Les diaboliques (1955)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot [Other horror films: N/A]

This French classic, widely known as Diabolique, has never been a particular favorite of mine. It’s a solid film, with a strong atmosphere permeating the whole product, and of course, the finale is pretty great, but at almost two hours long, every time I see this, I can’t help but feel as though it drags at points.

Obviously, this film has received critical acclaim, and later went on to inspire Psycho, so you know it’s heart’s in the right place, but on a personal level, I just can’t fully find it in me to love the movie. This isn’t to say I dislike it – like I said, Diabolique has a great atmosphere – but when it comes to classic horror films to watch, this wouldn’t really make my list, unless I was focused on French horror from the mid-1950’s.

None of this is supposed to sound harsh, and to spoil things, I’m giving this movie an average rating; I just feel as though I’m in the awkward position to defend an unpopular opinion on a movie that I don’t even dislike. I think Diabolique is an okay movie, and the finale obviously went on to influence hundreds of other films (and to be entirely fair, this film is based on a novel – Celle qui n’était plus, or She Who Was No More), but I personally find much of it a slough to get through.

Véra Clouzot (who died just five years later, at the age of 46) worked well with Simone Signoret. The pair of them made for good protagonists, and as the movie kept going, you could see the increased pressure they were under to try and figure out exactly what was going on. I found Clouzot’s character quite irksome at times – her ability to lie was worse than Janet Leigh’s character in Psycho – but her performance was sound. Paul Meurisse played a horribly unlikable man well, and I liked Charles Vanel’s gruff, yet paradoxically gentle, version of a private detective.

For a classic piece of cinema that inspired so many future films, Diabolique is definitely a movie worth seeing. It’s an atmospheric and moody film with beautiful cinematography and great tension. Of course, it’s also two hours long, and I just don’t know if there’s as much meat as I’d prefer. If you’re offended I’m not giving this a higher score, then worst case scenario, don’t listen to me, and ignore all my reviews. It’s the best I can say.


Dracula’s Daughter (1936)

Directed by Lambert Hillyer [Other horror films: The Invisible Ray (1936)]

Despite the fact my love of horror partially originated from being raised on the Universal classics such as Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Invisible Man, I’ve a rather woeful record of watching the sequels to those classics. Never having seen, nor honestly thought much of, Dracula’s Daughter, I was definitely curious as to how they pushed on, and was quite happy with the result.

Taking place immediately following the events of Dracula, this film follows Edward Van Sloan’s Von Helsing (in the 1931 movie, his name was Van Helsing, but for some reason, they changed it up here) as he’s arrested for staking someone through the heart. Throw in a mysterious woman who steals Dracula’s corpse and shenanigans on the foggy streets of London, and you’re in for a good time.

I was rather pleased with a lot of this movie. Never having seen it, I didn’t know if it would be that connected to the 1931 classic, so seeing the film pick up right where that left off, with characters such as Renfield being mentioned (though I do wish they had name-dropped Harker, or thought to confirm Von Helsing’s story with anyone in the first movie), was a pleasant surprise. It’s nice to have that continuation when you don’t necessarily expect it.

The plot overall is pretty decent. I didn’t personally care about Dracula’s daughter wanting to fight her natural urges to go a-killin’, but it did give her more personality to work with. Also, the fact she’s a low-key lesbian is sort of fun. Apparently part of this story may be influenced by a classic gothic horror novel titled Carmilla, written by Sheridan Le Fanu, so if you do notice potential lesbian subtexts, that may be why.

Gloria Holden is no Bela Lugosi, but I thought she did admirably with her character, and definitely had a solid presence to her. Otto Kruger made for a pretty good lead, and seemed to work well with Marguerite Churchill. Speaking of chemistry, Gloria Holden had great chemistry with Nan Grey, who did a decent amount with her role. Edgar Norton (who I recognize from the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was nice to see in a single scene, and though he’s not the focal point, it is great that Edward Van Sloan returned, as he’s the only face from the first movie that’s here.

Like many of the Universal classics, this is a pretty digestible movie, and it has that fun atmosphere that you’d come to expect from these films. I was personally impressed by how much I enjoyed this, and while I wouldn’t say it’s better than the 1931 movie, I would put forth that it’s perhaps around equivalent.


