Original Run: 1996 – 1997 Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese Directed by: Ted Newsom Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited) Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various
Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)
I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.
Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.
Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.
This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.
There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.
I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.
All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.
Also known as: Fanatic (original title) Release Date: March 21st, 1965 (UK) Directed by: Silvio Narizzano Written by: Richard Matheson Based on:Nightmare by Anne Blaisdell Music by: Wilfred Josephs Cast: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland
Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 97 Minutes
“Stephen? Stephen? She’s here in this house, my darling… but of course you know… you know…!” – Mrs. Trefoile
So this was another Hammer film that flew under my radar for years. I didn’t discover it until I recently got this twenty film Blu-ray box set.
For a straight up Hammer style horror flick, this was really damn good and enjoyable as hell. It doesn’t feature any of the classic literary monsters, so it had to rely on good storytelling, good direction and solid acting.
The story is interesting and engaging while the performances by Tallulah Bankhead and Stefanie Powers were damn exceptional. So much so, I was enthralled and pulled in by their acting and I easily ignored all the missed opportunities the victim had at escaping or defeating the villain.
You have to suspend some disbelief in how easily this woman is held captive by a cranky, crazy old lady and her hired help around the house. But regardless of that, this is still superb in its execution and man, you just want to see that old lady get her just desserts.
Tallulah Bankhead was intense and sinister. She gave a top notch performance and what makes it even more impressive is that she got really sick during production. So much so that she had to forego her salary and promise to finish the film, regardless, just so her role wasn’t recast. In the end, she pulled off something remarkable.
It’s also worth mentioning that a young Donald Sutherland plays one of the villain’s minions. However, he’s kind of an innocent character, as he’s mentally handicapped and doesn’t really understand the reality of what’s happening around him.
Die! Die! My Darling! is much better than I assumed it would be. It’s a mesmerizing thriller that sucks you in rather quickly and holds your attention until the final frame.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: other Hammer pictures of the ’50s through ’70s, especially ones like this that don’t feature the more famous literary monsters.
Also known as: I Am Legend, The Naked Terror (working titles), The Damned Walk at Midnight (alternative title) Release Date: May 6th, 1964 Directed by: Sidney Salkow, Ubaldo B. Ragona Written by: Logan Swanson, William F. Leicester, Furio M. Monetti, Ubaldo B. Ragona Based on:I Am Legend by Richard Matheson Music by: Paul Sawtell, Bert Shefter Cast: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi Stuart
Associated Producers (API), Produzioni La Regina, 86 Minutes
“Another day to live through. Better get started.” – Robert Morgan
When I was a kid, this was a movie that bored me to tears. I didn’t revisit it again for decades because I thought it was so drab and slow. However, I wanted to give it a fair shot and this time around, I liked it a lot.
I guess my memories of it weren’t all that accurate either, as I just remembered the scenes of Vincent Price driving around with bodies everywhere and then spending all his time reinforcing his house and lying around on the couch as zombie vampires called his name from outside. All these things do happen, however there is much more to the picture.
We do get flashbacks to the time before the virus completely wrecked the planet. We see Price as a scientist who has a hard time believing what’s happening because it’s… well, so unbelievable. After spending so much time with Price alone, these flashback scenes are a welcome sight, as we get to see him interact with human beings again. All the slow, monotonous stuff served a real purpose with the narrative and tone of the film. Like Price, you yearn for more humans and when you get them, you feel that emotional effect.
Apparently, this film was supposed to be produced and shot by Hammer Films. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen and production moved to an Italian company. They were able to lock down Vincent Price and frankly, despite my poor taste as a kid, the end result is something incredibly worthwhile.
This film also features one of Price’s best performances, which is very reserved and somber. Price acts very much in contrast to what most people remember him for, which was his flamboyant and energetic characters. Seeing Price play his role this way, also adds to the emotional effect of the picture. I’ve seen enough of Price to understand his range and this wasn’t the first or last time he played a softer, more subdued character, but this story might make it his best version of that.
The Last Man On Earth is a film that most horror historians look at really fondly. I had a bad take on it for years and I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance. After seeing it now, I feel like maybe I never finished it, as a kid, as all I remembered from it was the stuff that happened in the first act.
I certainly didn’t remember the ending, which is quite impactful.
Rating: 8.5/10 Pairs well with: early zombie films, as well as other films based off of this story like The Omega Man and I Am Legend.
