things you’d expect from a spook show.

Is it a scary horror film? No. As Sean Axmaker put it, “William Castle’s gimmick-laden comic thriller is not so much a horror movie as a fairground funhouse come to life.” Even Emergo, the gimmick invented for this movie, is an example of the funhouse fun Castle tried to put into this movie: at the time when the skeleton moved towards the screen, Castle made sure an actual skeleton (that was hidden behind a curtain next to the screen) would come flying towards the audience. House on Haunted Hill was an improvement onMacabre, both as a movie (the script and performances are better) and as far as the gimmick was concerned.
However, this wasn’t the last time Castle would try and invent gimmicks to give his movies just that little bit extra.

The TinglerThis is probably the best-known of Castle’s movies. Could that be because of Vincent Price playing the lead (again)? Could it be because this is a black and white movie with one colour scene (the bloody delirium)? Or because William Castle outdid himself with the gimmick? Probably it’s all of these factors combined.

A tingler is a little creature that grows inside you when you’re afraid and you don’t scream. If you scream the tingler stops growing. But if you don’t shout the tingler keeps growing until you… die! That’s why you better scream for your life when you’re afraid. The thing is, how do you know that there’s a tingler inside you? Well, when you’re afraid you’ll feel it grow, as if there’s an electrical impulse going through your body. And yes, people, you’ve just guessed Castle’s gimmick: he had made sure there were some wired seats in the audience. Somewhere during the movie there’s a scene where the movie pretends to stop: the screen goes black and you only hear the voice of Vincent Price, informing you that the tingler has escaped and it’s loose. If you feel the tingler, shout… shout! Shout for your life! At which point you’d feel a buzz and probably started shouting.

The Tingler has a decent script and good performances, which is why this is so much more than a gimmick movie.
As briefly mentioned earlier, there is a scene where blood is running from a tap and because it was too expensive to shoot the movie in colour and because this scene wouldn’t be so effective in B&W this scene is shot in colour. It actually works and gives the scene a touch of delirium, much like in these days flashbacks are occasionally shot in black and white to appear like ‘older’ footage.

(thanks to House of Horrors)If you look at the full package (script + performances + gimmick) it’s hard to find a better Castle movie than The Tingler. Then again, if you see that a full package needed to make a good movieThe Tingler may just be the best movie in the world.

Castle also invented gimmicks for some of his other movies. For the movie 13 Ghosts you needed 3D glasses to see the ghosts, while Mr. Sardonicus was an early experiment of interactive viewing: the audience got to decide the fate of the bad guy at the end. They could hold up a green or a red card to vote whether the evil character would live or die. Apparently the audience always voted for the bad ending, sparking a discussion as to whether Castle had actually made a second ending. Allegedly it was made, but it seems nearly impossible to track down.

We save the best for last: Homicidal‘s gimmick was the Coward’s Corner. If you were too scared to watch the end of the movie you would get your money back at the Coward’s Corner. The drawback: the Coward’s Corner was just outside of the screening room and you’d have to wait until the end of the movie before you’d get your money returned. Leave it to Castle to add the touch of a spotlight shining in your face, just so everybody that watched the movie until the end would leave the studio and see you clearly as the coward you really are. Are you too scared to read on?Castle didn’t really like the idea of people leaving during the movie, so just before we get to the climax of the movie we would hear a heartbeat warning us the climactic ending was near. A clock would appear on the screen (as pictured here) and a voiceover would inform us that if you were too scared to watch the end of the movie this would be the moment to leave the studio. Castle called this the “Fright Break”.

Castle’s creativity in movies is only matched in the autobiography he wrote, Step Right Up. You’d be daft to believe every single word, but it’s an incredibly entertaining read. It’s a shame the book isn’t published anymore, but you might be lucky and find it somewhere. It’s definitely something to look out for.

P.S. Images content of own collection, Amazon and House of Horrors.


A Giant Animal movie with a difference: Tarantula

Why is it different?

Tarantula isn’t the first giant monster to rent a room in the Kurtodrome Vault, but it’s special for a lot of reasons. We’ve talked about the 50s sci-fi genre before and how many of those films contained giant monsters and usually sucked. Tarantula is, take or leave a few poorer scenes, a pretty good film directed by Jack Arnold, director of other sci-fi classics such as Creature of the Black Lagoon and The Incredible Shrinking Man.

Tarantula has often been likened to Them!, the giant ant movie made only one year earlier, but Jack Arnold denies Them! was an influence. And not just because here we have one spider doesn’t exactly equal several giant ants.
Most sci-fi movies from the fifties had giant animals as a result of nuclear tests. In many movies the killer creatures were nothing more but an allegory: if you bear in mind that these movies were made in the McCarthy era, it’s not difficult to see who the evil animals (or aliens) attacking good honest Americans were supposed to depict. Yes, kids, if we can get those Martians off our soil, we can sure handle the evil commies.
Tarantula’s tarantula isn’t gigantic because of a nuclear test going haywire, nor is the spider a KGB spy. The person we’ll have to blame for this monster, is a professor who wanted to make sure your children’s children would have something to eat. After all, the more people will walk on this planet, the less food there’ll be per person or something along those lines.
The solution is simple: make sure the animals grow in size. Now the professor’s experiments were paying off as you can see from this spycam footage:

Now I can understand why he wanted to create bigger rabbits, but why the heck a giant tarantula? You can just guess what this means: it means that the professor’s assistant who tried some of the professor’s potion will be angry because on human the stuff only has one effect (the face deforms) and he’ll pick a fight with the professor. In this fight the safety glass of the tarantula’s cage will break and the beast will escape, killing lots of people and animals.
What do you mean: you couldn’t guess that? Oh well, that’s what happens and then only one thing needs to be done: the tarantula must be destroyed.