La tarantola dal ventre nero (1971)

Directed by Paolo Cavara [Other horror films: Mondo cane (1962), E tanta paura (1976)]

Giallo is one of those genres that I enjoy in small doses, and as such, there are still many quite well-known gialli that I’ve not yet seen. La tarantola dal ventre nero, better known as Black Belly of the Tarantula, is one such film, and I have to admit that, while it was decent, I was expecting a little more.

In part, I think this has to do with the lack of characterization some individuals get, not to mention a lack of as many suspects as one might hope for. There’s also elements that I don’t think are fully explained (what the link was between Giancarlo Prete’s character and Ezio Marano’s character, for instance), and the whole finale, while okay, was just that – okay, and largely unspectacular.

Admittedly this came as a surprise, as I have heard this is one of the more popular gialli out there, and perhaps one of the better ones not done by Mario Bava, Sergino Martino, Lucio Fulci, or Dario Argento. It’s a perfectly fine mystery, and the kills are decent, but even as a fan of these movies, I do feel that large portions were somewhat sluggish, and not getting the hang of the whole picture (at least as clearly as other films do, such as Deep Red) just made it feel weaker.

As far as the cast goes, the only ones who really stand out are Ezio Marano, Eugene Walter, and Giancarlo Giannini. I don’t think we really get that much information on Marano’s character, but he does well with the role. Eugene Walter had almost no relevance whatsoever to the plot, but his character appeared a few times, and he amused me. Giannini (who would pop up 30 years later as the Italian cop going after Lecter in Hannibal) was pretty solid as the lead, which is good, because otherwise, we wouldn’t have had much.

I’m always the type to enjoy mysteries mixed up with my murder, which is why giallo films appeal to me. They’re not always great (such as Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon), but sometimes they can be quite good (Don’t Torture a Duckling and the aforementioned Deep Red). Black Belly of the Tarantula is an okay movie. It’s certainly not bad, even if it does perhaps drag a little. But there’s not enough here for me to think of the movie as necessarily good, and while I’ve wanted to see it for some time now, I can admit that it doesn’t do as much for me as I’d have hoped.


Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)

Directed by Roy Del Ruth [Other horror films: The Terror (1928), The Alligator People (1959)]

While pedestrian in many ways, Phantom of the Rue Morgue is a perfectly competent example of a decent horror movie during a period in which the genre was a little dry. That fact, along with the film being in atypical color, does lend the movie a little credence.

Personally, I’ve never been that big a fan of Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932). It’s just one of those classics that isn’t my cup of tea. I’ve not read the Edgar Allan Poe story both that and Phantom of the Rue Morgue were based on either, so though there were a few things against me enjoying this, when I first saw Phantom of the Rue Morgue years back, enjoy it I did.

It’s not amazing or anything, though. It’s just a well-made movie with nice color (not a common sight for American horror films from this time period) and decent performances. Karl Malden hasn’t really done much in the horror genre, but he does great here playing his role in the vein of Island of Lost Soul’s Charles Laughton and The Most Dangerous Game’s Leslie Banks. Steve Forrest made for a good sympathetic character, and while perhaps not intentional, Claude Dauphin did well as a dangerously idiotic and abusive police inspector.

There is a decent mystery for a good portion of the film, or at least there would be, if I hadn’t already seen the 1932 version nor had a working knowledge of Poe’s more well-known works. Even so, the first half of the film is pretty good, with some fun sequences (such as a character chasing someone on the rooftops), and while there’s nothing wrong with the finale, it just seems more-of-the-same, and not all that remarkable.

Phantom of the Rue Morgue is a decent movie. I thought so when I first saw it, and I still do. I don’t really think it’s above average, but it’s certainly not below, and if 50’s horror is something you need more of in your life, there are worse ideas out there then giving Phantom of the Rue Morgue a try.


Child’s Play (1972)

Directed by Sidney Lumet [Other horror films: N/A]

It’s been quite a long while since I’ve been blown away by a movie. Child’s Play isn’t amazing, and to be 100% honest, calling it a horror film may not be entirely accurate, but it is a movie that has an insanely heavy amount of creeping tension, and it’s not an experience I can describe easily.

In fact, it reminds me of films like The Wicker Man and Don’t Deliver Us from Evil. There’s an oppressive atmosphere that permeates the whole film, and the tension here just builds and builds (though arguably, it doesn’t necessarily lead to anything). The final scene still carries that tension wonderfully, and you want to see what happens next.