Also known as: The Time Killer (working title), Kolchak: The Night Strangler (long title) Release Date: January 16th, 1973 Directed by: Dan Curtis Written by: Richard Matheson Based on:The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice Music by: Bob Cobert Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine
Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes, 90 Minutes (extended syndication version)
“I just saw your “so-called killer” wipe up the street with your so-called police force!” – Carl Kolchak
In my last Kolchak related review, I talked about my love of the show but also mentioned that I had never seen the television movies that predated it. This is the second and final film and I’ve got to say that I liked it a hair bit better than the very entertaining and charming first one.
I guess the consensus is that they were pretty equal in quality but I felt like Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland were much more in-sync together, as well as more comfortable with their characters.
This story doesn’t see our crack reporter trying to take down a vampire, instead, he’s trying to stop an alchemist that is killing young women and using their blood to stay immortal. I guess the baddie is similar to a vampire, in a way, but he’s more like a Jack the Ripper type of killer with an extra twist.
The film also takes place in Seattle, after Kolchak was chased off from Las Vegas due to the events of the previous story. He’d also have to leave Seattle at the end of this where the heroes mention that they’re moving to New York City. The TV show that followed the next year put them in Chicago, however.
Anyway, this is solid, cool yet hokey ’70s fun and I like that it didn’t stay focused on vampires and allowed itself to be more open with weird monsters and phenomena. In fact, this franchise was a big inspiration on the creation and format of The X-Files, two decades later.
Rating: 7.75/10 Pairs well with: its predecessor The Night Stalker and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title) Release Date: January 11th, 1972 Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey Written by: Richard Matheson Based on:The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice Music by: Bob Cobert Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.
Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes
“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak
I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.
Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.
I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!
More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.
McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.
Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.
While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.
Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Also known as: The Graveside Story (re-issue title, Germany) Release Date: December 25th, 1963 (Detroit premiere) Directed by: Jacques Tourneur Written by: Richard Matheson Music by: Les Baxter Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown
Alta Vista Productions, American International Pictures, 84 Minutes
“To… uh… paraphrase the venerable adage: we shall kill two birds, with one… pillow.” – Waldo Trumball
When I was a kid, I thought that the plot to The Comedy of Terrors was genius. In fact, it inspired a script outline that I wrote in high school for a movie I wanted to eventually make called Cremation.
The plot is about a funeral parlor owner who is about to lose his home/parlor due to not having any business. So he sets out to create business by killing some of the richer people in the community. Eventually, he sets his sights on his rich landlord because that would solve his biggest problem.
While the plot may sound dark and twisted, this is also a comedy and not standard 1960s horror fare.
The film also stars four great horror legends and it is directed by Jacques Tourneur, who helmed some solid horror and classic film-noir pictures in his day.
The humor is great and the tone of the film is superb. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre always had incredible chemistry and this might be the best they’ve ever been together, even though I consider The Raven to be a better film.
I also like the recurring gags in the film with Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who don’t have as much screentime as Price and Lorre but they still add extra layers of awesomeness to the proceedings. Joyce Jameson is also entertaining and perfect in her role, as the object of Lorre’s affection while being married to the cantankerous and murderous Price.
This is a goofy but solid horror comedy in a time where films like that were rare. In the end, this really just showcases how great these actors were, all around, despite being mostly typecast as “horror actors”.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other pictures Vincent Price did for American International. Especially those co-starring Peter Lorre and/or Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.
Release Date: June 24th, 1983 Directed by: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller Written by: John Landis, George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison, Jerome Bixby Based on:The Twilight Zone by Rod Sterling Music by: Jerry Goldsmith Cast: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan, Burgess Meredith (narrator), Dick Miller, Steven Williams, Al Leong, John Larroquette, Selma Diamond, Priscilla Pointer, Nancy Cartwright, Christina Nigra, Donna Dixon
Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros., 101 Minutes
“Hey… you wanna see something really scary?” – Car Passenger
After recently watching the Creepshow television series, as well as revisiting the movies for the umpteenth time, I got the itch to rewatch Twilight Zone: The Movie, as it has a lot of similarities and I hadn’t seen it in at least a decade.
I like the highpoints of this movie almost as much as the Creepshow films. However, Twilight Zone is pretty inconsistent, as the first two segments are weak while the latter two are really good. And maybe it was put in this order in post-production because Steven Spielberg felt the same way, even though one of his segments was one of the crappier ones.
