Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920)

Dr Jekyll

Directed by John S. Robertson [Other horror films: N/A]

One of two adaptations of Stevenson’s classic 1886 novella from 1920 (the other being a 40-minute short featuring Sheldon Lewis), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is another one of those classic silent horror flicks that many have probably heard of. The movie itself is perfectly fine, but before digging deeper, it’d only be fair to say that out of the classic horror/gothic novels (Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dracula, Frankenstein, among others), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has always been one of the least captivating stories for me.

The movie works, by and large, due to a combination of John Barrymore’s solid duel performance as both Jekyll and Hyde (*gasp* yes, they’re the same person) and keeping things within a proper pace for most of the flick. Aesthetically, it’s enjoyable (though lacking much of the art that foreign films at the time, especially those from Germany, tended to add), and the story is fine, despite not being a favorite.

Which is really what holds this movie back from being great, to me. Oh, I don’t question it’s importance (not only is there a solid transformation scene, but there was a pretty creepy scene with what looked like a ghostly giant spider crawling on Jekyll), but I never, no matter the adaptation (be it this flick, which I’ve seen multiple times before, the 1931 version, or any post-2000’s versions I’ve ran across) found myself captivated by it.

The most common print of this movie is around 50 minutes (which is coincidentally the version I have on DVD), but I instead opted out to watch the full one hour and 21 minute version. It certainly gave more story, but again, as I’m not a giant fan of the story, it just felt eh.

Solid pacing and Barrymore’s acting aside, I don’t love this movie. Plenty of other silent horror flicks stand out above this one for me (and some utterly obscure as opposed to this well-known film), and while it’s worth at least one view, I’m not sure it’s worth much more, in my estimation. This is not a bad movie, but it wasn’t my thing, and I found it a bit below average.

6/10

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem

Directed by Paul Wegener [Other horror films: Der Student von Prag (1913), Der Golem (1915), Der Golem und die Tänzerin (1917)]

A true classic of the silent era, Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam (a prequel to the lost 1915 Der Golem) is a great watch, even if you’re new to silent flicks.

The one caveat is that if you do seek this movie out, make sure you find a version with a score. I’ve seen this twice before, both times with a score, but for this most recent rewatch, I was watching a truly silent version, which I don’t like doing and can affect the film. That said, I will do my best to not let that interfere.

The setting, a slum that the Jewish population are forced to dwell in, was captivating, and showed some inklings of the impressionist style that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is better known for. Homes made of stone, the people wearing little more than robes, really showed the desperate situation the Jews found themselves in, and when they’re told they’re to be expelled by the emperor, it really helps show why one of them would go to the lengths of crafting a Golem.

Which is somewhat ironic, as one of the reasons they’re being expelled is due to their practice of dark magic, which, by creating a Golem, sort of proves the emperor’s point. But that flawed logic aside, I do get where they’re coming from.

Not much of the cast really stood out aside from Albert Steinruck, Paul Wegener, and Lyda Salmonova. Really, the standout is Wegener’s performance as the titular Golem, a very Frankenstein-monster esque creation. He didn’t express all that much a range of emotion, but he did have, at times, a very threatening presence (not all that far removed from Frankstein’s monster from the 1931 classic Frankenstein).

There’s many prints of this flick floating about. This time around, I saw the 1 hour and 42 minute version, which, at times, does occasionally feel as though it’s dragging. Still, there’s shorter versions out there if you want a more digestible taste of this flick. Der Golem, wie er in der Welt kam isn’t my favorite silent horror flick, but it is a classic for a reason, and I’d highly recommend a watch at least once in your life.

7.5/10

Fender Bender (2016)

Fender Bender

Directed by Mark Pavia [Other horror films: The Night Flier (1997)]

Mark Pavia, the director of this film, also directed a movie I rather enjoyed, being 1997’s The Night Flier. Here’s what’s interesting: The Night Flier was the last film that Pavia directed before this one. So it’s been just under twenty years since Pavia’s directed anything, and one would (reasonably) think that after such an extended hiatus, he’d be able to craft, at the very least, a movie on par with his last work.

