Dracula (1958)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Horror of It All (1964), The Gorgon (1964), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

Horror of Dracula, sometimes known as just Dracula, is one of Hammer’s earlier ventures into horror, following both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Quatermass Xperiment. It’s a decent film with some great performances, but it’s never been a favorite of mine.

Part of it may have to do with the fact I grew up on the 1931 Universal classic version of this story, and so even to this day, when I hear ‘Dracula,’ I immediately think ‘Bela Lugosi.’ Maybe that’s not fair, but it is true. Christopher Lee, of course, is a great actor, but when it comes to Dracula, he never really possessed the suave, almost je ne sais quoi, quality that Lugosi did. Lee is perhaps more frightening, and certainly more action-packed, but I’ve always been on Team Lugosi.

Even so, I’m not blind to the flaws of the 1931 film. I do tend to prefer it – while it may feel far more stagey than Horror of Dracula, I think it has far more classic scenes and lines which this version lacks – but at the same time, I don’t think it’s vastly superior to this movie. In fact, the story here is probably a bit more crisp and tragic, with some occasionally creepy vibes (such as a vampire leading a young girl through a forest at night), and of course, the fact that this movie’s in color helps out a bit.

It’s by no means a bloody film. There is one decent scene of a stake being driven into someone that looks good, but there’s no splatter whatsoever. Late in the film, we do see some quality special effects – think the conclusion of Fright Night only done 27 years prior – but on a whole, I think The Curse of Frankenstein probably stands out a bit more than this one in terms of pushing the boundaries.

I’ve always been a huge Peter Cushing fan. From his wide horror catalogue (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Abominable Snowman), he’s never failed to entertain me, and I quite enjoy his serious character here. I especially enjoy seeing him work side-by-side with Michael Gough (who I know as Alfred from the Batman movies, but he was also in Horrors of the Black Museum, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Berserk, Black Zoo, and Trog), who perhaps plays the most tragic character of the film.

We get a good twenty or so minutes with Jonathan Harker, played here by John Van Eyssen. He’s not that memorable, but I rather liked the approach to setting the story up. Neither Carol Marsh nor Melissa Stribling did much to leave an impression, but the more humorously-inclined scenes with George Benson were fun at times.

As far as Christopher Lee goes, his performance as Dracula is fine. Like I said, I personally prefer Lugosi, but both bring something different to the role. Lee (The Wicker Man, The City of the Dead, and I, Monster) is a great actor, and though he doesn’t have a lot of screen-time here, he does make a solid and threatening impression when he does pop up, and I certainly can’t find fault in that.

I think my biggest issue with the film – which may be overstating it, as I don’t think the film is bad whatsoever – is that I’m just so familiar with the Universal classic. The story here may be better, like I said, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as classic to me. There’s no scenes that stand out as great, no quotes that stand out as stellar, and aside from Gough and Cushing, no performances which blow me away. I’ve always found Horror of Dracula a perfectly fine movie, but really, no more than that.

None of this should take anything away from the film. If I had seen this before the 1931 version, I’d likely enjoy this one more. It’s a good way to spend your time, and things pick up very nicely come the finale, which includes some solid special effects, but when it comes to classic Hammer horror, I’d personally prefer spending my time with The Curse of Frankenstein or The Mummy.

7/10

The Blob (1958)

Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. [Other horror films: 4D Man (1959)] & Russell S. Doughten Jr. [Other horror films: N/A]

Few movies are as nostalgic for me as The Blob. Ever since I was a kid, my family has owned this one on an old Goodtimes VHS tape, and I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve seen it. I won’t pretend that to a modern-day viewer the film wouldn’t have problems (one of them being that Steve McQueen doesn’t much look like a teenager here), but to me, the movie’s perfect.

Watching this now, after seeing much more that the genre has to offer, the first thing that strikes me is the fact that it’s in color, and it’s even pretty decent color. Most American horror movies didn’t switch over to color until the 1960’s, so the fact that this one was color just impresses me more than it might others who already prefer the 1988 remake.

Another thing – the catchy number at the beginning. The credit to the song goes to The Five Blobs (which is a funny artist name to begin with), and while I understand that a song like that might not seem appropriate before a horror flick, I always thought it was a lot of fun, and that song has graced my iTunes for many years now.

