Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Hammer Horrors: An A to Z Appreciation

In my house, watching a Hammer movie every Halloween is a tradition. While I love the Universal monster flicks, too, I grew up on Hammer's colorful, lively, gothic fright classics. With special thanks to my Cafe collaborators Toto and Sark, here's my A to Z tribute to the British House of Horror.

The Abominable Snowman (aka The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas). Don't look for scary monsters in Nigel Kneale's surprising spin on the search for the Yeti.

David Peel as Baron Meinster.
The Brides of Dracula. My favorite Hammer Dracula film and Drac isn't even in it! Instead, we get the devious Baron Meinster, an innocent French lass, Peter Cushing's second appearance as a dynamic Van Helsing, and--yes--that shadow from the windmill!

Cushing, Peter. When Hammer launched its Frankenstein franchise, it made a brilliant decision to focus on the doctor and not the Monster. But it wouldn't have worked without the remarkable Peter Cushing, who evolves his characters subtly from film to film.

Charles Gray, looking more suave
than sinister here.
The Devil Rides Out (aka The Devil's Bride). Expecting a Dracula film here? Well, I'll plug the underrated Dracula Has Risen from the Grave quickly, but then move on to The Devil Rides Out. It's a creepy tale of a Satanic cult set in the 1920s with Christopher Lee as the intelligent hero and Charles Gray as the downright disturbing cult leader.

Elder, John. This was the pseudonym used by producer Anthony Hinds when writing screenplays for some of Hammer's finest films: The Kiss of the Vampire; Curse of the Werewolf; Frankenstein Created Woman; and many others.

Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. Arguably, the best of the Frankenstein series, showing how fully Victor Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) has transformed into a monster himself.

The Gorgon. Something is turning residents of a small German village into stone in this wonderfully atmospheric tale helmed by Hammer's top director, Terence Fisher.

Cushing as Holmes.
The Hound of the Baskervilles. This brisk adaptation of Conan Doyle's classic has aged remarkably well, with Cushing making his case as one of the best Sherlock Holmes and Andre Morell ideally cast as a serious Watson.

I Only Arsked. This comedy, adapted from the British TV series The Army Game, is not a horror movie at all. But I still find its title kinda frightening and, since I couldn't think of another "I", it gets an entry on this list!

Jekyll, Henry. Hammer mounted two serious versions of Robert Louis Stevenson's famous story. In The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll, Henry is portrayed as a bore while Hyde is handsome, charming--and evil. In the later gender-bender Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde...well, the title tells all.

The Kiss of the Vampire (aka Kiss of Evil). A honeymooning couple encounter an aristocratic vampire family in a small Bavarian town. A near-perfect vampire film, with some critics claiming it inspired Roman Polanski's delightful The Fearless Vampire Killers.

Lee in his most famous role.
Lee, Christopher. He redefined Count Dracula for a generation of horror film fans--but also excelled at playing other monsters (Frankenstein Monster, The Mummy), villainous pirates, and unlikely heroes. A less likely choice for "L" is Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, a bizarre mix of kung fu and vampires which is way more fun that one would expect.

The Mummy. This lively remake of Karloff's film presents a more physically imposing--and quicker moving--Mummy. Its smashing entrance through the glass doors of a study is an iconic scene and evidence that maybe the French critics were right when they proclaimed director Fisher an "auteur."

Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (aka Never Take Candy from a Stranger). Forget about the "B" movie title and prepare yourself for a gripping, very well-acted tale about a case of possible child molestation in a small Canadian town. The monsters in this film are all of the human variety.

One Million Years, B.C. It probably cemented Raquel Welch as the premiere sex symbol of the 1960s, especially with the poster featuring her in an animal-hide bikini. But let's not forget about Ray Harryhausen's incredible dinosaurs either.

The Phantom of the Opera. I almost opted for Ingrid Pitt due to pressure from my Hammer friends. Instead, we'll go with Phantom of the Opera, an under-appreciated version of the Gaston Leroux novel, with an excellent Herbert Lom as a sympathetic Phantom.

