Freaks (1932)

Directed by Tod Browning [Other horror films: The Unknown (1927), London After Midnight (1927), Dracula (1931), Mark of the Vampire (1935), The Devil-Doll (1936)]

This film may have a long and sometimes uncomfortable set-up, but I think the ending more than makes up for it, and allows it the status of a deserving classic that is has.

Focusing on a failed love between a dwarf and an acrobat, Freaks takes it’s sweet time setting the finale up, which might bother some fans of the genre. Watching a black-and-white love story featuring carnival sideshow attractions might not be everyone’s idea of a fun time.

Still, the fact the film used real performers in their roles really adds a little something special to Freaks. Obviously, some of the people here just look naturally unsettling (through no fault of their own, to be sure), and I can imagine that audiences in the 1930’s could easily be turned away by this (and I’ve also heard that the ‘deformed’ cast members ate separately from the ‘normal’ cast members during the filming of this, which is pretty damn awful).

The ‘freaks,’ though, aren’t the enemies here, despite what some might at first believe. Their actions toward the end of the film aren’t necessarily great, but really, who could blame them? Their revenge here is fantastic, and leads to possibly one of the most shocking scenes in a 1930’s horror film.

A few names warrant a mention here. Wallace Ford (a somewhat well-known name who was in other, mostly low-budget, horror films from the period) did pretty well playing the clown, and seemed to possess the most feeling. Angelo Rossitto was also fantastic, especially during the intimidation sequence. Also, playing the main dwarf, Harry Earles put a lot of emotion into this one, and he certainly stood out. Others very much worth mentioning are Johnny Eck (the guy with no legs, who walked on his hands), Henry Victor (Hercules), and Leila Hyams (Venus, also of Island of Lost Souls).

Freaks isn’t a long movie, being just over an hour long, and I was never bored despite the bulk of the movie being a romantic drama. Truth be told, though I’ve seen this once or twice before, it’s never really been a favorite, but seeing it again did hit the right spot, and I can certainly imagine this shocking the audiences of the time.

8/10

The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Directed by Irving Pichel [Other horror films: N/A] & Ernest B. Schoedsack [Other horror films: The Monkey’s Paw (1933), King Kong (1933), Dr. Cyclops (1940)]

This is one of those classics that I don’t often think about, but after seeing it again, I think it’ll go up in my rankings of 30’s classics.

Based off a short story of the same name written by Richard Connell, the simple story (a hunter becomes the hunted upon arriving on an island following a shipwreck) here contains a hell of a lot of suspense, and that, mixed with some pretty memorable characters, makes this a movie to be aware of.

Though Joel McCrea no doubt does a solid job as the protagonist, it’s Leslie Banks as Zaroff who really steals the show. He feels very much like the madman that he probably is, and while he’s not quite as memorable as Charles Laughton from Island of Lost Souls, he’s still very much the fun character here. For comedic relief, we have Robert Armstrong, who plays a somewhat hilarious drunkard here. Fay Wray is great too, as McCrea’s romantic interest. For her part, she knows a bit more about Banks’ character than McCrea does, so she’s pretty useful also.

The idea of hunting humans (calling them ‘the most dangerous game’) isn’t really something that would bat an eye nowadays, but it was done really well back then, and the hunt through the jungle-like environment, especially near that boggy, misty area, was thrilling from beginning to end.

In the early 1930’s, there are so many classic horror movies that The Most Dangerous Game can easily get overlooked, and like I said, despite having seen and enjoyed it before, I too sort of forgot about it. It’s a good movie, though, and definitely worth a look if you’re a fan of the classics.

8.5/10

Dead Men Walk (1943)

Directed by Sam Newfield [Other horror films: The Mad Monster (1942), The Monster Maker (1944), The Flying Serpent (1946)]

I have little to say about this one, because ultimately, Dead Men Walk is extraordinarily forgettable.

A big problem, though, isn’t with the film itself, but the commonly-available copy. It’s audio tends to be muffled and garbled, making it pretty hard at times to make out some dialogue. I got a lot of it, but there are times when whole lines go over my head, and that certainly can’t be blamed on the movie itself.

What can be blamed, though, is the generic and uninspired story. Despite being just over an hour, it’s also pretty dull. At best, you have Dwight Frye (Dracula, Frankenstein, The Vampire Bat) and George Zucco (The Mad Monster, The Mad Ghoul, Fog Island, and The Flying Serpent), but neither one makes up for a lucklaster plot, which Dead Men Walk definitely boasts.

