Throwback Thursday – The House on Haunted Hill

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

This post first ran on the Treasure Chest back on Feb 16, 2010.


Tuesday Terrors – House on Haunted Hill (1959) – starring Vincent Price

hhh1“The ghosts are moving tonight. Restless. Hungry.”

Doors that open and close themselves! Guests arriving in a funeral procession lead by a hearse! A falling Chandelier! Blood dripping from the ceiling! A witch that appears and disappears! 7 people already murdered! Detached Heads! Party favors that turn out to be loaded guns delivered in coffins! An organ that plays itself! The floating head of Elisha Cook Jr.! Ghosts! Dead bodies that disappear and reappear! Thunderstorms! Secret passages! Ropes that wrap themselves around the damsel’s feet! A wine vat filled with acid! A floating skeleton! And an elegant host (played by the ever-charming Vincent Price) who may be trying to kill his wife (who may, in turn, be trying to kill him)! It’s obvious that producer and director William Castle was trying to throw everything into the pot on this one.

In 1959, William Castle had made a number of b-grade pictures for various studios, but he was just beginninng to emerge as the king of the gimmick picture. His legacy today is as the man who, while he may not have invented the style, certainly perfected it and used it to bring amazing attention to his pictures. Some of Castle’s gimmicks included insuring movie goers in case they died of fright during a showing of Macabre; “Percepto”, in which audience members watching The Tingler, already encouraged to scream because the titular monster had gotten loose in the theater, recieved mild electric jolts from wires attatched to their seats; Illusion-o, which gave brave audience members a chance to see 13 Ghosts while those who were too fearful didn’t have to; and the “Fright Break” in Homicidal which gave audience members a chance to leave the theater and get a full refund before the climax if they were willing to sign a certificate of cowardicee In the midst of this came House on Haunted Hill which, through the magic of “Emergo” had a skeleton come out of the movie and float over the heads of the audience. (Don’t ruin the surprise by telling your friends, but it was actually an inflatable glow-in-the-dark skeleton that was pulled through the theater on a set of wires.)

hhh2In the film, Vincent Price plays Fredric Loren, a millionaire who is hosting a party for his fourth wife. Instead of inviting their friends, however, he has invited five guests who represent different layers of society. He has offered each of them $10,000 if they will spend the whole night in the House on Haunted hill, a house with a history of killings and hauntings. However, soon after they arrive, spooky things begin happening including all of the events listed above. Adding to the intrigue is the relationship between Loren and his wife, neither of whom like the other very much and they both have good reasons for wanting the other dead. The guests soon find that they are completely locked in the house, and there is no way out until the caretakers return in the morning. The haunted house may soon become their tomb and by morning may well have seven new ghostly residents!

Yes, the film is cheesy and some of the efffects are obviously lacking, but for a good low budget scare that is definitely highlighted by the presence of Mr. Price, you can definitely find worse ways to pass an hour and fifteen minutes. And it’s certainly more fun than the perhaps technically more proficient but heartless 1999 remake.

Preview time! Here’s the Trailer:

And here’s the skinny:

Title: House on Haunted Hill
Release Date: 1959
Running Time: 75 min
Black and White
Starring: Vincent Price
Director: William Castle
Producers: William Castle, Robb White
Distributed by: Allied Artists

House on Haunted Hill is available for viewing or download here.

The Special Halloween Special Halloween Special

A quick note – yes, this is a repost, but it’s from far enough back that I think most of you probably won’t remember it, and I have updated it with new links since the old videos have mostly been taken down.

h3Tomorrow is Halloween, and, like many holidays, Halloween means Halloween specials on television. Whether it’s an actual special such as 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or just a Halloween-themed episode of an ongoing series, the celebration of all things spooky has probably been a part of television ever since the medium has existed.

So today, instead of a look at one particular series or episode, I thought I’d pass along a little treat in the form of a celebration of some of these classic Halloween specials.

