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.

6.5/10

Return of the Living Dead: Part II (1988)

Directed by Ken Wiederhorn [Other horror films: Shock Waves (1977), Eyes of a Stranger (1981), Dark Tower (1989)]

Having never seen this sequel before, I could imagine that it’d be a favorite if I had watched it when I was a kid. There might have been a chance for this to possess a lot of nostalgic charm if this had caught me when I was young. As it is, watching it for the first time now, I just found it regrettably more goofy than the first film, and nowhere near as good.

It’s not an utter waste of time, but almost everything that was great about the first film is somewhat muted here. The story itself is okay, and the setting is decent, but the music isn’t as memorable, the characters are nowhere near as good, and the fact that humor is more at the forefront was a choice that I sensed was coming but didn’t care for whatsoever.

For a young actor, Michael Kenworthy gave a pretty good performance, and it made it a bit easier to like his character when he was about the only one who knew what he was doing. This kid was pretty clever, and I appreciated his initiative. Playing his sister, Marsha Dietlein can yell at me anytime she wants, as she was foxy as fuck here. Dana Ashbrook was decent as an action-oriented guy, but he felt somewhat stereotypical come the conclusion.

James Karen and Thom Mathews (who played similar characters in the first film, which is even alluded to here) were okay, but seeing Mathews in the first movie was enough, as half his dialogue here once he falls ill is the same stuff from the first film. And playing his girlfriend, Suzanne Snyder was extraordinarily irksome. She wouldn’t shut up. Snyder played the character well, but what a terrible character.

With it’s focus more on the humor, Return of the Living Dead: Part II wasn’t near as enjoyable and (ironically) fun as the first movie. It has some okay scenes toward the end (even those terrible electrocution effects have their place), but it was an underwhelming experience throughout, and while I know some out there enjoy this one, I just couldn’t get into it.

5.5/10

The Return of the Living Dead (1985)

Directed by Dan O’Bannon [Other horror films: The Resurrected (1991)]

One of the best examples of a movie firmly with it’s feet in the 1980’s, The Return of the Living Dead has long been a favorite of mine. I don’t usually go for zombie comedies, but this one is a classic, and I do rather enjoy it.

It helps that the humor isn’t usually too goofy. There are a few scenes I could have done without, but for the most part, while the film certainly has comedy in it, it’s a lot more tame as opposed to an all-out goof-fest, which I am quite happy about, and personally makes it an easier film for me to get behind.

Also, that music – those funky beats that pop up whenever something goes down are just great. After that body is cremated, and the ashes rise into the air as the rain starts, and that music starts up, it just sounds great. It has a dark vibe to it (which lends the movie great atmosphere at times), and related, you gotta love the movie’s conclusion, from the solution the general has to the rains afterward.

I won’t spend much time on the performances, because most of them are fair in this film. James Karen and Thom Mathews’ (Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives) antics that started the whole thing were sort of funny (“This is completely solid,” slaps it and it breaks open – cracked me up). I didn’t care for Clu Gulager’s (A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge) character at first, but he grew on me a bit throughout the film. Don Calfa played his role pretty straight, which was impressive, and I also liked him.

Most of the teen characters were interchangeable. I don’t know how Beverly Randolph’s Tina started hanging out with that bunch, but whateves. Jewel Shepard was rather attractive at times, but none of that matters when Linnea Quigley strips naked early on in the film and stays in stages of being undressed throughout. Her character was odd anyway (with some really interesting and memorable lines of dialogue), but boy, does she have a cute butt. I could watch her in the graveyard naked for longer than I care to admit.

This is just one of those easy films that you can throw on at almost any point and have a fun time with. There’s nothing too deep here – just pure 80’s fun, with a bitching soundtrack, decent characters through, solid zombie design (need I even mention my homeboi Tarman?), and a great conclusion.

Even if you’re not a typical fan of zombie films, I’d recommend checking this one out, as it really is a ton of fun.

8.5/10

House on Haunted Hill (1999)

Directed by William Malone [Other horror films: Scared to Death (1980), Creature (1985), Feardotcom (2002), Parasomnia (2008)]

I love the original House on Haunted Hill. I find it an incredibly fun movie with a great cast, solid story, nice-looking setting, and some genuine thrills. This re-imagining had potential, but I definitely think it lost some of that during the ending.

There’s a little mystery here, and there’s a few elements used from the original film (such as a secret affair between two characters), but as this film is more overtly supernatural than the original, the mystery doesn’t matter as much, and most of the questions (such as why these particular people were invited) get answered in the expected, not necessarily-satisfactory, ways.