The story here isn’t that different from other alien invasion movies of the 1950’s, the only real difference being that the alien here is an amorphous blob as opposed to some type of bipedal humanoid. Design-wise, the blob is pretty simple, but I always liked that purpleish-pinkish shade, and the fact that it’s pretty unstoppable is also impressively horrifying.

Steve McQueen (who famously screwed himself when taking $2,500 for the film, as opposed to 10% of the film’s profits) may not be the best-cast here, but I still love what he brings to the film, and his sometimes overly-dramatic performance (“He was just gone. Just gone”). Aneta Corsaut wasn’t necessarily special here, but I still love her for her unending concern of the old man’s dog.

Earl Rowe and John Benson both brought something to their roles, Benson an authoritarian, teen-hating cop, and Rowe a cop with a bit more of an understanding nature. Their mild conflicts throughout the film were interesting (more so when we found out Benson’s character was in the war, most likely Korea), and Robert Fields’ (Tony) story about moving a friend’s car was pretty funny also (I never quite understood the exact nature of McQueen’s and Field’s relationship, but it always had charm).

I understand that some of my views are purely nostalgia, and I suspect that some people might not be able to take me seriously as a reviewer given I’m perfectly okay with allowing nostalgic value to help guide my rating (though if they’ve been reading my reviews for a while, this definitely isn’t the first time nostalgia has played a role). I maintain that there’s not an issue with that, though – most people have those movies that they’ve loved since childhood, and I certainly have loved this one for a long time.

A great piece of 50’s horror, The Blob has been a long-time favorite of mine, and I’m not the least bit guilty for giving this one the highest of ratings.

10/10

The Curse of Frankenstein (1957)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Horror of It All (1964), The Gorgon (1964), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

The Curse of Frankenstein is a classic that I don’t really have that much to say about. It’s not as classic a movie as 1931’s Frankenstein, but this Hammer production is still one of the best renditions of the story.

A large part of this is the very solid cast, and who could expect differently coming from a Hammer movie. Peter Cushing is a favorite of mine, and he’s been in so many movies of the genre that it’s really hard to narrow down his best performances. Playing Frankenstein here, Cushing was fantastic, and his sole focus on his work (at the expense of his fiancé, Hazel Court) was, as always, fun to watch.

Playing his long-time mentor and eventual foe, Robert Urquhart did a great job, and during their many arguments about the morality of Frankenstein’s experiments, Urquhart and Cushing really get into it, and you can really see his disappointment in Frankenstein toward the end of the film. These two are easily the most important, but Christopher Lee brings a lot as the Creature, playing a very different version than Karloff did, and Hazel Court too was a nice, although somewhat unimportant, addition.

I also really liked the layout of the story, with the bulk of the horrors occurring via flashback told by a condemned Cushing. The ending was somber, and truthfully I felt pretty bad for Frankenstein, though I certainly think he had his problems when it came to approaching his experiment (though the base of the experiment, I thought, was perfectly valid).

This is a Hammer classic, and I enjoy it more than the following year’s Horror of Dracula. Both are good movies, quality re-imaginings of classics, and I’d easily recommend the both of them to fans of classic horror.

8/10

Gojira (1954)

Directed by Ishirô Honda [Other horror films: Gojira no gyakushû (1955), Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (1956), Sora no daikaijû Radon (1956), Godzilla (1957), Tokyo 1960 (1957), Bijo to ekitai ningen (1958), Daikaijû Baran (1958), Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (1958), Gigantis: The Fire Monster (1959), Mosura (1961), Varan the Unbelievable (1962), King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), Matango (1963), Mosura tai Gojira (1964), Uchû daikaijû Dogora (1964), War-Gods of the Deep (1965), Furankenshutain tai chitei kaijû Baragon (1965), Furankenshutain no kaijû: Sanda tai Gaira (1966), Gezora, Ganime, Kameba: Kessen! Nankai no daikaijû (1970), Gojira tai Hedora (1971), Godzilla (1977), Godzilla 1985 (1985), Gojira vs. Desutoroiâ (1995), Gojira tai Megagirasu: Jî shômetsu sakusen (2000)]

Very much a political statement against nuclear weaponry (a statement I entirely agree with), this is a classic movie that I’ve seen bits and pieces of before, but never the whole thing at once. To the modern eye, Gojiria may not seem that special, but it’s still a decent amount of fun and overall a well-made monster movie.