(Of course, I suppose I should give you fair warning that there might be a trick or two in here too. But which is which may only depend on your particular taste.)

Also, fair warning: the source for some of these shows is not always the best, as will become pretty immediately apparent, but I’ve done what I can to find the best available copy.

First up, here’s a show that up until a few years ago I was unaware that it even existed. It has quickly, however, become an absolute favorite for reasons which should quickly become apparent. Your mileage may, however, vary:

What Halloween would be complete without a visit from the late, great Vincent Price? Here he is on The Muppet Show.

Of course, we all know How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but were you aware that Halloween is Grinch Night?

Here’s one of those Halloween-themed episodes I mentioned, from Happy Days:

The Beverly Hillbillies get in on the fun with an episode from Season 7: The Ghost of Clampett Castle:

Dennis the Menace proves true to his nickname as “Dennis Haunts a House”

This may not necessarily be Halloween themed, but any excuse to watch an episode of Lights Out is good with me:

And the same is true for One Step Beyond

Sometimes all you need to know is the title, and this one is from 1972 (as it really would have to be): Daffy Duck and Porky Pig Meet the Groovie Goolies

Tales of Tomorrow presents a live version of Frankenstein from 1952 which stars Lon Chaney Jr. According to TV legend, Mr. Chaney thought this was a rehearsal instead of a broadcast, which explains some of his odd behavior. Of course, other explanations have also been forwarded, but we’ll just go with that one:

Of course, The Monkees had to get in on the fun:

And finally, does it get any more classic than The Lucy Show? Let’s wrap things up with an episode entitled “Lucy and the Monsters”

So how about you? What TV shows do you like to watch around Halloween? Any favorite specials? Let me know in the comments below.

Old Time Radio Tuesday – Halloween Roundup

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

It’s that time of year again, time to celebrate some of the Spookier offerings from the golden age of radio. I’ve tried to pick a mortician’s dozen of episodes for this time around that I don’t think I’ve featured before. So relax, close your eyes, and let your imagination take hold…

 

Made for TV Monday – Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

Okay, we’ll start with a short intro for the newcomers: As implied by the phrase, “made for tv movies” are films that were created to be shown exclusively on television as opposed to having a run in theaters. Though they started in the mid-60s and continued on well into the 2000s, they were at their height in the 70s and 80s, and that where this column will mostly focus. Of course, this type of movie lives on today as direct-to-video, direct-to-cable or streaming movies. For more background, be sure to check out this introductory post, but for now let’s move on, shall we?

dba1Halloween is Thursday, so let’s start this rundown with something scary, shall we?

Kim Darby, who you may recognize as the young girl who convinces John Wayne to help her hunt down her father’s killer in the original True Grit, stars as Sally Farnham who inherits an old house from her grandmother who is recently deceased. She and her husband Alex (Jim Hutton, who would later play the detective Ellery Queen in a short-lived series that was unique in that just before the end, Queen would turn to the camera, breaking the fourth wall, and asking the viewer if they had figured out the solution to the mystery) move into the house and begin renovation.

Sally quickly falls in love with one particular room (of course, it’s initially mysteriously locked) which she want to turn into a study. She finds the closed up fireplace in the room especially intriguing, and she begins to try to open it up, despite warnings from the handyman who came with the house (William Demarest, “Uncle Charley” from My Three Sons) that “some things are better left as they are,”

Sally manages to slightly unbolt the plate that has been put into place over one part of the fireplace, but she and Alex decide that it really is unfixable. Unfortunately, in removing the cover Sally has unwittingly released three small demon-like creatures who at first seem to want to kill her but eventually decide that they want to turnher into one of them.

dba2Y’know, it’s really interesting watching a movie like this with 2019 eyes. In some ways, this movie could be taken as a banner for “me too” and “believe the woman”, because that’s exactly what no one (except, eventually, her best friend Joan, played by Barbara Anderson) will do. Her husband, her doctor, and everyone around her simply write off her troubles as hysteria. There’s even one point in the movie where Sally is walking along with her interior decorator (at this point she knows about the little demons and has convinced her husband that they need to sell the house) and when they are about to descend the stairs, the demons have strung a line across the top step which trips the decorator,causing him to fall to his death.