Quatermass and the Pit. Nigel Kneale, who adapted his own television serial, uses science fiction to explain the supernatural in a one-of-a-kind tale about an unusual craft uncovered during a subway excavation. Andrew Keir proves to be the definitive Professor Bernard Quatermass.

The Reptile. Cornish villagers are dying from what the locals call the Black Death. But why does one of the victims have a snake bite on the neck? And what's going on up at the sinister Dr. Franklyn's house? This well-made effort wisely unfolds as a mystery and hold attention even after the culprit is revealed.

The Snorkel. This clever suspense film boasts one of my all-time favorite opening scenes and, yes, it does involve a snorkel. It loses a little steam along the way, but nevertheless will keep you guessing about the outcome.

Both twins look innocent in this picture.
Twins of Evil. Two pretty lasses relocate to a Puritan village to live with their uncle and aunt. One of them falls under the influence of the evil Count Karnstein and becomes a vampire. But with one good twin and one bad one, things quickly become complicated. This was the last of the Karnstein Trilogy, which also included The Vampire Lovers and Lust for a Vampire.

The Ugly DucklingHammer's first take on Jekyll/Hyde was this 1959 comedy about a meek pharmacist who takes a drug and becomes dashing Teddy Hyde. The same twist was used again, in a serious vain, in The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll.

Vampire Circus. One of Hammer's later vampire pictures, this tale about a traveling carnival of bloodsuckers has become a minor cult film. Definitely worth checking out if you haven't seen it, though it's bloodier than Lee's Dracula films.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Hoping to duplicate the success of One Million Years, B.C., Hammer cast Victoria Vetri (aka Angela Dorian, a former Playboy Playmate) as a damsel amid the dinosaurs. When I saw it at the movie theatre, you could pick up a flyer that provided translations of some of the cave people's words. Useful!

X: The Unknown. Before The Blob, Hammer released this entertaining yarn about a radioactive glob that emerges from the Earth. The unlikely cast includes Dean Jagger, Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey), and Anthony Newley.

Yvonne Monlaur.
Yvonne Monlaur. Yes, it's a bit of cheat, because I used her first name, but this French actress is a favorite among Hammer fans with her performances in The Brides of Dracula and The Terror of the Tongs.

Zombies. Hammer's only zombie outing was a good one, Plague of the Zombies, in which another small Cornish village becomes the site of a voodoo-practicing squire who turns the locals into the walking dead.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

From Vampira to Commander USA: A Review of Elena M. Watkins' "Television Horror Movie Hosts"

Are you among the millions of film buffs first introduced to Universal horror classics such as Bride of Frankenstein by the likes of Zacherley, Ghoulardi, Sir Graves Ghastly, or The Bowman Body? If so, you will certainly enjoy Television Horror Movie Hosts, Elena M. Watson's informative, affectionate examination of 68 horror film hosts. These denizens of local, late night television range from Vampira (who made her debut at KABC in 1954) to Elvira (who was popular enough to appear in her own 1989 feature film).

Watson estimates there has been over 200 local horror movie hosts, most of whom appeared in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Vampira, who was played by Maila Nurmi, laid the groundwork for her successors. A Finnish actress with a modest filmography, Nurmi was "discovered" at a costume ball in which she dressed in a form-fitting, low-cut black gown with shredded sleeves. The costume was inspired by Morticia Addams, the Charles Addams cartoon character that appeared in The New Yorker. The striking Nurmi caught the eye of television producer Hunt Stromberg, Jr., who eventually signed her to host horror movies as "Vampira" on a local Los Angeles TV station.

Maila Nurmi as Vampira.
Vampira became an overnight celebrity and also the prototype for all horror movies hosts. She opened her shows with lines like: "I hope you were lucky enough to have a horrible week." She mastered the macabre pun and introduced viewers to her pet spider Rollo. However, her career proved to be short-lived, a fate that would befall future television horror hosts as well. Her KABC series was cancelled in 1955, although she continued to appear as Vampira elsewhere on TV and at special events. She returned to acting and, in 1956, appeared as Vampira in Ed Wood's infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space--ironically, a film that would secure her fame for later generations.