The prologue and the first segment were both directed by John Landis, coming off of An American Werewolf In London, a true horror classic. The prologue was a pretty good setup and I loved it when I was a kid. Landis’ segment, however, plays more like an episode of Amazing Stories.
Although, two of these segments play like Amazing Stories episodes and maybe this movie is what inspired Spielberg to create that show just two years later.
Anyway, Landis’ segment is actually incomplete due to an accident involving a helicopter on the set of the film. The accident killed two kids and actor Victor Morrow. It was a pretty controversial event back when it happened (see here) and it forever ruined the working relationship between Steven Spielberg and John Landis.
Moving on to the second segment, it’s the one directed by Spielberg himself and it is also the other segment that feels like an Amazing Stories episode. It’s also really boring and slows the movie to a crawl. But thankfully, Joe Dante’s segment gets the movie back on track.
By the time the third segment rolls around, you might find yourself in a comatose state that even the gentle, kind and always fly Scatman Crothers couldn’t pull you out of during the previous story. But once you get to the midpoint of the film, everything picks up, gets better and the movie delivers.
The third and fourth segments feel almost as good as the best segments from the Creepshow franchise and they save this movie from being a total disaster.
Where the first story dealt with an unlikable, old, racist piece of shit and the second dealt with old people getting to feel young again, the third deals with a young boy with special powers and a nice lady that eventually wants to help him, played by Kathleen Quinlan. It has more energy, it’s a more interesting story and the monster effects that Dante had created for this are superb. I love the third segment and it’s actually a story I would revisit if ever there were a followup to it. Plus, it has Dick Miller in it.
Now the fourth segment is directed by George Miller, the man behind the Mad Max franchise, and it is a remake of the most famous Twilight Zone episode.
The story sees an airplane passenger freak out over a monster on the wing of the plane. It may sound like an odd setup but it is a great segment that builds suspense incredibly well and also benefits from the great talent of John Lithgow. I also really liked the young Christina Nigra in this, as she added some good comedic seasoning at just the right moments. She was also really good in Cloak & Dagger, alongside Henry Thomas, a year later.
The final segment features the best (and only real) monster of the movie. The special effects are outstanding and the payoff in the finale makes the rest of the movie worth sitting through.
In the end, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a good example of what I don’t like about anthologies: consistency. The first half is bogged down by dry, slow, boring stories that one has to suffer through in an effort to get to something better. Thankfully, the second half of the picture is good.
In retrospect, though, it feels like this is almost a movie length pilot to Spielberg’s anthology television series Amazing Stories. If you’ve ever seen that show, this feels like an extension of it more than it feels like it fits within the Twilight Zone franchise. However, this would also lead to the Twilight Zone getting resurrected on television. In fact, it relaunched just a few days before Amazing Stories debuted.
Going back to the Spielberg segment with the old people experiencing their youth again, there are a lot of parallels to it and Ron Howard’s Cocoon. I’m not sure if this was an inspiration for that movie and its sequel but it’s very possible.
In fact, Twilight Zone: The Movie seems to have had quite the impact between launching a new TZ television series, influencing Spielberg’s Amazing Stories and its similarities to Cocoon, all of which came out two years later in 1985.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: other horror anthology films of the time: the Creepshow movies and Tales From the Darkside: The Movie, as well as the television shows Amazing Stories and Tales From the Crypt.
Release Date: January 25th, 1963 Directed by: Roger Corman Written by: Richard Matheson Based on:The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe Music by: Les Baxter Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson
American International Pictures, 86 Minutes
“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven
Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.
They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.
I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.
To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.
The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.
The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.
The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.
Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.
This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.
Rating: 9.25/10 Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.
Also known as: Tales of Terror, Terror of the Doll (alternate titles) Release Date: March 4th, 1975 Directed by: Dan Curtis Written by: Richard Matheson, William F. Nolan Music by: Robert Cobert Cast: Karen Black, Robert Burton, John Karlen, George Gaynes
Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Cirlc Films, ABC, 72 Minutes
“This can’t be happening! This can’t be happening!” – Amelia
Trilogy of Terror was originally made to be a television movie. It is an anthology horror film with three different stories, all of which star Karen Black. In fact, it is this movie that may have truly cemented her as one of the top scream queens of the ’70s.