Sadly, that’s not the case here.

17-year old Hilary (played by Makenzie Vega) gets into a fender bender with an odd individual, and later that night, the man attempts to kill her and her friends. It’s not necessarily all that amazing or creative a plot. What holds it back most, though, is the fact that, save the opening sequence of the movie, it takes a while for the horror elements to come into the film.

The movie’s an average-length film, at just around an hour and thirty minutes, and it’s not until an hour in that the killer actually starts making an appearance. Before that, there were some tense scenes, but it was nowhere near enough. Truth be told, though I liked Hilary and her two friends, I was bored for a large portion of the film. When things do start happening, nothing really stands out in those scenes either. The ending wasn’t a bad one, but it wasn’t overly satisfying either, and the killer’s final words make little sense.

So the story is rather average, and the only thing it can really boast is decent production value and a somewhat cool (if not generic) looking killer. The kills aren’t bad, and can even come across as brutal in a way, but much like the movie as a whole, they weren’t memorable. Really, the most interesting thing about this movie are the names involved.

Pavia’s directorial involvement aside, our lead character is played by Makenzie Vega, who isn’t a big name, but did play Lawrence Gordon’s daughter in Saw, so it’s a nice surprise to see that she’s still acting and I have to say, does really well with her character. Her father in the movie is played by Steven Michael Quezada, who portrayed Steve Gomez in Breaking Bad, which was another nice surprise (though Quezada doesn’t get much screen time).

All-in-all, though, Fender Bender doesn’t have that much to offer us as viewers, and it’s really a forgettable experience. It’s truly a shame that this is the product of a twenty year break.

5.5/10

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986)

Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2

Directed by Tobe Hooper [Other horror films: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), Eaten Alive (1976), The Dark (1979), Salem’s Lot (1979), The Funhouse (1981), Poltergeist (1982), Lifeforce (1985), Invaders from Mars (1986), Spontaneous Combustion (1990), I’m Dangerous Tonight (1990), Night Terrors (1993), Body Bags (1993, segment ‘Eye’), The Mangler (1995), The Apartment Complex (1999), Crocodile (2000), Shadow Realm (2002), Toolbox Murders (2004), Mortuary (2005), Djinn (2013)]

It’s no secret that the original film, while it has it’s merits, has never been a favorite of mine. It is, however, so much better than this piece of trash.

Tobe Hooper took a different approach with this movie, throwing away the bleak and gritty tone of the original for a black-comedy with very little to offer.

There’s not many pros, so I’ll get them out of the way first. Stretch (played by Caroline Williams) was a pretty good character throughout the movie. Not only was she decently attractive, I thought she did a good job portraying how maddening being a capture to that insane family was. Dennis Hopper’s Lefty was a fun character in the beginning, but very quickly became an idiotic mess as soon as soon as Stretch fell down the hole into the Sawyer’s lair. Leatherface, as a character alone, was okay.

Everything else was hideous.

Chop Top (played by Bill Moseley in a very early role) had no redeemable qualities. Any time he was in a scene, the scene got worse. I couldn’t stand him during any portion of the movie, and when he was with his family, he only got more annoying. The Cook (Jim Siedow) was far better done in the first film (played by Siedow still). Here, he is over-the-top (like almost every character) and utterly irksome.

The original film had a demented house, which was gritty and terrifying. While the final setting here was cool (an abandoned theme park or some such), it was lacking the threatening feel of the house in the first movie. It just felt too goofy and extravagant.

This whole movie was too goofy, in truth. I don’t really do comedy mixed with my horror. Very few movies of the sort have really done it for me. You take a good concept and ruin it like this, it just bothers me. If you liked the movie, great. It’s a pale shadow of the original, though, and honestly, having rewatched it twice now, I don’t think I’ll ever desire to see this atrocity again. If I want my fill of a chainsaw massacre, I’ll stick with the superior original, third film, or 2003 remake.