I’ve thought for a long while that the 1940’s was probably the weakest decade in terms of horror output, and this goes a long way to showcase my point. This movie easily could have been made ten years earlier and not feel an ounce out of place, and it still would have been uninspired, which is a shame.

Dead Men Walk isn’t a movie I’d recommend watching once, and I’ve seen it twice, which is probably the most I’ll ever see it. It’s just pointless and meandering, even for the time, making this just a disappointing film, and only for those who deeply love lower-level 40’s films.

4/10

The Wasp Woman (1959)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

I didn’t go into this one with high expectations, and I got pretty much what I thought I would out of it. I didn’t really think The Wasp Woman was horrible, and the story itself wasn’t that bad, but I do feel that this is pretty forgettable, and following The Fly by a year, somewhat laughable.

It’s more than that, though, because even though the design of the wasp woman is pretty terrible, at least the scenes in which she appeared had some action. Otherwise, the movie was pretty damn dull, and while I can appreciate some set-up, this movie really dragged things out with little reason (especially given the film is just a little over an hour).

The only individual here who I really thought stood out at all was Michael Mark, who played the foreign scientist who led to the creation of the horrifying wasp/human hybrid. Mark certainly wasn’t amazing, but he was amusing from time to time, and given much of the rest of the cast was stale, I guess I’d give him kudos for keeping things fresh.

The finale here seems a bit rushed, and it took the characters in the film more than a little time to realize that people have been dying, so as for suspense, well, I’d look elsewhere. There’s not even much an emotional impact, as the titular wasp woman, played by Susan Cabot, wasn’t particularly sympathetic.

Of course, the design of the Wasp Woman itself was pretty silly, but I suspect they cobbled something together the best they could with what they had, so while it didn’t look stellar, I don’t really hold that against the film. The bigger issue here by far is the lackluster story, and the fact that even at just over an hour, The Wasp Woman dragged like nobody’s business.

All said and done, The Wasp Woman is a weak outing from Roger Corman, who did plenty of actually good movies, such as Pit and the Pendulum, The Little Shop of Horrors, The Haunted Palace, and A Bucket of Blood. Hell, even Attack of the Crab Monsters, a film rather flawed, was more fun than this. The Wasp Woman is just dry and lacking much of interest, and it’s not a movie I suspect I’d watch again any time soon.

4.5/10

The Thing from Another World (1951)

Directed by Christian Nyby [Other horror films: N/A] & Howard Hawks [Other horror films: N/A]

This classic is always worth a watch, because the atmosphere here is next to none. To modern audiences, the story might not be that original, but the setting and atmosphere here really make this a claustrophobic classic.

My favorite performance here is probably Robert Cornthwaite, a scientist who butts heads consistently with the military. His character didn’t always make the best choices, but I can’t help but respect his dedication to science and trying to find common ground between the alien being and themselves. Kenneth Tobey felt more generic than anything, and his romance with Margaret Sheridan’s character didn’t really interest me, but at least Douglas Spencer’s ‘Holy cats’ was fun.

Once the alien being is revived and escapes, the movie begins moving at a quicker pace, what with them trying to locate the creature and the scientists trying to discover more about it (the plasma garden was appropriately grisly on that front), and the tension growing throughout. The finale in itself is solidly tense, and while it’s wrapped in the cliché ‘science is sometimes a boon, not a help’ frame-of-mind, it’s still done well.

The Thing from Another World is one of the few note-worthy horror movies from the early 1950’s, and there’s certainly a reason for that. Though the titular ‘thing’ doesn’t appear that much, when it does, it certainly looks threatening in the black-and-white format of the film. As much as I like the movie, though, I don’t really think it’s perfect, or close (a big part of this is the generic nature of the main character and his romantic entanglements, which seemed entirely unnecessary). Still, it’s a movie very much worth seeing, and I do rather enjoy it.

7.5/10

The Strangler (1964)

Directed by Burt Topper [Other horror films: N/A]

What makes The Strangler a movie worth remembering is the performance of Victor Buono. Sure, the crisp black-and-white looks nice, and it doesn’t feel too far removed from Psycho (which I’m sure influenced this), but Buono’s performance here is what makes it work.