Anything else good?

Yes, the acting is not bad and the special effects deserve some praise: a few scenes aside, the effects are quite believable.

Nearly fifty years later the film is bound to lose some of its credibility, but overall is nothing to be ashamed for. And as the sole non-nuclear giant animal from the fifties it even gets a special place in the vault. Sure, you’ll never have time to see all the masterpieces of the world, but rest assured, there are a lot of worse things to do than renting Tarantula.

The Pocket Essential Guide to Horror Films

Book coverWriting an essential book on someone’s work isn’t easy, so you can expect how hellish it must have been to write an essential guide to horror films. Oh, and could you do that in 95 pages? Michelle Le Blanc and Colin Odell did it.
Such a work is bound to be incomplete: how can you compile 105 years in 95 pages? Well, first and foremost by starting at the Twenties and ending with the Nineties. For every decade, they made an introduction and then reviewed three movies that were saying something about their decade.
This is of course not enough and that is why Le Blanc and Odell also dissected the works of ten horror auteurs. After an introduction, two or three movies got a close examination.

That could still be a initiative that sounds well, yet falls flat on its face when executed. Le Blanc and Odell, however, didn’t fall into that trap. Almost every important auteur is mentioned in this booklet: if they were not one of the lucky ten, one of their works could have been mentioned in one of the decades (and with every reviewed movie you learn a bit more about the director or the studio). If that wasn’t the case either, they probably got mentioned in one of the introductions to the decades.

The problem I have with this guide is the errors they make. Mind you, this is a personal work, so if they feel that most Italian directors like Bava or Freda were nothing more than cheap imitators, then that’s their opinion. A wrong opinion, but an opinion nevertheless. They certainly have no sympathy for Lucio Fulci, he gets the harshest verdict: a complete loser, only capable of stealing ideas or showing mutilated bodies.
Well if they feel that way about him, then that’s their problem. But I think they should at least have tried to spell the director’s name correctly. He is mentioned three times as “Fulchi”.

There are more stupid errors: “Lucio Fulci’s [spelled correctly for a change] notorious Zombie Flesh Eaters was even marketed as Zombi 2 in some quarters to cash in on Dawn of the Dead‘s continental title.” (p. 68) Could you get further from the truth? It might seem to the English that the whole of Europe is an unimportant mess of countries, but in fact Dawn of the Dead was only marketed as Zombi in Italy. Fulci is Italian, which explains why he chose the title Zombi 2 (the films are unrelated however) for his movie. So Zombi 2 is the official title of Fulci’s movie and the film was only called Zombie Flesh Eaters in America and England.
Likewise, I have problems with “[after Nosferatu Murnau] would go on to direct Faust (1926), […] before moving on to non-genre projects.” (p. 14) Murnau made non-genre projects before Faust and even before Nosferatu.

But if you would the number of errors from the number of times Le Blanc and Odell tell you vital information, you’ll still have to conclude that for 95 pages and £3, this is a booklet worthy of your money. Before I leave you, I would like you to check the films and directors mentioned in Horror Films:

Twenties: The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Haxan, The Phantom of the Opera
Thirties/Forties: King Kong, The Ghoul, Dead of Night
Fifties: The Quatermass Experiment, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Les Yeux sans Visage
Sixties: Peeping Tom, The Masque of the Red Death, Rosemary’s Baby
Seventies: Theater of Blood, The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre
Eighties: Evil Dead, The Thing, Spoorloos
Nineties: Braindead, Dust Devil, The Blair Witch Project
Tod Browning: Dracula, Freaks
James Whale: Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, Bride of Frankenstein
Val Lewton (producer): Cat People, The Body Snatcher, Bedlam
Terence Fisher: The Mummy, The Curse of the Werewolf, Dracula: Prince of Darkness
George A. Romero: Night of the Living Dead, Martin, Dawn of the Dead
Dario Argento: Deep Red, Suspiria, Inferno
David Cronenberg: Shivers, The Fly, Dead Ringers
Joe Dante: Piranha, The Howling, Gremlins
Wes Craven: A Nightmare on Elm Street, The People Under The Stairs, Scream
Clive Barker: Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Lord of Illusions

And if that’s not enough, at the end of the book you’ll find 50 other films certainly worth seeing. I guess you know what to do know.

Horror Films by LeBlanc and Odell is part of the Pocket Essentials collection. They’re cheap and concise guides to directors, genres and subgenres.