4.5/10

Hush (2016)

Hush

Directed by Mike Flanagan [Other horror films: Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Before I Wake (2016), Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016), Gerald’s Game (2017), Doctor Sleep (2019)]

A deaf woman living in the isolated woods must fight for her survival against a serial killer. Sounds mildly generic, yes? I thought the same thing before starting the film, but as the movie goes on, Hush presents us a very solid entry to the home invasion subgenre of horror.

Firstly, the atmosphere and suspense throughout the film is top-notch – knowing the main character can’t hear, yet seeing the killer creep up behind her is likely to get your heart racing. It’s a tense movie, almost from beginning to end. And despite what others say, I don’t think it’s a predictable one either.

The ending was satisfying and came as a surprise to me, especially given the set-up; I expected a far different ending than the one they gave. The gore also stands out – while our killer’s main weapon of choice is a crossbow (used to good effect), he’s not averse to knives, nor is our deaf woman averse to wielding a hammer. There’s not massive bloodshed by any means, but some scenes do stand out, such as one of the main characters’ hands getting stomped on until two fingers were bent completely out of shape. Just looking at that mangled hand was painful.

The killer himself is interesting also – while at first he’s the masked mute killer, that very quickly shifts. In fact, for most of the film, he doesn’t wear his mask, which I thought was both a cool and brave move, something that you don’t usually see. Some people criticize the killer as being weak, but I thought his performance was up to par – he’s a likely crazy guy who gets off on killing people. You don’t need the strength of Jason or evasiveness of Michael against most people.

The deaf woman, Maddie, was played convincingly well by Kate Siegel, whom I don’t know, but if her other performances are as good as this one was, she has a good future. The killer too, played by John Gallagher Jr., should be praised. Despite not being an overt physical threat, he’s still obviously very much a menace. As aforementioned, the story itself may not be original, aside from the deaf protagonist, but everything came together very well. Hush is a tense movie with a satisfying conclusion and gore that’s worth waiting for. Very solid film overall; I highly recommend it.

8.5/10

Unheimliche Geschichten (1919)

Unheimliche

Directed by Richard Oswald [Other horror films: Der Hund von Baskerville, 3. Teil – Das unheimliche Zimmer (1916), Der Hund von Baskerville, 4. Teil (1916), Nächte des Grauens (1917), Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray (1917), Nachtgestalten (1920), Cagliostro – Liebe un Leben eines großen Abenteurers (1929), Der Hund von Baskerville (1929), Unheimliche Geschichten (1932)]

The first anthology horror movie ever made, Unheimliche Geschichten (known as Eerie Tales, or Uncanny Tales) further cements Germany’s domination in the horror genre, but also presents us a mixed bag of uninspired stories.

Out of the five stories within this anthology (The Apparition, The Hand, The Black Cat, The Suicide Club, and The Spectre), the only one that I really didn’t like was the final story, The Spectre, which is based off a poem and has a much more light-hearted feel to it. But that’s not to say the other four stories are good – in fact, really, only one story is above average, being The Suicide Club, while the other three are either average or below, being held back by either my perceived unoriginality or too stagy a vibe.

The Apparition is, for the most part, decent, and there is a rather spooky vibe to it, and I even like the ending reveal, but it was just lacking additional meat to the story. The Hand was decently well done, but again, there’s not much to it. Based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, The Black Cat was enjoyable to a degree, but just fell short of actually captivating me. The Spectre, which is unfortunately the worst story within and the worst to end the flick on, wasn’t my thing whatsoever.

The framing story wasn’t amazing, but I’m giving that a break – being the first anthology horror movie (preceding the 1945 classic Dead of Night by 26 years), I don’t expect an amazing set up. The actors throughout were okay, but some were prone to overacting even within the silent era of film, which is saying something. Perhaps Conrad Veidt did the best, playing roles in all five stories, along with the framing sequence (something also done by both Reinhold Schunzel and Anita Berber).