You can definitely get an epic scope from the destruction that Godzilla causes during his rampages. How many people were dislocated, how much property damage, how many killed? These questions apply both to the lizard monster, and also to the U.S.A.’s dropping of nuclear bombs on two Japanese cities. It’s utter destruction, and the only viable solution is an idea that a scientist doesn’t want to share, for the sole reason that he knows it’ll be weaponized in the future.

Godzilla has a lot to say about the state of war, and I think it says it well. I found the distinction between approaches interesting (Takashi Shumura’s desire to study the creature vs. Akira Takarada’s agreement with the military to destroy it), and I see the validity behind both points (in a way, it reminds me of Day of the Dead). Takashi Shumura made for a very compelling character, and when he threw Akira Takarada’s character out (in front of Shumura’s daughter, who Takarada was hoping to marry), talk about dramatic.

I think the most interesting character here, though, is Akihiko Hirata’s, the scientist with an idea to destroy the threat of Godzilla, but the unwillingness to share with the military (for good reason). The very moral arguments that he had with himself would have been difficult, as again, you can sort of see both sides of the argument. When this opportunity is made clear to Momoko Kôchi’s character on the promise of silence, she eventually breaks her word to let Takarada know, and that leads to perhaps my favorite scene in the film.

Much more than just a giant monster causing untold death and dismay, Godzilla is a moderately deep and pretty moving story. I can’t personally say it’s one that I’d watch again and again, but I thought they did really well with the issues at hand, and I’m happy that I’ve finally seen this, despite taking me this long to get here.

7.5/10

House of Wax (1953)

Directed by André De Toth [Other horror films: Terror Night (1987)]

One of the earliest 3D horror films, House of Wax (a remake of Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933) is well-made and quite memorable. The 3D is a bit showy at times (that yo-yo scene was clearly there only because of the 3D aspect), but the story here is solid, and of course, an early horror appearance of the legend that is Vincent Price.

Oh, it’s also in color, which is a nice change of pace, especially for a 1950’s American flick.

The whole idea of using dead bodies as the base of wax figures is hella creepy, and though there’s not a whole lot in the way of violence, the film still occasionally feels brutal at times, especially toward the end, when the heroine is about to have boiling wax poured over her nude body (of course, the nudity being tastefully hidden). It helps that Price’s character, while the antagonist, is still pretty sympathetic, and the opening to this film is heart-breaking in it’s own right.

Without a doubt, Price makes this movie as special as it is. The 3D never really mattered much to the plot, but Price’s performance is something that can’t be denied. His passionate portrayal of a man driven somewhat mad was great, and you can definitely tell why he later starred in so many great horror films (such as House on Haunted Hill and The Pit and the Pendulum). Phyllis Kirk was never really a star, but she did pretty good here, especially during the final scenes with Price (such as the great revealing sequence). Another name worth noting is Charles Bronson, who plays a mute assistant of Price’s. Personally, I don’t think I’ve really seen a film Bronson starred in (I’ve seen both The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape, but that’s it), but even so, he seems to be an actor worth mentioning.

There are times when I felt House of Wax could have been more to the point – the whole of Paul Picerni’s character seemed moderately like needless padding – but even so, this is a classic during a time when not too many horror movies were coming out (the late 40’s to early 50’s is a dead man’s zone when it comes to the genre), so House of Wax is very much worth watching. I’ve seen it plenty of times before, and while I will admit to possibly enjoying Mystery of the Wax Museum a little more, Vincent Price, along with the fact that the movie’s in color, brings a lot to this rendition of the story.

7.5/10

Night of the Demon (1957)

Directed by Jacques Tourneur [Other horror films: Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943), The Comedy of Terrors (1963), War-Gods of the Deep (1965)]

It’s twice now I’ve seen this one, and maybe it’s me, but I don’t think it’s that great. Night of the Demon (or Curse of the Demon, depending on your location) is good, and it has a solid atmosphere, but I don’t see it as much more.

What I like about this one (which, by the way, is based off an M.R. James story) is the undeniably dense atmosphere. It’s a black-and-white film, which goes a long way to allow some scenes to work really well, especially during the fog-drenched sequences, which were very appealing. The titular demon doesn’t pop up that often, but that also had charm (despite the fact the demon doesn’t necessarily look amazing).