The first story is about a timid college professor becoming the obsession of a student, who drugs her, rapes her and takes pornographic pictures of her to blackmail her into doing his bidding. It’s a pretty good story with a nice twist.
The second chapter is my least favorite of the three. It deals with two twin sisters, one of whom is like a puritan nun type of character, the other is a slutty wild child. The nun-like sister believes the other to be the embodiment of evil and decides to use voodoo to destroy her and vanquish the evil once and for all. Like the previous story, this one has a big twist. The reason why this one didn’t work for me, is that I predicted the big twist almost immediately. It may have worked well in 1975 but it’s a story horror fans have seen a dozen times.
The third and final episode in this anthology takes place in just an apartment. Karen Black’s character buys this cursed tribal doll for a guy she likes. While taking a bath, the doll comes to life. The rest of the story is about the woman trying to survive being trapped in her apartment with this insane and relentless killing machine. It sounds cheesy and strange, which it is, but the doll is so incredibly nuts that it just works. Where Chucky from the Child’s Play films could be like a great white shark, this doll is more like a school of piranhas.
Trilogy of Terror isn’t great but it is entertaining, very short and goes to show the range that Karen Black had. She could play a sweet character, a killer and really, anything in-between.
Plus, that killer doll is one of the best horror monsters of the 1970s.
This TV movie was pretty popular, developed a cult following and was one of the most traded VHS tapes that I used to see at conventions when I was a kid. These days you can stream it in HD.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with:Trilogy of Terror II, other horror anthologies: Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Tales From the Darkside: The Movie.
I have seen Duel in some form or in increments at least two dozen times. When I was a kid it was on TBS almost weekly. I always caught it in the middle, so I never really knew how the beef started in the film between the psycho in a truck and the wimpy salesman in a car, played by Dennis Weaver. However, the set up never really seemed to matter to me because this tapped into some sort of primal fear and eventually, into survival mode taking over. It wasn’t until now, in 2018, that I actually sat down and saw this thing in its entirety from start to finish.
The one thing that is the most amazing to me, is that this was originally a television movie. It has the production value of something much larger and it felt authentic to the trucker and car heavy movies of the time. This was shot incredibly well and the action was intense and real. They certainly couldn’t rely on CGI back then so the destruction you see is real destruction. The big final crash was incredible, as was the scene where the truck is doing doughnuts, bulldozing the reptile exhibit in an effort to prevent Dennis Weaver’s David Mann from calling the cops.
Spielberg showed great promise with this film, which was instrumental in him having the opportunity to make Jaws a few years later. While the film is action heavy, Spielberg showed incredible skill in story telling and employed a “less is more” strategy when building tension and suspense. This is a horror film and a thriller at its core but it is also a mystery film where the mystery actually goes unanswered. Who is this killer driver? Why is he so pissed off? But I guess it’s the not knowing why that makes this so impactful.
The part in the middle of the film where David is in the diner, analyzing all the men inside, trying to determine which one is the maniac trucker is slow, methodical and really drawn out. But it is done so to great effect and it is really the strongest and most important moment in the film. It’s the turning point where David gives in to his overwhelming paranoia and goes a bit nuts. And as intense as things were before the diner scene, that scene amplifies everything moving forward and the second half is a giant, uncomfortable ball of tension and terror.
On paper, you would think that a movie about a driver in a car being chased down by a killer truck is pretty one dimensional and stupid. While it is one dimensional, that is where the film finds its strength. It also addresses the fact that the truck is unusually fast. For whatever reason, David can’t outrun the hunter and that taps into a primal fear all living things have. The film really works well as metaphor and the ridiculous premise doesn’t really matter when things get going and you find yourself glued to this picture.
Duel is not a masterpiece or even a great film but it is a pivotal moment in the early career of Steven Spielberg and his imprint is all over the picture. Dennis Weaver had the tough task of carrying the entire film on his back but he was able to conquer that task with his superb performance and ability to feel like a genuine everyman, trapped in a mortal game of cat and mouse with a vicious and unrelenting predator.
I love this film. It’s badass, still kicks ass and was the real genesis of one of the greatest filmmakers of all-time, who would go on to shape an entire era of not just filmmaking but pop culture itself.
Rating: 7.5/10 Pairs well with: Another early Spielberg film, The Sugarland Express. Also pairs well with a myriad of car and trucker films from the ’70s and early ’80s, as well as the Stephen King film adaptations of Maximum Overdrive and Christine.
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