After the body has been removed and Sally has been checked out by the family physician, the doctor is talking to Joan and hes gives her some sedatives for Sally to take, saying “she does seem to have over-reacted”. Now let’s take a look at this. even without the tales of little creatures calling her name and telling her they want her (which Sally is actually keeping to herself), she has just seen a man fall to his death right in front of her. I don’t know about you, but I think I might find that just a bit traumatic.

Not that it’s just the men whose attitudes seem a bit askew when observed through modern eyes. Early in the movie, Sally and Joan are walking down the street and at this point Sally thinks the little critters in her house may be mice. When she shares this idea with Joan, her friend replies “I don’t care what  women’s lib tells me, the very mention of a mouse drives me crazy!” Then just a few minutes later, when the women are commiserating about feeling abandoned by their husbands who seem more concerned about their jobs than them, Joan states “As two  neglected wives of two overly ambitious husbands i suggest we go spend some of their money!” Well! Let the shopping commence!

dba4As far as the effects go, they’re kind of a mixed bag, The creature design for the demons is pretty darned effective, and though if you look closely you’ll notice that their mouths don’t quite move properly when they’re talking, the mask/makeup effect gives them a very creepy look.

To give them their diminutive look, the filmmakers used a combination of forced-perspective shots and oversized props, and again, these shots are kind of hit and miss, but I’d definitely say they hit more often than not.

Overall, for a movie produced on a television budget, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is an effectively atmospheric little thriller that shows you don’t have to have a 100 million dollar budget or an incredibly long running time (it clocks in at a tight 74 minutes) to produce an effective horror story that has an impact and leaves an impression.

 

 

Saturday Double Feature: Black and Blue (2019) and…

Okay, let’s start with the obligatory recap of the rules, shall we?  The basic idea here is to take a movie that is out in theaters now, and pair it up with another movie from the before the year 2000. (Yes, this is a change from the original rules, which said the movie had to be from 1980 or before, but let’s be honest, at this point even 2000 is ancient history to a lot of the younger readers out there, so while I’m most likely still going to go for older movies whenever possible, since the real reason for this idea is to introduce my readers to movies they may not be familiar with, I think the rule change works.) Sometimes the connection will be obvious, and sometimes it’ll be a little less so, but that’s part of the fun.

bnb1So this week we get a gender-swapped version of the old trope of the police officer who sees something they shouldn’t involving their colleagues and then has to go on the run and find some way to bring the bad cops to justice. In the case of this week’s movie Black and Blue, it’s Naomie Harris who sees fellow cops murder someone (and since it’s 2019, the crime is caught on her body cam) and who has to somehow stay alive long enough to bring the crime to the attention of someone who will do something about it.

Yeah, like I said, we’ve seen this story plenty of times before, but that doesn’t mean this won’t be a good movie. Just because a story isn’t original doesn’t mean it can’t be told well. I just hope it has something to say beyond “it’s even harder for her because she’s an African-American woman.” I’m not saying that’s not true, but I’d just like to see the movie go a little deeper.

So what older movie do we pick for a double feature with Black and Blue? How about what is probably the ur- example of the genre, 1973’s Serpico. An obvious choice? Maybe, but only, I suspect for those of a certain age, and since part of the reason for this whole exercise is to introduce some of my younger readers to films they may not know, it seems like this is the perfect choice for today.

Al Pacino In SerpicoSerpico is based on the true story of Frank Serpico, a straight-shooting New York cop who quickly rises from patrolman to detective, but he soon discovers that beatings, bribes, and corruption are a way of life in the precinct and that he isn’t trusted by his fellow officers because he won’t participate in the wrongdoing. His partners even fo so far as to put him in deadly situations hoping that he will either change his mind and play ball or, just as well for them, be killed. When his superiors turn a blind eye to everything that is going on, Serpico finally decides he has no other choice but to go public with his allegations.