Yet, if Vampira set the stage, Watson credits Screen Gems with starting the horror host craze. After a television showing of King Kong set ratings records in 1956, Screen Gems acquired the television rights to 52 Universal horror films from the 1930s and 1940s. It sold these films to local stations in 90 markets as its "Shock!" package. Part of Screen Gems' strategy was to "encourage the local stations showing the films to add their own macabre hosts." Thus, local television viewers were introduced to Gorgon the Gruesome (Dallas-Fort Worth), Mad Daddy (Cleveland), M. T. Graves (Miami), and Gregore (Omaha).

Bill Bowman as The Bowman Body.
Watson's entertaining horror host profiles reveal the varied backgrounds of the men and women behind the make-up and costumes. Many of them were working in other capacities at their TV stations--making them in the right place at the right time. Bill Bowman was a production supervisor at WXEX in Richmond, Virginia, when the station manager cast him as a horror host. Bowman told Watson: "I thought he was putting me on, until the day the carpenters came to measure me for a coffin." Bowman subsequently became The Bowman Body and enjoyed a long career in television. He still makes occasional appearances in Richmond.

Other horror hosts boasted resumes with acting experience or perhaps a touch a of magic. John Zacherle, who played Roland and later (more famously) Zacherley the Cool Ghoul, appeared in a Western serial called "Action in the Afternoon." Larry Vincent, who played horror host Seymour at a couple of Los Angeles TV stations, was once Kirk Douglas's understudy in a Broadway production of Alice in Arms. And Joseph Zawislak, who played Dr. Shock on WPHL-TV, Philadelphia, was a former magician and insurance agent.

Chilly Billy Cardille in Night of
the Living Dead.
Watson also points out that a handful of hosts, like Vampira, extended their fame to other media. Zacherley had a Top Ten hit on Billboard with the novelty song "Dinner with Drac." Chilly Billy Cardille from Pittsburgh appeared as a news reporter in George Romero's Night of the Living Dead (1968). John Stanley, who hosted Creature Features for six years on a Oakland station, wrote The Creatures Features Movie Guide, a lighthearted collection of capsule horror film reviews.

Although the popularity of horror hosts had already faded by the mid-1970s, Watson credits Saturday Night Live and the late night talk shows with putting the final nail in their coffins. Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick), the longest-running horror host, shifted successfully to Saturday afternoons and Elvira made a splash in the 1980s--but they were the rare exceptions. Most horror hosts returned to their day jobs. Still, some seem to return from the dead on rare occasions, such as Chicago veteran Svengoolie (Rich Koz) who now introduces horror films on Me-TV on Saturday nights.

Elena M. Watson, who died in 1994, successfully captures the history and pop culture impact of these mostly-forgotten local celebrities in Television Horror Movie Hosts. I think she would have been pleased to  know that Svengoolie is on the airwaves again and that The Bowman Body still enlivens Halloween festivities.

This post is part of the Classic TV Horror Host Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a list of all the blogathon entries, click here. McFarland & Co., Inc. ( provided a courtesy copy of Television Horror Movie Hosts.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Bob Gordon and His Halloween Spooktacular

Bob Gordon (shown on left).
If you watched TV as a kid in the Piedmont Golden Triangle in the 1960s and 1970s, you're probably familiar with Bob Gordon. I'm not even sure if the term "Piedmont Golden Triangle" is used anymore, but back then it was how people commonly referred to the cities of Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point in North Carolina. I always stink at geography on Jeopardy, but remember from my school days that "piedmont" is the area between the Appalachians and the Atlantic Coast.

Bob Gordon was a TV pioneer in Winston-Salem, having joined WSJS, Channel 12, in the 1950s. In the 1960s, he hosted a kids' show that ran at various times over the years. I remember watching it at 9:00 a.m. on weekdays and being introduced to delightful serials such as Zombies of the Stratosphere, The Purple Monster Strikes, and Radar Men on the Moon. Gordon was a ventriloquist and occasionally included segments with his dummy Van. However, his greatest claims to fame were his nifty dollar-folding tricks, his secret code, and his ability to put together a Moravian Star. The secret code used simple substitution, but cleverly employed a tac-tac-toe grid and an "X" to create its symbols. You could get a free decoding card by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to Channel 12--but that wasn't necessary because the code was easy (still, I sent off for my card!). 