Unheimliche Geschichten is a piece of history, and for fans particularly of anthology horror movies, it might be worth a look, but to say that it is occasionally stale, and comes across far more average than you could hope, would be understating it. By no means a bad film, when all is said and done, there are plenty of other silent German films I would recommend before this one.

6/10

Child’s Play 2 (1990)

Child's Play 2

Directed by John Lafia [Other horror films: Man’s Best Friend (1993), Monster! (1999), The Rats (2002)]

This moderately amazes me to say, but the second Child’s Play really is about as good as the first, if not a little better. It’s probably negligible when it comes to the rating, in truth, but nonetheless, Child’s Play 2 is an extraordinarily well-done sequel.

The main cast is close to excellent throughout. Gerrit Graham (of TerrorVision fame) plays a good jackass foster parent. Jenny Agutter, his character’s wife, does well as the more sensible of the two (though to be honest, out of the main cast, Agutter’s the least memorable). Of course, Alex Vincent comes back as Andy and does a fantastic job, basically playing a kid who knows he’s screwed, no matter what he does.

The winning cast member, however, is Christine Elise. Playing a street tough kid, Kyle, in the same foster home as Andy, Elise shows a lot of heart and never has a boring scene. She was in a few television movies and various episodes prior to Child’s Play 2, so this was her feature film debut, and boy, was it strong. A very likable character, Kyle was a gem to see throughout the film.

Of course, Brad Dourif does a fantastic job again, with some fantastically amusing and well-done lines. I can never get enough of Dourif’s voice acting, as it really makes Chucky the badass he is. On a related note, while there were a few deaths that didn’t do much for me (the first one, for instance), the suffocation death was jolly good fun, and every death past that was entirely serviceable. Chucky went all out, especially near the end (and boy, did he get mutilated as the movie went on), and was a sight to behold.

The special effects were damn good, especially regarding Chucky’s bodily mutilations toward the end. Somewhat ironic that most of the gore in this flick comes from the antagonist, but it looked great and worked out well.

I’ve seen this movie many times before, but it never struck me until now just how well this compares with the first movie. The tight story-writing and fantastic cast really allows this sequel to stand up with the original, and more so, this movie itself can stand up as one of the best 1990’s horror flicks (honestly, the competition wasn’t high in that decade). Child’s Play 2 wastes no time, and from beginning to end, it’s a damn fun ride with an amazing finale.

8.5/10

This was covered on Fight Evil’s podcast, episode #18. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss the film.

Mortuary (1983)

Mortuary

Directed by Howard Avedis [Other horror films: They’re Playing with Fire (1984)]

I’ve long heard about this film, and for some time now, have been interested in seeing it. Does it live up to my expectations? For the most part, but it does have one glaring problem.

Mortuary has a lot of class for a slasher, and while the story itself was lacking in the atmosphere I was hoping it’d convey, there are plenty of suspenseful and well-done scenes. The setting, a coastal California city, stood out, and many of the actors were solid.

Mary McDonough, David Wysocki, Christopher George, and Bill Paxton all stood out positively (which, for George, is a good thing, as this is his final film before his death). Paxton in particular did extremely well with his role, a quirky, possibly messed up son of a mortician. He was over-the-top at times (the scene with him skipping through the graveyard was a bit much), but his character was fun, especially toward the end.

While we had decent suspense throughout, the one big problem with this film is lack of kills. On-screen, we get very little in the way of deaths, which is disappointing, as the few we do get are decently well-done. Something like two, three death scenes tops doesn’t really do it for me, and while certainly the story was interesting and captivating, a few additional tertiary characters to be bumped off would have made a positive difference.

That said, Mortuary ended up as a fine film. Sure, the route it took was one almost utterly expected (the ending itself wasn’t too far removed from Happy Birthday to Me), but this film took it with class. A solid movie, I just wish it had spent a bit more time giving us some kills. Otherwise, this is certainly worth a look for fans of the slasher subgenre.