Directed by Sidney Lumet, Serpico stars Al Pacino who was fresh off The Godfather, and who delivers a relatively restrained performance here. (Well, restrained compared to his more recent work where he is AL F@#$ING PACINO BABY!!!) The two would team up again just a couple of years later for Dog Day Afternoon – another film from the era which, if you haven’t seen I highly recommend.

In the end, Serpico is, in many ways a portrait of another time, and it gives us a glimpse of a New York that really doesn’t exist anymore. But, at the same time, just as these “one good cop against the corrupt force” movies are still being (and probably forever will be) made, let’s be honest, corruption among those with power will never really be gone either.

Here’s your trailer:

For The Love Of Crap – Dracula Vs Frankenstein (1971)

dvf6I would call Al Adamson’s 1971 movie Dracula vs Frankenstein a guilty pleasure, but the truth is, I really don’t feel that guilty about loving it.

No, I’m not going to try to make the case that DvF belongs in the horror flick pantheon alongside such movies as Universal’s original Dracula or Frankenstein, or any of the Hammer variations on those monsters, but then again, that’s not what this movie was meant to be, either. And for that matter, if you look at Universal’s own later monster mash-ups like House of Dracula or Hammer’s later films like (especially) Dracula A.D. 1972, they were not exactly paragons of high art either.

On the other hand, despite its obvious low budget and its couldn’t-be-any-time-but-the-70s feel, Adamson’s movie does deliver on its premise. Not only does it feature a climactic fight between the two titular characters, but it also features J Carrol Naish as a quite mad scientist Dr. Frankenstein and Lon Chaney in a Jeckyll/Hyde type role as his Igor-ish assistant. Hey, there’s even an evil little person (played by the instantly recognizable 2′ 11″ tall Angelo Rositto) who is the barker for Naish’s traveling House of Freaks – excuse me,”Creature Emporium” – carnival side-show. Even Jim Davis (who fans of the original version of the TV show Dallas will recognize as Jock Ewing) puts in an appearance as the local sheriff who apparently blames the local hippies for not only rape and drug use, but white slavery.

dvf2Of course, when I say the movie features Naish and Chaney, I should point out that this was the last movie for both of those stars, and they were both showing the effects of their years. Naish, who plays Dr.Duryea, the last descendant of the original Dr. Frankenstein, was wheelchair-bound and had to read his lines off of cue cards, and Chaney was at this point just a large ball of sweat and probably permantly pickled to boot. It’s no wonder that his character was written as basically mute.

Now that may sound like bad news for the film, but we really haven’t even scratched the surface. For his Dracula, Adamson cast an actor named Zandor Vorkov. Okay, Iactually made two misstatements in that sentence. The first was calling Vorkov an actor. He was actually Adamson’s stock broker. And his real name was Robert Engle. But that’s okay, because once Adamson was through smearing him with dime-store face paint and tricking out his goatee and afro (not to mention a set of fangs that probably came from one of those pseudo-gumball machines) it’s highly unlikely that any of his clients would have recognized him, especially since his voice is run through an echo box which gives him an uncanny sound. Yeah.

dvf1One thing that isn’t hidden, however, but possibly should be, is the abundant cleavage of Regina Carroll, who just happens to have been Adamson’s wife. Carroll plays a “singer” whose sister has gone missing, and who insists on trying to find her with or without police aid. We are introduced to Ms. Carroll onstage while she is on stage in a dress cut down to her navel perfoming what is presumably her signature song “I Travel Light”. (A song which, again fortunately for us, the viewers, we get to see perfomed in its entirety. Hey, Adamson had 90 minutes to fill. Why shouldn’t he take 17 of them to promote his wife’s singing career?)`