Most of the beginning is strong, and possesses an intentionally hokey charm. It helps a little that a character named Mr. Price (played by Geoffrey Rush) doesn’t look too far off from Vincent Price in the original, which I thought was amusing. I just wish that, when they transferred over to more overt ghosts (especially toward the conclusion), it was done in a better way.

Geoffrey Rush gives a pretty decent performance, and Famke Jannsen, who plays his wife, is solid too. The two of them have the same type of rather toxic relationship that they did in the original, so that’s always good fun. Others who stand out include Ali Larter (Final Destination), who wasn’t the most interesting character, but possessed a young and fresh look, Chris Kattan, who cracked me up throughout the film (“It has no morals. Because it’s a HOUSE!”) and played a bit of the same role that Matthew Lillard did for the Thir13en Ghosts movie, and Peter Gallagher, who’s straight-laced look was quality.

There’s a lack of variety as far as the sets go – in the house, most of the time is spent either in the basement or the ground floor, and it’s not until the end that they venture upstairs, and due to the situation they’re in, they don’t really have time to explore, which was sort of disappointing (especially considering how tall the house looks from the outside).

The biggest problem here is how they handle the ghosts. Not only does that conglomeration of ghost look horrible at the end, they then have another ghost save the day (in a manner of speaking) in a pretty corny scene. It doesn’t really matter at that point, because I’m already somewhat turned off by the route the movie took, but boy, do I wish they had done something a little different, because beforehand, it was a reasonably enjoyable film, but that ending just wasn’t.

I was enjoying this film up to a point, but I think the ending was poor, so ultimately, while I could see myself getting behind this one again at some point, I think it’s below average, though I certainly felt that this movie had real potential.

6.5/10

Sugar Hill (1974)

Directed by Paul Maslansky [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve known about this movie for some time now, but it never sounded like something I’d really care to see (especially having such a limited experience with blaxploitation). After seeing it, though, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. By no means an amazing movie, Sugar Hill is a decent amount of fun.

Seeing a wronged woman get revenge is a good set-up. It’s quick, too, and it doesn’t take long for her to approach an old voodoo priestess and gain the power of Baron Samedi (who was one of the best characters in all of cinema, let’s be honest). After that, she uses her army of zombies to strike against those who killed the man she loved, and it’s a fun ride.

Marki Bey (who was really never in that much) did a great job playing the titular character, and you can definitely feel sympathy for her character and support her revenge. Don Pedro Colley did great as the hammy Baron Samedi – he spent a good portion of his screen-time laughing evilly at the revenge that Sugar Hill was getting. He seemed quite supportive of her, and the two of them made a quality pair.

Robert Quarry (Count Yorga, Vampire and Madhouse being two of his more well-known roles) and Betty Anne Rees made for some solid antagonists. I sort of felt bad for Rees’ character at the end, but at the same time, I think of the racist things she said throughout the film, and just shrug it off. I expected a little more from Richard Lawson’s character, but he was somewhat limited as far as the plot went, so that’s okay.

As far as the zombie design went, it was moderately simple, but I was happy with it. I could have done without the bulging eyes, but I did like how some of their faces were covered with webs – that lent them a creepier look. They were also used to good effect, and reminiscent of what you might see from the voodoo zombie horror films of the genre’s yesteryears (such as White Zombie).

It’s somewhat true that Sugar Hill felt a little shallow, but it was still a pretty fun time, knew what it was going for, and gave us the hammy and delightful performance from Colley, which I just loved. Certainly a surprise, I won’t regret watching Sugar Hill.

7.5/10

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

Directed by Dwight H. Little [Other horror films: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), The Phantom of the Opera (1989)]

So when I revisted Anaconda, I was surprised the film wasn’t that fun. I didn’t expect it to be good, by any means, but I did expect to have fun while watching it, and I really didn’t. Gotta lay it on you all straight, though – I had fun with this one.

Not that Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid is a great movie, and certainly I think the cast of the first movie was quite a bit stronger, but I actually enjoyed sitting through this one, which wasn’t something I could really say for the first, and that’s got to count for something.

Here’s one random note. Not sure if it’s interesting or funny, but I’ll mention it anyway. Throughout the film, I thought that the boat captain was played by Matthew Marsden. Why? Because to me, the boat captain looked really similar to Michael Madsen, and I guessed they were brothers. Unfortunately, there’s no “r” in Madsen, and these two weren’t brothers, and the captain was played by some guy named Johnny Messner, and I feel like an idiot.

That aside, we have a nice cast. Johnny Messner (a name I don’t know at all) did great as the captain, and he was a solid character throughout. He even wrestled an alligator. KaDee Strickland (another name I don’t know) was a cute, bad-ass chick willing to fight snakes and shit. She also had a southern accent (she was born in Georgia), so that added to the charm. It’s like watching Anna Paquin fight snakes (only when she’s using her southern accent, not the one she normally has since she’s Canadian).