This was truly a nerve-wracking experience. I think the reason for that is it’s based on a play written by Robert Marasco. If you don’t know the name, I wouldn’t be surprised, but because I’m a large fan of the film Burnt Offerings, I know Marasco wrote the novel Burnt Offerings is based on. And like Burnt Offerings, which has a deep sense of uneasiness throughout the film, Child’s Play has the exact same thing.

Plot-wise, some ideas aren’t fully answered or explained, and there’s a bit of an open-ended conclusion here. I would have liked a little more input from some of the student characters, as most of the film focuses around the faculty of a Catholic school, but even with a few issues like this, it doesn’t change how striking the film is.

The cast is amazing. There’s really only three central performances, those of Robert Preston, Beau Bridges, and James Mason, and all three are absolutely amazing. Bridges is the most generic of the bunch, but that’s only because Mason and Preston are Gods among men. They put a lot into this movie, and it just makes the whole thing great. Smaller parts played by Ron Weyand and David Rounds (who plays character I quite appreciated) compliment the central actors nicely.

I need more time to fully digest this one. It’s rare I see a movie as unique as this, and though it’s definitely not a movie for everyone, I do think the experience is worth it. It’s not a fun movie at all; it’s a somber, oppressive mystery filled with a lot of drama and the trials of being a teacher, but it’s still an experience worth having.


Puppet Master (1989)

Directed by David Schmoeller [Other horror films: Tourist Trap (1979), Crawlspace (1986), Catacombs (1988), The Arrival (1991), Netherworld (1992), Possessed (2005), Little Monsters (2012), Puppet Master: Blitzkrieg Massacre (2018), Death Heads: Brain Drain (2018), Carnage Collection – Puppet Master: Trunk Full of Terror (2022)]

The Puppet Master series is an interesting one, partially because it’s actually a pretty good batch of movies, and mirroring my opinions on the Friday the 13th series, I think the first movie is one of the weaker entries.

And the funny thing is that’s not even that much of a knock against this one, because Puppet Master is still decent. No doubt it has a quality atmosphere, and with a nice location and moderately enjoyable story, it’s a decent movie. It just doesn’t do as much for me as some of the sequels do.

I always have loved the variety of puppets here. Some of them don’t get too much into the action (such as Jester and one named Shredder Khan), but plenty get some stand-out scenes, such as the most strikingly designed one named Pinhead (picture a tiny head on a damn strong body) and my personal favorite Blade. I never really liked Leech Woman, but Tunneler is damn awesome, and what makes all of this better is that the effects behind the puppets looks great.

I think part of the reason I don’t care for this one quite as much as later films is the fact this feels a decent amount more somber and atmospheric. I don’t mind the atmosphere, to be sure, but it takes a little bit to get going, and it’s never quite the zany fun you might have with future films in the series.

Even so, most of the cast did pretty well. I can take or leave Paul Le Mat (who was also in the underrated Grave Secrets) as the lead, but Robin Frates, Irene Miracle (Inferno), and Kathryn O’Reilly were solid. My favorite non-puppet character was played by Matt Roe, who had such a business-focused mind. And though he only got the opening scene, William Hickey did great as André Toulon, and really sold the fact he cared for the puppets.

None of the deaths in the film are amazing themselves, but there’s a certain enjoyment in seeing a woman beaten to death with a fire poker by a puppet, or seeing the aftermath of a puppet’s drill head drilling into another character. None of these deaths are all that gruesome (aside from maybe the leech one, but that’s because I hate leeches), but some may stick out in your memory well enough.

I think Puppet Master is a decent movie in a pretty decent series. I’ve only seen these films, at least at the point of this writing, up to the 2010 Axis of Evil, and there’s really only two flops that I can remember (2003’s The Legacy and 1999’s Retro Puppet Master). It’s a generally-solid series, and though this beginning isn’t my favorite, it’s a well-made movie, and is worth seeing nonetheless.


Deadly Stingers (2003)

Directed by J.R. Bookwalter [Other horror films: The Dead Next Door (1989), Robot Ninja (1989), Zombie Cop (1991), Kingdom of the Vampire (1991), Shock Cinema Vol. 3 (1991), Shock Cinema Vol. 4 (1991), Ozone (1993), The Sandman (1995), Polymorph (1996), Witchouse II: Blood Coven (2000), Witchouse 3: Demon Fire (2001)]

Originally titled Deadly Stingers, Mega Scorpions (which isn’t near as interesting a title, in my opinion) is classy early 2000’s creature feature fun. It’s far from a good movie, but if you enjoy films such as Spiders, Python, Glass Trap, and King Cobra, you may well enjoy this.