A lighted Moravian Star.
If you're unfamiliar with the Moravian Star, it's a 26-point star, composed of 18 square and eight triangular cone-shaped points. They're still a familiar site in Winston-Salem during Christmas season. However, the stars were packaged in parts and required assembly that represented a challenge for many people. Bob Gordon was a master--and would painstakingly walk viewers through assembling their stars.

As kids' shows began to fade in the late 1960s, Bob Gordon ended his weekday series and began hosting Popcorn Theater (later changed to Bob Gordon Theater) on Saturday and sometimes Sunday afternoons. The format was similar to his earlier show, but was much longer (sometimes three hours) and included TV series (everything from the obscure Follow the Sun to more recent shows like The Invaders). Popcorn Theater still appeared on a sporadic basis when I moved from Winston-Salem in the mid-1970s.

In addition to his regular shows, Bob Gordon also hosted one of my favorite local TV events: the Halloween Spooktacular. Starting at 8:30 on Halloween night, Channel 12 would show a marathon of classic horror movies. For at least the first year, Gordon and a handful of other local TV personalities donned monster make-up to bridge the movies. It was a special treat for kid viewers--especially because the only horror host in the Piedmont Golden Triangle, Dr. Paul Bearer from Channel 8's Shock Theater, departed for a Florida TV station in 1971.

The Halloween Spooktacular continued for a few years on Channel 12, though I think it eventually did away with the hosts. Interestingly, it was popular enough that Channel 12 bumped Johnny Carson's Tonight Show to carry the Spooktacular (can't imagine that happening these days).

When I was in college, I interned at Channel 12 for two summers. The station had been sold by then and the call letters changed to WXII. Bob Gordon only worked in the mornings; he hosted a half-hour talk show called Daybreak that preceded The Today Show at 5:30 a.m. I ran the cameras for the show when the regular camera operator was on vacation. Bob Gordon, whose real name was Robert Van Horn, was a genuine, unassuming man. He was as charming when the cameras were off as he was when performing in front of them. He was a fabulous source of information on the early days of local television. I'm not sure when he retired, but the Piedmont Golden Triangle lost a true icon when he did.

This post is part of the  Classic TV Horror Host Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a list of all the blogathon entries, click here. The wonderful TV ads appearing above are courtesy of Carroll W. Hall from his blog Piedmont Triad Nostalgia. The photograph of Bob Gordon is courtesy of Digital Forsyth.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Klara Kackel, Hannah Hag, and "Beyond Our Control"

One of the more obscure television horror movie hosts, Klara Kackel, appeared on Saturday nights with her Kreepy Kauldron on WHME, Channel 48, in South Bend, Indiana. Klara, a witch who was played by a guy, debuted in the mid-1970s and lasted for a couple of years. She--or rather, he--may have been forgotten if not for being immortalized via an amusing spoof called "Hannah Hag's Horrible Hotplate" on Beyond Our Control, another locally-produced South Bend TV show.

You can watch the full nine-minute skit below. In addition to recreating the pun-filled humor of many horror hosts, the skit offers delightful black-and-white homages to some of the cheesy fright films that once appeared on Friday and Saturday nights.

Beyond Our Control wasn't just any local TV series. It was  written, directed, and produced by an immensely talented group of teenagers--many of whom went on to fame in movies, television, radio, and literature. Its alumni includes:  producer screenwriter David Simkins (wrote Adventures in Babysitting, wrote and produced episodes of Charmed, Human Target, and many other TV series); producer-director-writer Larry Karaszewski (co-wrote Ed Wood and The People vs. Larry Flynt); Daniel Waters (wrote Heathers and Batman Returns); radio personality/sports broadcaster Randy Rhinehart (hosts the syndicated Nostalgia Express), and film reference book author Mary Willems Armstrong (Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series).