Matthew Mardsen (no relation to Michael Madsen) was good as a scummy piece of trash. I don’t think he really got as much as he deserved, but I’ll take it. Eugene Byrd, Karl Yune, Morris Chestnut, and Salli Richardson-Whitefield were all perfectly enjoyable also.

The snakes here don’t look great, but you do have a solid jungle adventure, including poisonous spiders, leeches, trees, and other things you might expect to find in a jungle. It’s nothing original, but I had fun, which can be said for the movie, and is more than I can say for the first movie.

7/10

Coma (1978)

Directed by Michael Crichton [Other horror films: N/A]

For as long as I’ve known about this film, IMDb has labeled it as a ‘horror’ film (other genres are drama and mystery); of course, today, that label is now missing. It’s a mystery and drama, no doubt, but while there are horror elements, going as far as to call the whole of the film horror is a bit of a stretch, even for someone with as liberal a definition of horror as I do.

I’ll count it though – there’s a sequence, decently suspenseful, too, where a killer is chasing someone (though to be fair, it’s more an assassination attempt than a slasher, but hey, someone’s getting killed, so that counts?), but to be fair, this is much more of a medical-focused mystery dealing with a wide-ranging conspiracy. If people want to label this horror, who am I to complain?

And since it is considered horror by some, it becomes one of the two horror films with Michael Douglas (the other being an early 1970’s TV movie titled When Michael Calls). A few years before this, he was in the cop crime show The Streets of San Francisco, and this may be one of his first bigger films, so that’s somewhat fun. His character is mixed – it’s the typical “I don’t believe in any conspiracy despite the proof, you’re paranoid” type, but his character grows later on.

The main character, though, is played by Geneviève Bujold (would reminded me amazingly of Famke Janssen throughout the film), and she did a great job playing a woman simply trying to get at the truth despite the obstacles in front of her. Rip Torn (A Stranger Is Watching and Dolly Dearest) and Richard Widmark (Blackout and To the Devil a Daughter) were both decent playing the old-fashioned, somewhat chauvinistic doctors of the past.

There are some solid scenes in this film, and also some quite striking scenes (such as the first time we set eyes upon the seemingly-empty Jefferson Institute), but I suspect a lot of people might not find quite the horror they were hoping for. There were some small drops here and there, which is why I personally can see it as such, but if someone saw purely a conspiracy movie, I couldn’t blame them.

Whether or not this is horror doesn’t matter, though, as the movie’s still good. It has plenty of thrilling scenes (when Bujold is climbing the ladder, for instance, or when Douglas is trying to save someone’s life at the end), and it’s a movie that’s recommended. And if it sweetens the deal any, it’s based off a novel written by Robin Cook, and the film’s directed by Michael Crichton.

7.5/10

Svengali (1931)

Directed by Archie Mayo [Other horror films: N/A]

I don’t necessarily think that this is a great film, and were it not for John Barrymore’s great performance as the titular Svengali, I doubt I’d rate this as well as I’ll end up rating it.

By no means a bad film, the problem is too little happens for quite a lengthy period at the beginning. Sure, we get a solid sequence near the beginning when Svengali, with his powers of hypnotism, causes a woman to commit suicide, but afterward, we get a lot of build-up (with a few creepy scenes, but not enough) and not enough action, which was problematic.

Luckily John Barrymore (of the more popular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1920, along with a similar role in 1931’s The Mad Genius) puts in a great performance as Svengali. The beautiful Marian Marsh (who was also in The Mad Genius, along with 1935’s The Black Room) was solid too, though didn’t have much character due to her being hypnotized throughout a large portion of the film. I’ll admit I found Bramwell Fletcher (1932’s The Mummy) underwhelming, but I loved both Lumsden Hare and Donald Crisp (who I literally just saw in The Uninvited and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).

The ending is decent, and surprisingly tragic for some involved, but it’s an 80 minute movie with pretty much only Barrymore to support it (I loved Hare and Crisps’ characters, but they didn’t have enough to do with the conclusion to greatly help matters), and for early 30’s horror, there are better movies out there.

6.5/10

Silent House (2011)

Directed by Chris Kentis [Other horror films: Open Water (2003)] & Laura Lau [Other horror films: N/A]

I will admit to being impressed by Silent House. I can understand the frustration that some people felt come the conclusion; I understand completely, but from a technical standout, Silent House was an impressive film even if elements of the ending weren’t.

What makes this impressive? It seems to be done all in a single continuous shot. I’m not a film-maker – I have no idea if it was actually done in a single shot. All I can say is that, from someone with no experience in film-making, it looks impressive, and I didn’t see any obvious cuts, so take that as you will.