Others in the film do fine, including his atrocious mother played by Ellen Corby, a detective played by David McLean, and two attractive young women Davey Davison and Diane Sayer, but no one stands out as well as Buono does, and truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before this, Buono had a quite a few small television roles, along with some uncredited movie roles, until he played a character in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which was probably one of his first bigger roles. But The Strangler was one of his earliest starring roles, and boy, does it work for him.

While the kills are as tepid as you could expect from the 1960’s, the characterization Buono puts in is fantastic, and I personally can’t help but feel sympathetic for his character (especially after seeing what his mother puts him through). It’s just heartbreaking at times, and Victor Buono really shows it on his face and pained expressions.

The Strangler was a good movie when I first saw it some years back, and it’s still a movie very much worth watching. In many ways, I’m reminded of a movie I saw just some weeks ago called The Couch, which was also a 1960’s film focusing on an insane killer and his steady decline in a psychological manner. The Strangler is the better of the two, but I think both would fit well on a two-pack, but no matter what, definitely give this one a look if you’re a fan of 60’s horror.

8/10

Shadows of the Dead (2016)

Directed by John Ross [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a Syfy film I have little to say about, which isn’t really surprising. Shadows of the Dead isn’t a particularly poor film, but it’s certainly not that memorable, and I probably couldn’t see myself giving this one another go.

Story-wise, the movie takes a somewhat interesting route. I truthfully expected most of the movie to take place during the anti-prom party at the beginning, but no, it’s over the following days that the bulk of the story unfolds. It doesn’t really make the story itself any less mediocre, but it did go against my expectations, so that’s at least something.

Really, there aren’t many memorable characters here. I guess you have some decent young actresses (Kennedy Tucker, Alexandria Paige, and Lindsay Elston), but no one stood out whatsoever. As far as characters go, my favorite was probably the shadow creature, which looked okay (though every time it was onscreen, I was reminded of the Marvel comic book character The Fury, an enemy of Captain Britain).

I highly doubt I’ll remember Shadows of the Dead in another two weeks, and already small things going from my memory. The movie wasn’t nearly as bad as other newer horror films could be, but there’s little here going for it, and I can’t say that this is one I think many would look highly upon.

5/10

Nightmare Honeymoon (1974)

Directed by Elliot Silverstein [Other horror films: The Car (1977)]

If ever a movie has been marketed to the wrong audience, Nightmare Honeymoon would be a great example. Looking at the poster, you’d expect perhaps a somewhat exploitative grindhouse flick, but instead, you get a drama with a pinch of horror (and that’s if you’re being generous).

This isn’t really the movie’s fault, but more whoever decided to try and pitch the film to horror fans. When all’s said and done, Nightmare Honeymoon is decent, but it’s really not what I was looking for whatsoever, and I can’t help but find a lot of it a waste of time.

It could have been decent, though. This could have been a bloody tale of revenge, but instead, it felt like a subdued action movie at best, and overly melodramatic at worst. It wasn’t without it’s potential, as Rebecca Dianna Smith does well as a tragic victim of rape, and her husband (of a few hours, as they were on their honeymoon when she was attacked) Dack Rambo did good as someone seeking revenge.

But the revenge here wasn’t like what you might think from watching The Last House on the Left or I Spit on Your Grave, but just chasing down the manic rapist (played sadistically by John Beck) with ill intent and a gun.

If this is the type of movie you’re looking for, then it probably works well for you. The movie isn’t bad, like I said, just marketed to the wrong people. As a drama, Nightmare Honeymoon might be worth a watch, and even as a tepid tale of revenge, maybe there’s an audience, but as a horror movie, I think it’s quite weak and very much a disappointment.

4/10

Malignant (2021)

Directed by James Wan [Other horror films: Stygian (2000), Saw (2004), Dead Silence (2007), Insidious (2010), The Conjuring (2013), Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), The Conjuring 2 (2016)]

Being only the fourth movie I’ve seen from 2021 (the first three being the Fear Street movies), Malignant came out of nowhere and took Twitter by storm. I saw so many reactions to this movie in such a short span of time, and though I don’t usually jump into seeing new movies that quickly, I did have the opportunity to watch this, and definitely found it worthwhile.

I don’t think I can call it a great movie. There are plenty of very well-done elements, to be sure, but at best, I think it’s just quite good. It can be a wild ride, especially if you go in with very few preconceptions (as I did, as luckily, most of what I saw online was quite vague). I didn’t know what I was going into, and I definitely had a blast trying to figure out exactly what was going on, which always makes for a good experience.