8/10

Phantasm II (1988)

Phantasm

Directed by Don Coscarelli [Other horror films: Phantasm (1979), Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead (1994), Phantasm IV: Oblivion (1998), Bubba Ho-Tep (2002), John Dies at the End (2012)]

While lacking much of the dreamy atmospheric feel that the first film possesses, Phantasm II makes up for it with both all-out action and fantastic special effects.

In many ways, this flick comes across as a buddy road trip movie, with Reggie (Reggie Bannister) and Michael (James Le Gros, replacing Michael Baldwin) attempting to track down and kill The Tall Man. It’s a fun romp, and seeing Reggie with his chainsaw and Mike with his makeshift flamethrower searching through desolate buildings carries with it a lot of appeal.

Even with this film coming out nine years after the original, Reggie Bannister still does a great job with his character, and though I’d have preferred Baldwin to be recast as Mike, Le Gros doesn’t come across as too out of place. Paula Irvine does a pretty good job as Liz (Mike’s love interest), and Samantha Phillips, while lacking in screen-time, has a strong presence also. Needless to say, Angus Scrimm continues to dominate as The Tall Man, and does a fantastic job as a threatening, powerful, unknown force.

Like I said, the movie mostly lacks the dreamy, somewhat incoherent feel of the first film (though it does pop up now and again throughout the movie), and instead replaces that by-and-large with an action/road trip, which, while at times fun, doesn’t quite have the same effect. It felt more Hollywood, in short. Which isn’t to say the movie still doesn’t stand out, but the feel of the movie is certainly far removed from the first.

That said, the action sequences (chainsaw fight, for example) and special effects (Tall Man’s scenes near the end) were top-notch, and highly recommended to any fan of horror. Much like the first movie, Phantasm II also leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, which has it’s pros and cons. The beginning and ending both seem a bit of a jumbled mess (really makes us question what the reality of the first and second movies really were), but while somewhat annoying, it has it’s charms too.

Phantasm II isn’t as good as the original movie, but it is still a very strong film, and undoubtedly more fun than the original, but probably, in the end, less memorable. Certainly worth watching still, as this series really is one that has to be seen to believe.

8.5/10

Die Augen der Mumie Ma (1918)

Eyes of the Mummy

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a moderately difficult flick to talk about, mainly because it straddles the line between horror and non-horror. Ultimately, I do think that Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy, as it’s commonly known) is a horror movie, but I would not at all excuse anyone else for thinking otherwise.

If you’re expecting an actual mummy, as many viewers tend to, then that might lead to many of the disappointments this movie brings. It’s a heavy drama-laden flick, not to mention romance, which overshadows the horror aspects. Luckily, toward the end, things do pick up. Not that much, though. While I’m a fan of the ending, it comes in far too late to make that positive an impact, and unfortunately, there were too few scenes prior that had much a threatening feel to them.

Another thing that I can’t help but criticize: most of the times, actors in silent flicks are about as good as you would expect, with a few standing out above the others. Here, it just seems to me that many of the actors’ and actresses’ hearts weren’t into it. Harry Liedtke was fine, but didn’t have the power to really carry the protagonist side of the plot, and sadly, neither did Pola Negri (her dancing didn’t do much for me either, on a side-note).

Emil Jannings did the best, by far, with his performance. While he was nowhere near as good as other early mad men (he’s no Lorre from Mad Love, or Barrymore Svengali), to be sure, and he didn’t get a hell of a lot of characterization, I still felt that most of the time, Jannings came across as a threat. I just wish he had more screen-time to do so.

Die Augen der Mumie Ma will probably disappoint most horror fans going in expecting a Nosferatu or Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. Perhaps one of the few missteps Germany took during their reign over the horror genre (and it is entirely possible that this flick was meant far more a drama/romance than horror), this movie just doesn’t have much to recommend, especially considering far better movies that came out around the same time.

5/10