Certainly such a technique can lead to some complications – with a camera-man following a character around the whole movie, doors are kept open longer than they really need to be (so the camera-man can walk through), and there are little things throughout, but I still found it really inspired how they did that, the ending notwithstanding.

For most of the film, we’re not really told much of what’s going on. It seems to be a generic ghost story, and small pieces of the story come together during the controversial conclusion. Why is the conclusion controversial and somewhat frustrating? For a similar reason (it’s not the exact same situation, but it’s not far off) that the ending of High Tension bothered some people, some potentially misleading narrative, and I get that.

As for me, when I figured out the story, I was pretty impressed, especially with the little clues we get throughout the film that come together to make sense at the end. And during the final scenes, once I saw where it was going, I wasn’t necessarily disappointed, but I was taken aback, because it seemed almost an unfair move, and this is probably partially what leads this decently innovative, small-budget movie to having only a 5.2/10 on IMDb at the time of this writing.

Elizabeth Olsen is a beautiful actress, which is a compliment that the movie-makers must have known, given that she wore a cute tank-top throughout the film and the audience got a lot, and I do mean a lot, of cleavage shots. No complaints from my end, I assure you. Her performance was good too, but those breasts – stereotypical chef kiss. Also, I just now realized she was the woman from a romantic comedy/drama called Liberal Arts, so that’s added fun.

Adam Trese and Eric Sheffer Stevens were both fine, though with the limitations of the movie, we never really got a whole lot of character from either one. It’s cool though, as I’d also take more cleavage shots over character development.

Overall, like I said at the beginning, this movie impressed me, and it impressed me more than it annoyed me, so it had that going for it. I didn’t hate the conclusion like some people did, but I understand why it’d bother some people. It’s not a matter of style over substance, either – though the story itself isn’t that great until the final 30 minutes or so, I think it makes for a fine haunted house film, if not a wee bit repetitive with a nervous woman being followed around trying to escape from a house.

On a side-note, this is a remake from a 2010 Uruguayan movie of the same name (well, the name is technically La casa muda, but in English, it’s Silent House), and I have seen that. I don’t remember too much about it, to be honest, and what little I do remember wasn’t exactly positive, so it’s possible that I find this a better film than the original, which can only be said about so many remakes. Whatever the case, I’ll revisit the thought once I see the 2010 movie again.

Silent House isn’t going to be for everyone. If someone’s not into found footage style of movie-making, this isn’t going to do wonders for them (this isn’t found footage, of course, but functionally, it doesn’t look too different), but I enjoyed the mystery of what was going on, and I enjoyed aspects of the conclusion, so kudos to this.

7.5/10

The Uninvited (1944)

Directed by Lewis Allen [Other horror films: The Unseen (1945)]

This is a classic that I’ve not seen until now, and it was great to sit down and finally watch it. Quite a solid film with a decent mystery, it’s pretty easy to see how this influenced ghost films in the following decades, into today.

A large house on the English coast was a fine choice for the setting, and I also like that it is just a house (albeit a large one) as opposed to a castle or mansion. It makes it seem a bit more relatable to those of us who have never set foot in a castle or mansion, and shows that even us lowly poor people can be haunted.

The Uninvited also really started off great with a little voice-over talking about ghosts and the like, all set to the beautiful scenery we’d been exploring for the next hour-and-a-half. It reminded me a little of Return to Glennascaul, a 1953 horror short narrated by Orson Welles. The atmosphere started off strong, and never really let up.

Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland made a fine brother and sister (and I have to say that it’s quaint to have siblings buying a house together as opposed to a couple), and Milland (who has been in plenty of horror films, such as Frogs, X, Terror in the Wax Museum, The House in Nightmare Park, and Premature Burial) was pretty witty at times, giving us some pretty amusing lines.

Playing an older gent with a stick up his ass, Donald Crisp (who I actually saw earlier this very month in the 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) was pretty solid, and playing his granddaughter was Gail Russell (who apparently died at the young age of 36 due to a long bout with alcoholism). Russell got a bit hysterical at times, but she was cute, so I’ll give her a pass (it also helps that it makes sense with the story). Alan Napier was also #beast in this.

I loved the mystery here, as Milland and Hussey are trying to figure out the whole true story behind the murders that took place at their new house. It reminded me of many more modern ghost films in which the protagonists have to solve the old crimes before they can really understand what’s going on (such as The Changeling or Dark Water), and I thought it was done wonderfully here, with a solid sense of atmosphere.

The 1940’s wasn’t the strongest decade for horror, and in fact, I’ve long-thought that it was among the weakest, but The Uninvited belies that and ends up being a sometimes-amusing, sometimes-spooky film that it well worth seeing.

8/10