Beyond Our Control, produced by a Junior Achievement company, was shown on WNDU-TV in South Bend from 1967 to 1986--an amazing 19-year run. Each season typically started in January and ended in May. The half-hour show consisted of comedy sketches written, produced, and acted by the company's teen employees. Each year, Beyond Our Control would hold open auditions attended by hundreds of hopeful youths and select just 25 to 30 for the season.

BOC, as its alumni fondly call it, gained national recognition courtesy of feature articles in TV Guide, Seventeen, Parade, and Scholastic Magazine. It also earned several awards, including Best Locally Produced Variety Show [for markets under the top 25] by the National Association of Television Program Executives and a Gold Hugo from the Chicago International Film Festival.

Today, you can enjoy many of BOC's best skits on YouTube, including Night of the Pooh (ideal for Halloween!); Blimp Port (a silent disaster movie spoof), and, one of my personal faves, How Do You Play This Game (a very funny quiz show shown below).

This post is part of the Classic TV Horror Host Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a list of all the blogathon entries, click here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dr. Paul Bearer Is "Lurking for You!"

Dr. Paul Bearer (Dick Bennick)
hosted Shock Theatre.
My affection for classic horror films can be largely attributed to watching Shock Theatre on Saturday night from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s, broadcast on WGHP-TV, Channel 8 in High Point, North Carolina. Shock Theatre  presented a wide variety of horror and science fiction movies. Its programming included Universal classics, Hammer shockers, obscure "B" films (Stranger on the Third Floor), and best-forgotten cheapies (Voodoo Woman starring Michael "Touch" Connors). This horror "late show" debuted in 1963 and ran on Friday nights for a few years. It then shifted to Saturday at 11:30 p.m. and stayed there until 1981.

For a seven-year period starting in 1966, Shock Theater had the added distinction of being hosted by Dr. Paul Bearer, a deep-voiced ghoul played by former radio disc jockey Dick Bennick. Amazingly, Dr. Paul Bearer's hosting duties spanned two TV stations over a 30-year period, making him television's longest-running horror movie host played by the same individual.

A contest at the Carolina Theatre
hosted by Count Shockula.
Dick Bennick started his broadcasting career in radio in 1949. I can vaguely remember him spinning records at WTOB, the only rock'n'roll station in Winston Salem, North Carolina, in the 1960s. In 1966, he took the job of hosting Shock Theatre and created a gruesome skeleton character known as Count Shockula. After a few months on the air, Bennick decided that Count Shockula wasn't working, so he convinced the station to sponsor a "how to kill Count Shockula" contest. Not surprisingly, the winning method was a stake through the heart--which was accomplished by a new character called Dr. Paul Bearer played by...Dick Bennick.

The new pun-making host (his favorite cereal was Lice Crispies) was a hit and Bennick was a fixture on Shock Theatre until 1971. When he moved to Cypress Gardens, Florida, he took the Dr. Paul Bearer character with him. While he worked at radio stations as a program manager and later sales manager, Bennick concurrently hosted horror movies on WTOG-TV, Channel 44, in St. Petersburg. His show, Creature Feature, debuted in 1973 and ran on Saturday afternoons until his death in 1995 at age 66.

Dr. Paul Bearer became immensely popular in "St. Creaturesburg" and often traveled to special events on the weekends in his black 1963 hearse. He would typically tape Creature Feature segments for 13 movies in a single day. At the height of his popularity, the Mayor of Tampa issued a proclamation designating October 30, 1993 as "Dr. Paul Bearer Day" in honor of the 20th anniversary of Creature Feature.

This profile of Dr. Paul Bearer kicks off our Classic TV Horror Host Blogathon, sponsored by the Classic TV Blog Association. For a list of all the blogathon entries, click here.

Newspaper ads courtesy of Carroll W. Hall at Piedmont Triad Nostalgia.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

1st Annual Halloween Classic Movie Super Quiz (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of our Classic Horror Movie Super Quiz. Answers will be printed at the end of the week (if they're not answered before then).