Dana Andrews does decently well here, though the skepticism he portrays is a bit much. I’m an atheist, but when presented with evidence of a God or gods, I’d be willing to believe. But no matter how much Andrews’ character sees, it takes him a long time to make that leap. Any skeptic worth his or her salt would, upon receiving evidence, accept a claim. I don’t blame him for mocking the seance (that was not a controlled experiment whatsoever, and as such, of course a man of scientific learning shouldn’t be expected to buy that), but past a certain point, he should have been more willing to accept that something’s going on.

Peggy Cummins and Niall MacGinnis are both good additions, especially MacGinnis. I don’t think I’d go as far as to call him amazing, but I really did like what he brought to the film (though of course, I don’t see why Satanists are portrayed in such a negative light as they generally have a peaceful religion). Others who I enjoyed, though neither one was that important, include Liam Redmond and Peter Elliott.

If there’s one thing about the movie I think is close to flawless, it’d be the finale, which takes place on a train. Talk about tense – that moment was very much the engaging story I wish the first eighty minutes had been. Not that the story here wasn’t worth it, but it really shined during the conclusion in a way it didn’t for me leading up to it.

Night of the Demon isn’t a movie I love, but I do like some things about it. Ultimately, I’d place it around average, and though I don’t personally like it near as much as many others tend to, I’d still suggest it for those looking for a piece of 50’s British horror that might make an impact.

7/10

It Came from Outer Space (1953)

Directed by Jack Arnold [Other horror films: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Revenge of the Creature (1955), This Island Earth (1955), Tarantula (1955), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), Monster on the Campus (1958)]

I can appreciate a good alien invasion movie from the 1950’s, and It Came from Outer Space is decent, but compared to others I’ve seen (The Thing from Another World, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and hell, The Blob), this falls a bit flat.

The cast is fine, and I’ve no complaints. Richard Carlson (also in The Maze and Creature from the Black Lagoon) is pretty fun as the main character, a bit of an odd-ball who no one in town believes when he spouts off stories of crashing spaceship. Playing his opposite in many ways is Charles Drake, who has a (pardon the pun) more down-to-Earth view of things, and sort of becomes antagonistic and paranoid toward the end (though certainly with reason).

Even so, I wasn’t really taken in by the story. I sort of like the paranoid feeling Drake’s character starts feeling near the end, but It Came from Outer Space doesn’t nearly have as good a vibe as does Invasion of the Body Snatchers a couple of years later. At the same time, I did quite like a setting, being a small Arizona town surrounded (of course) by desert.

This isn’t a movie I take pleasure in shooting down, nor is that exactly what I’m doing. It’s still a decent movie, but it’s not a movie I could see myself watching that often or really going out of my way to recommend to others, especially when there are so many better movies in the same decade. For the time being, I’d say this is worth one watch, and past that, maybe not so much.

7/10

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Directed by Paul Landres [Other horror films: The Vampire (1957), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Flame Barrier (1958)]

This is a film that I had little interest in, and while I admit that it surprised me a bit in elements of it’s approach, I don’t think The Return of Dracula will end up being that memorable. It’s not a bad movie, but is it noteworthy? Likely not.

It’s the plot here that makes things a bit better then one might think at first. Instead of focusing on some Eastern European country, or the Transylvanian region, the story takes place in sunny California, which was an interesting change of pace. The shift in setting doesn’t really help the basic story any, but it does give the movie a fresher feel.

Only two names really stood out here, being Francis Lederer (from Terror Is a Man the following year) and Norma Eberhardt. Eberhardt had that young, innocent look that made her perfect for a vampire to lust after, and as for Lederer, while his portrayal was nothing special (and Christopher Lee blew him out of the water the same year), it was perfectly competent.

For a slight surprise, there was a small scene in this black-and-white film that utilized color. It wasn’t near as unique as The Tingler’s approach, but when a vampire gets staked through the heart, the scene moves to color and we see the red blood spurt out. It wasn’t a big addition, but it was sort of cool in an otherwise mostly pedestrian film.

From my understanding, this came out before the aforementioned Horror of Dracula, but once Hammer’s second hit came out, this movie, with it’s low budget and black-and-white execution, was largely forgotten. And even had Horror of Dracula not hit the theaters until ‘59, I have a hard time imagining this would be heralded as a lost classic.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not as though The Return of Dracula is bad. It’s competently-made, and has a few decent scenes. But overall, is the film memorable? Not whatsoever. I’d probably watch it again in the future, but I’d probably have forgotten I’d seen it before. It’s good for a single view, but past that, not so much, and it ultimately strikes me as a little below average.

6.5/10

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