Reaction has been somewhat mixed – generally, I see positive comments, but it seems that those who disliked the movie disliked it quite a bit, and I can sort of see that. Toward the end, there were portions I wasn’t particularly fond of myself, and if someone sits through an almost two hour movie to reach an unsatisfactory conclusion, I get why that might leave a bad taste in your mouth. Personally, I dug enough of the film, and found much of it interesting, that I had a pretty good time, but I think I can understand those who didn’t.

Even if someone didn’t like it, though, if there’s one thing Malignant excels in, it’s having an engaging story. You’re trying to figure out the whole story along with the characters, and are having a good time doing so. Some of the cinematography is absolutely stunning (such as the overhead point-of-views during a chase sequence), some of the scares superb (the washer scene, for instance), and the atmosphere quite strong. Some feel it’s reminiscent of classic giallos, and I myself (who watched this with online friends) saw Argentino’s name pop up a few times. I don’t personally know if I’d go that far, but I can say that this movie carries with it a very unique vibe.

The somewhat amusing thing is, as much as I enjoyed portions of the movie, none of the performances wowed me. Make no mistake, I think that both Annabelle Wllis and Maddie Hasson are decent, and their performance as sisters believable, but I don’t think either one stood out. George Young was someone I was sort of expecting more from, but his character was never really given much to do, so again, there’s no much here to watch for as far as performances go.

That’s probably okay, though, as a brunt of the entertaining scenes deal with utter violence and rampage. Things go somewhat slowly during the first half of the film – I was interested and engaged throughout, don’t mistake me – but when things pick up in the last thirty minutes, they really pick up. Some expected yet still well-done revelations and violence galore (my favorite perhaps being a face being crushed on the floor, but a chair being thrown was another quality scene), and it’s just a hell of a lot of fun.

Related, the special effects (much like the camera-work) are fantastic. There are some body horror elements that look quite disturbing, and the movements of the killer have a creepy jerky look to them (which is explained in story, which is nice). The violence that plays the movie out is just a lot of fun – arms being cut off, faces being smashed, throats being slit – I don’t doubt that they knew what they were going for when they threw these action-packed sequences in, and they did a damn good job on them.

I do think the story could have been a little stronger at times, and there are some things not answered by the plot, but I did love the mystery here, and though Malignant isn’t a movie I’d call perfect, I do say freely that it’s a refreshing movie, and definitely one I’m eager to revisit in the future.

8.5/10

Final Exam (1981)

Directed by Jimmy Huston [Other horror films: My Best Friend Is a Vampire (1987)]

If there’s anything Final Exam did, it solidified my hate of fraternities.

This is a decently classic slasher that took me until now to finally sit down and watch, and while the kills were decent, I will admit to being disappointed by some aspects of the movie (especially in regards to the killer).

Generally, I enjoy the atmosphere here, which feels not too dissimilar from other slashers of this time period. It’s not great, but it’s decent, especially since we have a few positive characters here (mostly Lisa and Radish, but Janet was okayish also).

Cecile Bagdadi only has this movie in her IMDb credits, which is a bit sad, as I think she does decent here as the main girl, if not maybe a bit generic. Still, her conversations with Joel S. Rice (Radish) were somewhat touching, and held a bit of depth. Otherwise, there wasn’t much in the way of characters that inspired me.

The whole frat thing just bugged the hell out of me, though. I know that this is from an entirely different era, but that prank at the beginning (which was entirely beyond the pale) should have gotten them thrown in jail at the very least, and they never get better, and harassing pledges (stripping one down and tying them to a tree, while shoving ice down their underwear, is another act that should get them thrown in jail), which is done to this day, is just disgusting.

I can ignore the stupid frat guys, though, and get to my real problem, which was the killer. Having never seen this before, I was expecting something with a bit more mystery as opposed to The Slumber Party Massacre, but even that movie gave a lot more explanation of the killer than we got here. We literally got nothing – not a name, motive, nada. Obviously, if the kills are decent and the characters are fine, maybe I could let that slide, but it’s not like the movie was stellar in either of those departments.

I’m not going to go as far as to say Final Exam was a failure, just that I was expecting a slasher of a higher caliber, and this seemed to bring little worth mentioning to the table.

6.5/10