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.


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.


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.


Macabre (1958)

Directed by William Castle [Other horror films: House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Homicidal (1961), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Old Dark House (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), Let’s Kill Uncle (1966), The Spirit Is Willing (1967), Shanks (1974)]

William Castle’s first delve into horror, Macabre is admittedly a bit light. There are some suspenseful scenes at times, and the atmosphere is on point, but ‘horror’ feels a bit strong. Nonetheless, I’m a liberal man, and have no problem considering Macabre a horror film, and more so, have no problem saying that while not great, it’s certianly a nifty one.

Primarily the film deals with the disappearance and abduction of a little girl who has been buried alive, and a chase to find her location before she dies. It’s tense, and being a mystery, occasionally convoluted, but that’s just part of the fun. Based on a novel titled The Marble Forest by 12 authors (each of whom wrote a chapter of the book), Macabre can feel stagey at times, but I still think it’s worth it.

Partially, that’s just due to William Castle’s charm – we’re warned at the beginning of the film to keep an eye out on those sitting around us, lest they show signs of extreme fright (as always, Castle’s films would have been a hoot to see in the theaters). I also like the story, though, and while the ending perhaps could have been executed a bit better, the overall concept is great, and the ending was definitely a nice surprise. Some flashbacks were also used to decent effect.

William Prince consistently reminded me of another actor, but I never could place who. Despite that, he did a very fine job as the lead. Jacqueline Scott was good as a potential suspect, which is something that can fairly be said for most of the cast, though I was hoping for something more from Susan Morrow’s character. It was sort of nice seeing Howard Hoffman here, a year before he played the butler in House on Haunted Hill. Related, Ellen Corby, who I’ve seen in films such as The Strangler and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was a nice surprise.

One thing that I do think helped this film is the fact much of it took place in a misty graveyard, with trees, vines, tombstones, the whole works. Some of the better scenes in the film took place in this setting, and I thought it brought with it fantastic atmosphere. This doesn’t come close to beating the creepiness of later Castle movies, such as the aforementioned House on Haunted Hill, but I did like it.

And another addition I found charming – the closing credits list the performances of the film divided into those who were dead at the end, and those who were still living. This was coupled with simple animation of hearses and, once we got to the living characters, people walking by. I mean, we’re talking early, black-and-white animation, but it was still just the thing I’m not surprised to see in a Castle movie.

Macabre isn’t anywhere near the calibre of Castle’s best work, be it House on Haunted Hill, Mr. Sardonicus, or Homicidal, but having seen it twice, it’s a nice little introduction to early William Castle, and for that reason alone, I do think that if you’re a classic horror fan, it’s worth seeing at least once, even if it’s not great.


Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla (1952)

Directed by William Beaudine [Other horror films: Four Shall Die (1940), Lucky Ghost (1942), The Living Ghost (1942), The Ape Man (1943), Ghosts on the Loose (1943), Voodoo Man (1944), Crazy Knights (1944), The Face of Marble (1946), Spook Busters (1946), The Feathered Serpent (1948), Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966), Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966)]

With a title like this, one could be excused for thinking that the film sounds bad. Of course, given that the movie is legit terrible, that is an assumption that is well-founded.

I can live with horror comedies from the bygone eras. Movies like One Body Too Many and You’ll Find Out both had their strong points, and while this one came out later, I was hoping that maybe something here would work to it’s benefit.

Which didn’t really happen whatsoever.

I’ll give credit to both Duke Mitchell and Charlita, who have a decent chemistry together, and even mild props to Bela Lugosi. Lugosi wasn’t really good in this movie, but with the story they had to work with, he probably did the best with the material that he’d have been able to. Muriel Landers was an okay character, but with as often as she was being fat-shamed (which must be the height of comedy in 1952), it’s not easy for her to really stand out positively.

The fly in the ointment (and to be fair, the whole of the movie may be a fly, but that’s neither here nor there) is Sammy Petrillo. I don’t know Petrillo (apparently he was a stand-up comedian in the vein of Jerry Lewis), and I’m sure he was a good guy, but here, he has to be one of the most obnoxious creatures in existence. From his annoying laugh to shrill voice, not to mention pretty unimpressive lines to work with, Petrillo really tested my patience, and I think that was a test that I failed, though you may be hard-pressed to find many with a passing grade.

As one can imagine, the story here wasn’t really that interesting. Lugosi played a scientist doing experiments on evolution (so basically a rehash of his Murders in the Rue Morgue role), and he eventually turns one of the characters here into a gorilla, who then begins to sing. I was already deeply disinterested when this scene came around, so when the gorilla began singing one of the two uninspired songs in the movie, I was pretty much done.

I don’t dispute that someone somewhere out there could enjoy this for some reason. Maybe the atrocious conclusion felt innovative to them, or maybe they liked the hammy nature of the terrible humor. If someone got more out of this than me, that’s great. For me, I just couldn’t get into this at all, nor did I find most of this particularly good in any way.


The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), 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 last time I watched this, I made a small mishap, and by that, I mean I watched it the same day as six other adaptations of this Sherlock Holmes story (specifically, the 1914 and 1929 silent films, the 1937 German version, the classic 1939 movie, the 1972 American television movie and the 1983 British television movie), and didn’t try to review the last three until the end of the day, when they all got mixed up in my mind.

So I had to take a step back, accept defeat, and watch this one again (not that it’s any hardship, believe me) in order to properly get my bearings on the film. And I think that I’ve come to a conclusion in doing so: I prefer the 1939 version just a bit, which, given the cast of this Hammer classic, might surprise some.

Now, it’s still a great film, and if you’re interested in some classic Sherlock Holmes, you’d be hard-pressed to find many films better, but I just don’t think that Christopher Lee was the appropriate actor for Henry Baskerville. Lee is, in many ways, an equal to Cushing – both are actors I enjoy immensely. Those cast in the same role in earlier films (such as Peter Voß and especially Richard Greene) had a younger look, whereas Lee is only slightly younger than Cushing, and doesn’t really look it.

My point is that, for the role of Henry Baskerville, I think a younger actor works better. I certainly have no qualms with Lee, and I do rather enjoy his performance in the film. I just don’t think he feels much like the character he’s supposed to be portraying, which is my biggest issue with the film.

Otherwise, the cast is splendid; I loved Basil Rathbone as Holmes, but Peter Cushing is just as good. I think that Rathbone was a bit more fun (for instance, there’s no scene of Holmes trolling Watson while in disguise here), but both are great. André Morell (The Plague of the Zombies, The Mummy’s Shroud, Behemoth the Sea Monster, and The Shadow of the Cat) does decent as Watson. He’s not as bumbling as Nigel Bruce’s, but also not as straight as Fritz Odemar’s rendition.

Marla Landi, playing the daughter of Stapleton (himself played by Ewen Solon) was a nice addition, giving us a character different from what he had before. Ewen Solon (Jack the Ripper) was rather different from what Morton Lowry gave us (when it comes to Stapleton, I think my favorite performance was Fritz Rasp, from the 1929 version). Francis De Wolff (The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll) was solid as Mortimer, Miles Malleson (The Brides of Dracula and Dead of Night) okay comedic relief as the Bishop, and John Le Mesurier made for a good Barrymore (for some reason, the 1939 version of the character was named Barryman, but every other version has been Barrymore).

The color gives a great sense of life to the moors. I don’t know if they ever look quite as creepy as they did in foreboding black-and-white via the 1939 movie, but they do look decent here. Also, the ending of this one is a bit different from previous adaptations – it still worked quite well, and I commend it for trying something a bit different.

One thing I did find somewhat amusing was the absence of the cane scene. Present in both the 1937 and 1939 movies, Holmes looks at Dr. Mortimer’s cane and deduces a great many things about him, an early way to lend credibility to his craft. That scene is indeed replaced here with something else. Another thing – the attempted murder of Baskerville in London – was changed here to instead come from a tarantula bite.

Otherwise, much is the same – there’s Holmes going to Baskerville Hall after others have left, the sub-plot with the escaped convict remains intact, the missing boot of Baskerville, along with a missing painting. If you’re familiar with the story, you’ll find most aspects here.

Another thing you’ll find, at least in small amounts, is some blood. During the opening origin of the curse, a woman gets stabbed with a curved blade (they have curved. blades.), and later on, we see the aftermath of what looks like a ritualistic killing which leaves little to the imagination. It’s Hammer at it’s finest, and it’s all the better that this story finally got made into a color film.

The Hound of the Baskervilles has always been a solid story, and while I prefer the 1939 version, this movie is no slouch. I’d certainly recommend it to fans of classic cinema, and if you’ve not seen either the 1939 version or this one, do yourself a favor and do so.


The Werewolf (1956)

Directed by Fred F. Sears [Other horror films: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956), The Giant Claw (1957)]

This mid-50’s film wasn’t what I’d call a bad film, because The Werewolf did have some quality ideas here and there, but I have to admit to finding a decent amount of it a bit dry and sometimes more melodramatic than I’d have hoped.

I’ll give the movie props for the setting, being a small mountain town named Mountaincrest – I liked the feel of the small town, and the townsfolk all knowing each other is quaint. So that’s all fine and well, but otherwise, not much else here really did that much for me.

Let’s start with the werewolf himself – the special effects during the transformation scenes weren’t abominably bad, so I don’t think that was much of a problem, but the character (played by Steven Ritch) didn’t really interest me, and while I did feel quite bad for the man, I just found that I had a hard time caring much beyond that.

I also can’t help but hating the lead, being the sheriff (Don Megowan) – he starts out by wanting to purely kill the werewolf, than he decides to soften his stance and take the werewolf alive, and then after the werewolf escapes from jail (entirely out of the werewolf’s control), he goes back to pure bloodlust entirely without good reason. Megowan gave a fine, if generic, performance, but boy, his character was pretty awful.

Better were Joyce Holden and Ken Christy, or at least their characters were better. Let’s be honest – no performance in this movie is really stellar aside from maybe Steven Ritch, and like I said before, he didn’t do it for me. Harry Lauter was an okay side-character, S. John Launer and George Lynn made for okay antagonists, but again, nothing stellar.

Whatever the case was with this one, The Werewolf really didn’t impress me much. It started out decently, but I just found my interest waning pretty quickly into the film, and at no point did it really pick up for me. It’s an older werewolf film that might be worth looking into if werewolf movies are your thing, but that’s the best I can say about it.


The Giant Claw (1957)

Directed by Fred F. Sears [Other horror films: The Werewolf (1956), Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)]

I’ve only heard the vaguest notions about this giant monster movie, but that doesn’t really matter, as many of those late ’50’s giant monster movies aren’t really that different. This one certainly possesses some charm, and I think the science used in the film went all out, but boy, what a regrettable monster design.

I mean, that design looks so, so bad, the main problem being that the face that they use for the close-up doesn’t look threatening in the least, but extraordinarily goofy. It doesn’t do the movie any good when the main focus, the monster, just looks so ridiculous.

Aside from that admittedly large issue, though, The Giant Claw is okay.

The scientific explanation for this giant bird was certainly detailed. I got the whole matter/anti-matter stuff (you’re reading a guy who’s read Angels & Demons by Dan Brown multiple times), but once they got into mesa and stuff, I got as lost as that general. They could have just stuck with a giant bird, but whoever worked on the science in this film just went all out with an explanation I didn’t follow in the least, so I appreciate that.

Really, the only two performances that matter are those of Jeff Morrow (This Island Earth and The Creature Walks Among Us) and Mara Corday (Tarantula and The Black Scorpion), and I have no complaints with their characters. Their growing romance is sort of cute, and their plane banter was fun. I thought the two worked well with each other, and that helped make them feel not so stereotypical.

Oh, I guess you could count the Rod Sterling-esque narrator as another character. Seriously, as the narrator (who probably has a name, but I can’t find him credited) speaks at the beginning, it sounds legit just like the beginning of a Twilight Zone episode, almost hilariously so. And this is before Twilight Zone started, so it makes me wonder if this was more influential than we knew.

The Giant Claw isn’t a great movie, but I didn’t have a terrible time with it, and it’s not like it takes a lot of time to get through either. Also, as horrible as the bird looked, seeing it destroy building or just pick up whole trains like a boss was sort of cool. And that science – some in-depth stuff.


Beast from Haunted Cave (1959)

Directed by Monte Hellman [Other horror films: The Terror (1963), Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989), Trapped Ashes (2006, segment ‘Stanley’s Girlfriend’)]

One of the many cheap horror films from the late 1950’s, Beast from Haunted Cave has a little charm, but having seen it twice now, I don’t think that charm does a hell of a lot to save it.

The biggest problem here is that, as far as I could tell, we never really saw much of the beast. We saw it’s arms a few times, and sort of a head, but as far as an overall view is concerned, I still don’t know if it was a giant spider or a land-octopus. Maybe it wouldn’t matter had it been used to greater effect, but this movie doesn’t really possess the subtlety you’d see in, say, a Val Lewton production.

Michael Forest made for a nice-looking, rugged lead, and he worked well with Shelia Noonan, who’s the real star of the film. Noonan played a pretty complicated character for such a cheap-looking movie, which is a shame, because I think she did a pretty good job with her material. She never really did do much else afterward in the movie industry, which is, again, a shame. Here, she started off with a shaky character, but she developed quickly and became quite sympathetic. Frank Wolff (who is better known for his spaghetti westerns) was okay, but I feel like his character could have used some of the development that Noonan’s got.

Being a snow-covered hill, I think Beast from Haunted Cave had a solid setting (and in fact, the beginning of the film thanks the people of South Dakota for the use of their state for filming, which I thought was a nice gesture), and I liked the skiing (never been skiing myself, but it almost looks fun), but aside from looking nice, the setting itself didn’t have much to do with the story.

I think the main issue with this film is what I said earlier, being that the beast isn’t really seen clearly (at least in the version I saw – I watched a 66-minute version of this movie, and I know that longer prints exist, so I sort of wonder how those go), and while there are some brutal scenes (a woman being drained of her blood by the beast), there’s not a lot here that did much as far as I was concerned.

Watching this again wasn’t the worst time ever (and part of this is due to the fact that it’s a pretty short movie, no matter which version you watch), but I think there are plenty of better films from the late 1950’s that are worth attention.


Sora no daikaijû Radon (1956)

Directed by Ishirô Honda [Other horror films: Gojira (1954), Gojira no gyakushû (1955), Jû jin yuki otoko (1955), Godzilla: King of the Monsters! (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)]

Released beautifully in color, this Japanese monster movie, a follow-up of sorts to the Godzilla movies, is a pretty fun film, and while, much like the recently-seen The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, it isn’t my normal cup of tea, I can indulge in a sip or two.

What makes Rodan work is how the story unravels – it starts out with mysterious murders, and then it’s discovered those deaths are caused by a creature long-thought dead. And then we find out there are more of these creatures, and then there’s a giant egg, and then there’s two Rodans, so it’s all fun.

The design for Rodan isn’t the best, and the effects are questionable, especially since you can clearly scene the strings holding it up in multiple scenes, but I thought they were fun anyway. The fact that they flew at supersonic speed (and certainly had the sound effects to back that up) and caused utter destruction with their sound-waves was cool. One of the Rodans (or Rodani) just flew above a jeep, and utterly fucked it up, so when it happens to whole parts of the city, it’s hella fun.

I can’t say there’s much in the way of memorable characters here aside from maybe the lead, Kenji Sahara, and even he wasn’t amazing, but he did have cool hair. Really, in a movie like this, with so many moving parts, it’s not easy to have a plethora of important and interesting characters, so the fact that Sahara was about the only one that stuck out to me isn’t that much a deterrent.

Toho monster movies aren’t something I’ve a lot of experience with, but I’ve seen Rodan before, and it’s enough fun that I’m sure I’ll see it again. I don’t think it’s a special movie (though the color is smashing), but it is a decent one.