Of course, the special effects are pretty horrible, especially the giant 3D ants, which truly look awful. And yet, I can’t help but postulate that they still look better than post-2010 Syfy efforts (Lavalantula, 2-Headed Shark Attack, those types of things). I mean, it’s no doubt shitty, but this was from 2003, so it’s almost charming, whereas later films don’t have near as much an excuse.

It’s also worth mentioning that Deadly Stingers had some unique story arcs. Some characters that I would have bet would have lasted longer died somewhat early on, and though this movie is really no better than any number of generic giant insects go wild films from the time period, I did appreciate how it almost had an air of unpredictability, or at least more unpredictability than you’d expect from a movie of this caliber.

The cast here was pretty fun all around. True, some of the performances didn’t shine (such as Sewell Whitney, Marcella Laasch, John Henry Richardson, and Stephen O’Mahoney), but then you have decent performances from Nicolas Read, Sarah Megan White (who had horrible delivery, but her character grew on me), and a personal favorite Trent Haaga (of Slices and Bonnie & Clyde vs. Dracula). There was even a one-hit wonder in the form of a short scene with Ariauna Albright, who I know as one of the leads in Bloodletting.

Now as you can imagine, portions of the story are flimsy, and with the special effects being a general failure, this is one of those movies that a large swath of people, even horror fans, would likely not seek out. I will give mild credit to a sequence in which an autopsy is done on a giant scorpion in order to remove it’s venom sacks – that scene was #gnarly.

I did have more fun with this movie than I suspect many would. That doesn’t mean I think the movie’s good, of course, but if I’m being fair, I do think, especially for the type of movie it is, that it’s watchable, and I think that it’s one I’d be okay watching again.


The Mad Magician (1954)

Directed by John Brahm [Other horror films: The Undying Monster (1942), The Lodger (1944)]

In many ways a companion piece to 1953’s House of Wax, The Mad Magician is a film I heard little about, and in fact, aside from Vincent Price’s starring role, I went in blind. I came out pretty happy too, and though not an amazing movie, I do think The Mad Magician had a decent amount going for it.

Like House of Wax, this film stars Vincent Price, who I’ll talk about in a bit, but also, this is a 3D film. In House of Wax, the 3D was inconsequential (such as a guy using a paddle ball thing), and in this film, it’s much the same, as we see a guy playing with a yo-yo, and see someone jab a sword in the camera’s direction. It’s a pretty pointless gimmick, made maybe a little worse by the fact that, unlike House of Wax, this film is black-and-white.

Otherwise, though, the story this one has is pretty fun, dealing with Vincent Price getting revenge on some horrible people, which is always a blast. It’s amusing to me how young he looks here, as this is before he sports his recognizable moustache, but his performance is no less good that you’d expect, and I thought he definitely did an amazing job. I love the element of Price’s character making masks of his victims so he can assume their identities, and the whole of the film is just a good example of quality.

Price (who I know best from House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, Theatre of Blood, The Haunted Palace, Pit and the Pendulum, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Bat, Witchfinder General, and The Fly) of course did amazing, as I said. Most others, such as Lenita Lane (also in The Bat), Donald Randolph, Mary Murphy, and Patrick O’Neal, did perfectly okay, but when Price is involved, it’s somewhat difficult for anyone else to stand out.

I did enjoy the off-screen decapitation (and on an amusing note, I watched this on a day when I watched five total horror films, and two others also had decapitations, being Bloody Moon and The Omen), and the crematory was pretty fun. The finale was unfortunate if only because I enjoyed Price’s crusade against the hideous copyright laws holding him down, and it admittedly was somewhat choreographed (in the same way the finale of The Mask of Diijon was).

Even so, The Mad Magician was a lot of fun, and being an early Price film, not to mention a digestible one, it went down quite easy. If you enjoy the classics, this might be worth seeing if you’ve not already done so.