A scene from the stellar Burn, Witch, Burn (aka
Night of the Eagle).
26. What little creature is famous for the following quote and in what movie: "Cecile! Help me! I'm here on the floor!"

27. What Val Lewton-produced movie is considered a variation of Rebecca?

28. What is the word left on the blackboard at the end of Burn, Witch, Burn (aka Night of the Eagle)?

29. How was the villain dressed when he conjured up a storm in Curse of the Demon (aka Night of the Demon)?

30. What Universal monster was sometimes played by Ricou Browning?

31. What was the original title of the last film in Hammer's Dracula series?

32. What made-for-TV horror film features an opening scene in Uncle Willie's Desert Museum?

33. What fright film director has featured music from the rock group Goblin?
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf-Man.

34. What Universal actor played a werewolf, a vampire, and the Frankenstein Monster?

35. According to The Company of Wolves, how can you tell if someone is a werewolf?

36. What made-for-TV horror anthology film featured a killer doll?

37. What is the Japanese anthology film with a title that can be translated as "ghost story"?

38. In what classic horror picture does Christopher Lee draw a protective circle with chalk?

39. What is a wurdalak and what Italian horror anthology featured a tale about one?

40. What is the horror film playing at the drive-in in Peter Bogdanovich's Targets?

The head bloodsucker in
the answer to #41.
41. What Hammer film is believed by some to be the inspiration for Roman Polanski's The Fearless Vampire Killers?

42. If you were being attacked by the Aztec Mummy, who would you call for help (no, not the robot!)?

43. According to the Universal Frankenstein series, the good doctor had how many sons? And the name(s)?

44. On what day is the werewolf born in Curse of the Werewolf?

45. What Michael Jackson song is about a killer animal featured in a horror movie?

46. What kind of supernatural creatures might "hop"? Name a famous movie series about them?

47. What infamous horror sequel was greeted with so many jeers that it was re-edited twice during its initial release?

48. What tongue-in-cheek horror film featured a scene in a sewer with "Harry Lime Lives" written on the wall?

49. What famous director helmed a horror film about flying killer fish?

50. How was the vampire destroyed at the end of Brides of Dracula?

Monday, October 15, 2012

1st Annual Halloween Classic Movie Super Quiz (Part 1)

So you think you know classic horror films? Welcome to the Cafe's first annual (we hope) Halloween Classic Movie Super Quiz. This 50-question quiz--presented in two parts--will draw upon your knowledge of the horror film genre from the silent era to the early 1980s. If you want to answer a question, please include the its number in your response. Please don't answer all the questions at once--let other people have fun, too! Use of references is allowed--but I didn't use any to write the questions.

If you're grading yourself:  46-50 correct answers means that--like me--you've spent too much time watching spooky movies! 40-45 means you're a horror film authority who routinely amazes your friends. 30-39 means you typically breeze through all the movie categories on Jeopardy! Any score over 20 is pretty impressive; a fellow film buff validated the quiz and found some questions to be difficult.

Answers will be printed at the end of the week (if they're not all answered before then).

A haunting image from Curse of
the Cat People.
1.  What movie was filmed concurrently on the same sets as 1931's Dracula?

2.  Was there a supernatural creature in The Undying Monster and, if so, what was it?

3.  Were there any Cat People in Curse of the Cat People?

4.  In what movie did vampires pound nightly on Morgan's door?

5.  What happened to the "creature" at the end of Frankenstein Created Woman?

6.  What's the connection between the TV series Gunsmoke and some of Universal's monster movies?

Chris Lee was one of the
stars, but whose nose is that?
7.  Who played the Cossack officer in the movie about a train with an evil creature on board?

8.  What's the 1940s film about a mad scientist that shrunk people?

9.  What are two connections between Captain Kronos--Vampire Hunter and the TV series The Avengers?

10. What plant is mentioned in the famous poem from Universal's The Wolf-Man?

11. What were the four Universal monsters that appeared in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein?

12. What plant are the werewolves obsessing about in Werewolf of London?

13. What's unique about the vampire's assistant in Universal's Return of the Vampire?

14. What movie featured this memorable line of dialogue: "Speak. I know you have a civil tongue in your head, because I sewed it back myself!”

