The Bad Seed (1956)

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy [Other horror films: N/A]

When I was younger, I saw this film quite a bit. My mother in particular really enjoys this one, so I’ve seen it a fair deal of times. And while I do enjoy many things about it, I’ve never been able to go as far as to say I love it.

A lot of this has to do with some central characters. Nancy Kelly did really well much of the time, but she was really wearing thin on me toward the end. Maybe it’s due to the fact that I’m not a mother, but she didn’t handle her daughter with nearly as much force as she should have. Related, Patty McCormack was an annoying little brat most of the time, and I get that it’s the point, but God, I couldn’t stand any time she went into her ‘you’re the best mother, nicest mother,’ spiel. God, she was annoying, and the fact no other adults were really able to see through it was just disturbing.

Henry Jones was probably one of my favorite characters. I just loved his interactions with McCormack, and he really had the upper-hand a few times. Eileen Heckart played a great drunk, and Evelyn Varden was decently lovable in her own way.

Another thing that sort of rubbed me the wrong way was the stage call at the end. It’s sort of fun in an old movie way, but then it ends at a ‘funny’ scene which takes the somewhat somber finale and instead finishes up on a light-hearted note. From my understanding, that was a carry-over from the stage production, which had a different ending than the film, so made more sense, but here, it just felt really out of place.

Really, The Bad Seed has a solid story and pretty good suspense, but you can definitely tell it came from a play, because many of the conversations have a very stagey feel to them. You know the type – long conversations that take place in one room, few changes in scenery. It’s adapted well here, but it’s not always the most engaging material.

When all’s said and done, The Bad Seed is a good movie with a few untenable characters. Should one be a fan of 50’s horror, it certainly merits a watch, but it’s never been one that I’d go back to that often, even though I do ultimately find the movie above average.

7.5/10

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

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