Sam’s Lake (2006)

Directed by Andrew C. Erin [Other horror films: Playdate (2012), Havenhurst (2016)]

So Sam’s Lake is a movie I’ve seen a single time, that time being back in October 2009. I haven’t seen it since then, so revisiting it in October 2021, I was somewhat curious. I didn’t remember much about it aside from the fact that there was a lake involved, and so was certainly interested in seeing it again.

As it is, Sam’s Lake isn’t that good of a movie at all. The first 50 minutes or so were competent, as far as generic slasher-fare and character building is concerned, but some elements pop up toward the last third of the film that I just didn’t care for. Apparently this film is based off the director’s 2002 short with the same title, and I sort of wonder if that one had the same finale this one did, because if not, that short might be a better version of the same story. Regardless, the fact this is based on a short goes a long way to explain how threadbare this feels.

Fay Masterson, Salvatore Antonio, Sandrine Holt, and Stephen Bishop (who I randomly know from the sports drama Moneyball) all did a decent job, despite the fact that the story didn’t give a whole lot for some of these characters to do. There’s not a big cast in the film, though, and the fact that half of the main cast was decent is at least something to commend.

For the most part, though, this story is just generic slasher stuff, and absolutely none of it is surprising or noteworthy. None of the kills were really anything to write home about, and the twist that sets off the last thirty minutes was something I saw coming ten minutes in (and I know I said I’ve seen this, but given it’s been around 12 years, you can rest assured knowing I had forgotten about all of these characters, not to mention any twists the film might have had). There’s just little of interest here.

Sam’s Lake isn’t a good movie. If you want to see an okay slasher from the mid-2000’s, I guess you can go check this out, but I just don’t think most people would find it particularly worth it, and I suspect most would find this as forgettable as I have.


The Omen (1976)

Directed by Richard Donner [Other horror films: Two-Fisted Tales (1992, segment ‘Showdown’)]

Though not a movie I consider amazing, I always have thought The Omen was pretty good. It has a decently compelling story, made all the better by the mystery of Damien’s birth, and plenty of solid performances. It might be occasionally dry, but I do think it’s very much a classic.

Not being a religious individual myself, I don’t personally buy into any of the religious ramblings about the Antichrist, but unlike many exorcism films, I find that I can get into this movie far better, and it’s not all that trying. I think part of it is the fact I did first see this (or pieces of it) when I was quite young, and coupling that with the presence of a few familiar faces and classic scenes, despite not believing in the premise, I still have quite a good time.

I mean, just look at the kills here. From a woman hanging herself at a birthday party to a priest being impaled in front of a church, not to mention someone getting decapitated by a pane of glass and another individual getting pushed out a window of a hospital, there’s a lot to be found here if you’re primary concern is interesting deaths. In fact, the glass pane decapitation looks like it could be pulled out of any Final Destination movie, and while simpler in concept, the same could be said for the impalement.

Of course, it’s not only the deaths that stand out. There are a lot of great sequences, such as some characters being chased by rabid dogs in an old, dilapidated cemetery, or perhaps the baboon attack that Damien and his mother go through at the safari park. Even the finale is pretty solid all around, save for maybe the cheesiness of the final shot.

Gregory Peck (who I know best from the 1962 classic Cape Fear) was great as the lead, not buying into the Antichrist business at first (who can blame him – Patrick Troughton was a horrible messenger) but slowly figuring out the mystery and learning more about Damien’s origins. David Warner (Nightwing and a couple of other films) worked well with Peck, and the two of them scouring the Rome countryside, from monastery to cemetery, provided some of my favorite sequences in the film.

Patrick Troughton (not only one of my favorite Doctors from Doctor Who, but also The Gorgon) was a terrible messenger, but he did amazing as a religiously-inclined individual. He only got a few minutes of screen-time overall, but he dominated what he got with personality. Billie Whitelaw (Night Watch and Murder Elite) was somewhat similar, possessing a strong sinister aura. Leo McKern was a strong one-scene wonder, Lee Remick had her moments, and for a child actor, Harvey Stephens can smile with the best of them.

Overall, The Omen may not appeal to fans of more modern horror, as some of the film can feel a bit on the sluggish side. I wouldn’t call it a slow-burn – we get plenty of death throughout the whole of the movie – but it can be slow, and since it’s around an hour and 50 minutes, you might feel it. That said, I’ve always thought it hit most of the right spots, and like I said at the beginning, though I don’t find it amazing, I do think The Omen is pretty good.