What’s that? So what’s the plot? Umm… yeah, sure, let’s take a look at that. It seems that Duryea has somehow come up with a serum that will… prolong life? …give extra power? let vampires live in the sunlight? Yeah, that last part eventually becomes a thing, but what it’s really intended for is kind of unclear. Oh, and there is one drawback to the serum. It requires enzymes that are released into the blood when someone is in fear for their lives. So in order to produce this effect, he sends Lon Chaney out with an axe to chop the heads off of unsuspecting women on the beach and he then reattaches the head and, using techniques developed by his infamous ancestor revives them and extracts their blood which is now saturated with this enzyme.

dvf3Yeah, that seems like a reasonable plan to me, how about you?

In the meantime, Dracula has tracked down the remains of the original Frankenstein monster who now,thanks to all that he’s been through in innumerable sequels, has a face that looks like it may very well be made of deformed mushrooms. He brings the monster to Duryea and offers to give it to the doctor so that he can get revenge on the men who caused the accident that killed his wife and left him crippled. (Why Duryea couldn’t have just sent Chaney after the men since he seems so adept at swinging that axe I’m not sure, but hey, let’s not ask those kind of questions, okay?) And what does Drac want in exchange for the monster? Well, remember above when I mentioned that the serum was able to give vampires the ability to withstand the sunlight? Well somehow Drac not only knows about the serum but what it can do. Therefore he proposes an exchange.

Meanwhile… remember Adamson’s wife with the missing sister? Well she’s been investigating on her own, which leads to her going to a hippie hangout bar, getting her drink drugged, dancing like a dervish, passing out, and waking up in the apartment of “Mike” who apparently serves as some kind of father figure to the local beach rats. It doesn’t take long for the two of them to fall for each other, nor to fall into the hands of Duryea when she becomes the target of one of Chaney’s little murder sprees. No, he doesn’t cut her head off, but he does wind up chasing them into Duryea’s lab where she finds that her sister has become one of his victims.

dvf4Okay, once again dear reader, I have to admit that I have lied to you. I said “it doesn’t take long”, but the truth is everything in this movie takes far too long, mostly because ev-er-y-th-ing must be spelled out with inane exposition. Still, eventually we get there.

Meanwhile again, Duryea has succeeded in reviving the monster, who he has sent out to kill the first of the doctors who wronged him, Forrest J Ackerman. That’s right, kids, Uncle Forry himself shows up and actually gets a decent bit of screen time before Frankie off him with an extremely aggressive crotch bump.

Anyway, all of this eventually leads to everyone reconvening in Dr. Duryea’s lab where mayhem (and possibly junehem and julyhen as well…) ensues. The doctor is killed. Drac is interrupted in his bondage playtime with the busty blonde by her new boyfriend who winds up incinerated by Drac’s fire-ray spouting death ring for his troubles. (Oh, had I forgotten to mention that Drac has a fire-ray spouting death ring? sorry. Yeah, that’s a thing.) Drac realizes that his plan to raise a Legion of the Unliving has been denied him, he takes it out on Frankie which leads to a dramatic fight in the woods where he proceeds to rip the monster’s arms and then his head off before being melted himself by the rising sun. And Adanmson’s wife escapes her bonds just in time to watch the dead leaves that used to be Drac blow away.

dvf5Now i know it may seem that I’m being pretty harsh on this flick, and that may seem inconsistent with the fact that I said at the top of this that i love this flick, but the truth is that the movie’s awfulness is a big part of its appeal. We all have this notion of the “so bad it’s good” movie, and this one falls into that category for me. Everything from the horrendous “acting” of Zandor Vorkov to the less than especially effective special effects to the almost pitiable appearance of the former classic horror stars to…well, all of it, it’s a case of the whole being an incredibly much greater sum of the parts.

Is Dracula vs Frankenstein kinda crap? Yeah, I admit that it is. But it’s crap that I love. And I suspect that if you give it a look it might turn out to be the same for you.

Here’s your trailer: