The Black Sleep (1956)

black sleep

Directed by Reginald Le Borg [Other horror films: Calling Dr. Death (1943), Weird Woman (1944), Jungle Woman (1944), The Mummy’s Ghost (1944), Dead Man’s Eyes (1944), Voodoo Island (1957), Diary of a Madman (1963), House of the Black Death (1965), So Evil, My Sister (1974)]

In some ways, The Black Sleep feels quite a bit like a Hammer film, despite being an American production. It does have a good story, solid cast, and pretty tense ending, but I couldn’t absolutely find myself in a position to love it come the credits.

Recommended to me by an online friend who knows I dabble in the more classic entries of the genre, much in this movie certainly came across a pleasant surprise. The story is pretty fun, and has a twist thrown in there too. Some scenes, such as the dungeon sequence, were rather frightening, and felt more out of a 60’s or 70’s horror film than a 50’s (in fact, some of this movie reminded me quite a bit of Mansion of the Doomed from 1976).

The cast is superb. Basil Rathbone and Herbert Rudley did well as the main characters, Rathbone of course being a rather well-known actor (as he played Sherlock Holmes in quite a few films, including the 1939 Hound of the Baskervilles, a classic), and while I don’t know Rudley, he was convincing in his role. Lon Chaney Jr. (who needs no introduction) didn’t have a big chance to showcase his abilities here, but still exceeded in the role he was given. The same is true for Bela Lugosi, who played a mute, but given that this is his final movie performance before his death later in the same year, that can be excused.

Tor Johnson (perhaps most infamously known from The Beast of Yucca Flats) gives a strong performance here, despite not really appearing until near the end of the film. Patricia Blair isn’t a name I’m familiar with, but I liked her as the main female character in the film. Lastly, both Akim Tamiroff and John Carradine were notable in their roles, though Carradine probably was the most forgettable.

It’s hard for me to say where the downsides of this movie arise from, given that so much of the movie (from the cast to the story) is pretty good. Suffice it to say, maybe the bulk of the film, dealing with a scientist who is above the morality of mere mortals, felt more akin to a 30’s or 40’s throwback film than to the 50’s. At the same time, I could easily see Hammer looking at this movie as a way to influence their Curse of Frankenstein, which came out the following year.

Whatever my personal shortcomings of the film are, I won’t deny that this is a classic that unfortunately seems to be overlooked by many nowadays. I didn’t know much about it before jumping in, but I was mostly pleased by the film overall, and if you’re a fan of the classics of the genre, given the cast this film has, I’m somewhat sure you’ll be pleased also.

7.5/10

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Night of the Blood

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971), Sssssss (1973)]

Despite the fun title, this late 50’s flick, produced by Roger Corman, ends up being a pretty dull affair.

There are portions of the film which do possess a decent atmosphere. Due to the small cast, there’s a sense of seclusion prominent also, which I think helps add to the feeling of dread (it’s never quite captured well, but that was the intent). A few decent shots of blood certainly helped a little, but given the design of the monster was pretty laughable, it’s somewhat hard to take seriously.

The cast did just as well as you would expect. Nothing too over-the-top, nothing too hammy, but also nothing that really positively stood out. Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson, Tyler McVey, and Georgianna Carter put in adequate enough performances, and though far from great, I somewhat doubt the acting would be one’s main concern when watching the film.

Really, it just comes down to the fact that it’s a slow-going movie. No, nothing as bad as Curse of the Faceless Man, which came out the same year, but if you get through this without feeling either bored or drowsy, I award you. The director of this picture, Bernard Kowalski, also directed the more enjoyable Attack of the Giant Leeches (from 1959) and much later, Sssssss (1973).

From his horror legacy, such as it is, I imagine many would consider Night of the Blood Beast to be his least favorable entry to the genre. Perhaps, for a dark and rainy night, this movie’s atmosphere could be amplified to an almost-threatening nature, but in most cases, this is a pretty weak film. Sad to say that my views haven’t much changed since the last time I saw it.

5/10

The Manster (1959)

Manster

Directed by George P. Breakston [Other horror films: N/A] & Kenneth G. Crane [Other horror films: Monster from Green Hell (1957), Half Human: The Story of the Abominable Snowman (1958)]

I know, I know, this movie has a terrible title, but really, it’s not that bad. In fact, while it’s not a favorite of mine from the time period, it’s a rather serviceable flick.

The plot isn’t too far removed from other flicks you might find from the late 1950’s – a mad scientist injects an American man with a serum, and the man slowly turns into a monster. Certainly not overly special, but it is done decently well.

The cast all did a pretty okay job, despite most of them not really being all that well-known. Peter Dyneley played the desperate, possibly going crazy, main character very well. Playing the mad doctor, Tetsu Nakamura (who was also in the classic Bijo to ekitai ningen, or The H-Man, from a year earlier) did fantastic, and even though throughout most of the film, his character was one of a cold heart, he had a good emotional scene toward the end. Jerry Itô (who was in Mosura, or Mothra, in 1961), did a good job playing a police superintendent.

Perhaps the surprising standouts, though, include two individuals who never have never before or again acted: Norman Van Hawley and Terri Zimmern. Hawley, playing a friend of the main character, really came across as a deeply concerned friend, and pretty much shined throughout the film. Zimmern did great with her role, as a hesitant accomplice to the mad doctor’s plans. Why neither acted before or again is beyond me, as I thought both did pretty well.

Special effects were pretty well-done, including a legitimately creepy scene about 45 minutes in, and a disfigured woman who appears every now and again (her story itself is pretty tragic, once we hear it). We even get a little splatter of blood at the beginning (sure, it’s black-and-white, but it still looked decent). I won’t deny it got a bit hokey toward the end (and by a bit, I mean a lot), but I think it still sort of mostly worked.

Some of the pacing was a bit off. The first chase sequence was fine, but a second and third? Come on, guys. There was some decent suspense in the movie, but the ending felt rushed (which isn’t really that different from many movies around the same time period, to be honest). Still, overall, I think The Manster (god, I hate the title) is still a decent movie, and I can easily see myself watching it a third time if I’m ever in the mood for a decent 50’s flick. Not amazing, but like I said, it’s serviceable.

6.5/10

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Directed by Don Siegel [Other horror films: N/A]

The intense paranoia present throughout this fantastically-done science-fiction/horror movie only add to the final product – one that is, at any point in time, a thought-provoking and terrifying film.

The film, in which pod people begin taking over the citizens of a moderately-sized California town, highlights how, even in suburban, run-of-the-mill locations, terror and panic can spread. While potentially anti-Communist propaganda (which would be the single flaw of the film, were it intended), the struggle for individuality and love versus complete conformity is still thrilling to this day – plenty of the scenes still stand strong even now, such as Kevin McCarthy’s character running down the highway, screaming for people to listen to him, or the chasing of McCarthy and Dana Wynter’s characters by the pod people that used to be their friends.

Telling the story in the past-tense, and book-ended by events that take place almost a day after the core of the film, was a somewhat questionable choice, and one could certainly argue the movie would be better (if not more downbeat) had the movie ended without the final framing sequence (in fact, that’s exactly how the original creators had preferred it to end), but I still find it an acceptable finale.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a fantastic film, well-worth the highest honor among horror films for both the decade of the 1950’s and of all-time. If I had one complaint, it would be that occasionally, I felt it became a bit too melodramatic – luckily, if that’s the case, it doesn’t happen that often, and shortly afterward, we’re back to action of some form or another. In short, this is a great film, and comes highly recommended.

9.5/10

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

Curse of the Faceless Man

Directed by Edward L. Cahn [Other horror films: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), Beauty and the Beast (1962)]

When I first saw this movie, I thought it was extraordinary slow. Upon rewatching it, I realized I was too kind; this is one of the driest, slowest films I’ve witnessed. And given the fact it’s just an hour and seven minutes, this statement should hold some weight.

The plot is basically a rehash of The Mummy (1932), only with a different setting. The performances are mostly rather stilted, and the melodrama that’s tolerable in most pre-1960’s horror films seems overbearing here. It’s just not that great a movie. There’s the occasional scene that looks decently shot (especially in the black-and-white scheme that was prevalent at the time), and the Faceless Man himself looks moderately threatening (if only he didn’t move so slow), but the movie has little more to offer past that point.

Curse of the Faceless Man, despite it’s short run time, is a dry, plodding film. I wasn’t tired before starting the film – now I feel dead on my feet. While the movie still has a bit to offer, it’s faults far outweigh the positives. As a note, the director of this film wasn’t a lightweight; Edward L. Cahn directed, among other films, movies such as Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), both of which were highly enjoyable. Whatever went wrong with this film, I don’t believe it to be Cahn’s doing. Perhaps the writer of the script. Regardless, this is a below average film both for it’s time and horror as a whole.

5/10

The Snow Creature (1954)

The Snow Creature

Directed by W. Lee Wilder [Other horror films: Phantom from Space (1953), Killers from Space (1954), Fright (1956), The Man Without a Body (1957)]

The Snow Creature’s an overly tedious film, partially because of the documentary-feel it has for the first half, and the stale nature of the second half. Though it’s just under 71 minutes, I couldn’t really help but feel bored with the plodding story. It might have had been a decent movie with a higher budget, or a different direction, but as it stands, it’s just not that good. Even toward the end, when police were scouring the sewers, I felt absolutely no dread. The whole movie felt, for the most part, pretty soulless. The Snow Creature’s dull and tedious. Had it been slightly better made, it’s possible it could have possessed a certain charm to it, but as it was, it really isn’t anything to remember fondly.

4.5/10

Earth vs the Spider (1958)

Earth vs the Spider

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

This is one of those movies that isn’t overly great, but I can’t help but enjoy. Starts off somewhat similarly to The Blob (also from 1958), in which two teens try to convince the authorities of a giant spider residing in a cave on the outskirts of town. And once they see it, they believe.

In a scene somewhat like the cave scene from Night of the Lepus (1972), authorities witness the spider and gas the caves. Of course, the fun doesn’t end there. We have a groovy scene where, as a band is playing some early rock ‘n roll, the unconscious (everyone thought it was dead) spider wakes up, and strikes horror into both the students playing music and the town proper.

The movie, as a whole, is moderately unremarkable, really, especially considering the budget and effects of Tarantula (1955) were higher. Personally, I think this one has more spirit, though. Only problem I have, aside from some rather fake-looking webs, is one of the characters, Mike, comes across as an asshole half the time. Other than that, this is some solid fun, and even stands up upon a rewatch. One of the better creature features of the time, despite others’ claims to the contrary.

7.5/10