15. What are the names of the three films in Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy?

16. What classic 1930s horror film is about "synthetic flesh" and why is notable historically?
F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu.

17. What happens to the vampire at the end of Murnau's Nosferatu?

18. What was in the maze in William Cameron Menzies' The Maze?

19. What was Dr. Frankenstein's first name in Bride of Frankenstein?

20. Who is the only actor to win an Oscar playing a monster?

21. What is the connection between Universal's Dracula (1931) and Hammer's Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971)?

22. What popular 1980s TV star starred in a remake of the Hammer film in #21?
Spain's top horror star--who is he?

23. Who is Spain's most famous horror actor?

24. What Western TV series star famously played a werewolf and in what movie?

25. The Strange Adventure of David Gray is better known by what title (spelling counts!)?

That completes Part 1 of our Halloween Classic Movie Super Quiz! Part 2 will appear on Wednesday.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Film Noir A to Z

One of the most popular features at the Cafe is our "A to Z" list. This month, we tackle film noir--a daunting task because there so many good ones. For example, for "D", we could have gone with any of the following:  The Dark Corner, Dark City, Detour, Desperate Hours, or Drive a Crooked Road. So, if we omitted one of your favorites, please leave a comment!

Sterling Hayden gets tough in
The Asphalt Jungle.
A - The Asphalt Jungle.  A sense of doom permeates John Huston's taut suspense film in which a "perfect caper" goes awry.

B - The Big Heat. A homicide detective (Glenn Ford) takes on a crime syndicate when his wife is murdered. Favorite line is when Gloria Grahame tells the hero: "You're about as romantic as a pair of handcuffs."

C - Cornered. Dick Powell tracks post-World War II Nazis to Argentina to avenge the murder of his French Resistance wife. Powell is terrific, Walter Slezak slimy, and the ending brutal.

Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray in
Double Indemnity.
D - Double Indemnity. Billy Wilder's classic noir ensured Barbara Stanwyck's admission into the Femme Fatale Hall of Fame (if there was one).

E - Edge of Doom. Following the death of his mother, a mentally unbalanced young man (Farley Granger), with a grudge against the church, murders a priest in this grim noir.

F - Force of Evil. "If you need a broken man to love, break your husband," says John Garfield's tough-talking lawyer to Marie Windsor's femme fatale in this poetic picture. Director Abraham Polonsky was subsequently blacklisted and wouldn't direct again for over 20 years.

Peggy Cummins as a sideshow
sharpshooter in Gun Crazy.
G - Gun Crazy. Peggy Cummins and John Dall love guns...and each other. Unfortunately, she loves money, too, and leads them on a lethal crime spree.

H - Human Desire. Gloria Grahame sizzles as a sexpot with an abusive husband who lures Glenn Ford into a torrid affair. Now, if she only get rid of her husband (Broderick Crawford).... French director Jean Renoir earlier adapted the same Emile Zola novel, The Human Beast, to great effect.

I - In a Lonely Place. Noir favorite Gloria Grahame plays a starlet and Humphrey Bogart a screenwriter suspected of murder in this dark tale set against cynical Hollywood.

J - Johnny O'Clock. A casino provides an interesting backdrop for the typical plot about a basically good guy (Dick Powell) who gets mixed up with murder and crooked cops. With Evelyn Keyes and Lee J. Cobb.

- Kiss Me Deadly. Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) pummels bad guys, gets beat up a lot, and looks for the "great whatsit" in Robert Aldrich's one-of-a-kind cult noir.

Preminger's moody direction on Laura.
L - Laura. Clifton Webb created one of the great characters in American cinema with his portrayal of Waldo Lydecker. Of course, the rest of the film ain't bad either with Otto Preminger's stylish direction, David  Raksin's haunting music, and the stunning Gene Tierney.

M - The Maltese Falcon. John Huston's classic is "the stuff that dreams are made of." You knew that as soon as you saw that opening shot of the office windows with the letters reversed, right?

N - Nightmare Alley. Tyrone Power gives perhaps his finest performance as a seedy carnival hustler who hits the big time--briefly--with a mind-reading act.

Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past.
O - Out of the Past. With its contrasts of bright lights and dark shadows, Out of the Past is a visual feast. It's also a compelling tale of a man pulled back into the shadows of his past--no matter how hard he tries to escape them. Perhaps, my favorite film noir.

P - Pickup on South Street. A pickpocket steals a woman's wallet. What neither of them know is that it contains microfilm with government secrets coveted by her communist spy ex-boyfriend.

Q - Quicksand. A petty crime snowballs into a heap of trouble for garage mechanic Mickey Rooney. It doesn't help that Peter Lorre is on hand as the shady owner of a penny arcade.

Dennis O'Keefe and female
companions in Raw Deal.
R - Raw Deal. An unexpected love triangle highlights Anthony Mann's sharp tale of an escaped convict trying to elude the police and a crime boss trying to kill him.

S - Sunset Blvd. Are you ready for your close-up? Of course, you are!

T - The Third Man. There's this guy named Harry Lime in post-World War II Vienna....

U - Underworld U.S.A. A youth grows into a vicious criminal so that he avenge his father's death at the hands of mobsters. A relentless look at corruption by Samuel Fuller.

V - Vicki. Why is detective Richard Boone so zealous about solving model Jean Peters' murder? This moody variation of Laura is actually a remake of 1941's I Wake Up Screaming.

W - The Web. After a memorable supporting turn in Laura, Vincent Price plays a smooth villain in this seldom-shown noir co-starring Edmond O'Brien (who would later star in an even better noir, D.O.A.).

A through-the-window tracking shot
in The Amazing Mr. X.
X - The Amazing Mr. X (well, this one is a bit of a cheat). Also known as The Spiritualist, this "B" film shares similarities with the bigger-budgeted Nightmare Alley. In this one, Turhan Bey plays a con artist who becomes an unwilling accomplice in a murder plot.

Y - You Only Live Once. Fritz Lang's 1937 classic is considered an early noir, largely due to its bleak outlook in telling the story of an ex-con who seems unable to escape his tragic fate.

Z - The Zither music in The Third Man.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Hitchcock's Swan Song: "Family Plot"

Following a number of commercial and artistic successes in the 1950s and early 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock's career took a plunge after The Birds (1963). Starting with Marnie (1964), Hitchcock often found himself out of favor with the movie-going public and the critics. An exception was 1972's Frenzy, which some reviewers hailed as a comeback for the Master of Suspense. Personally, while I admire elements of Frenzy, Hitchcock's sole R-rated film leaves something of an unpleasant aftertaste. Thus, I was enthused that  his follow-up--and final film--was a Hitchcockian mix of suspense and humor. Make that a little suspense and a little humor.

Devane as a crafty kidnapper.
Family Plot (1976) unfolds with two parallel stories that predictably intersect at the halfway point. In the first, fake psychic Blanche Tyler (Barbara Harris) and her taxi driver boyfriend George (Bruce Dern) learn that one of Blanche's wealthy, elderly clients wants to make amends for forcing her sister to give up a child for adoption years earlier. Blanche and George can earn $10,000 by finding the now-adult nephew. In the second plot, high-class criminals Arthur and Fran Adamson (William Devane and Karen Black) abduct rich people and hold them for ransom--the payment always being in the form of hard-to-trace diamonds.

George (Dern) in the cemetery.
The persistent George tracks Edward Shoebridge, the missing nephew, to a grave in a small-town cemetery. Initially bummed that Shoebridge apparently died in 1950, George realizes that the tombstone looks newer than others in the graveyard. When he later learns that the headstone was purchased with cash in 1965, he suspects that Shoebridge is still alive--but doesn't want to be found.

Family Plot has its admirers. Donald Spoto, in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, calls it "the purest film Hitchcock has given us since Psycho, and it is this meticulous structure and the lightness of tone that make it unique among recent Hitchcock works." Certainly, there's a comic element to the relationship between Blanche and George that recalls the offbeat humor of The Trouble With Harry. Indeed, Barbara Harris sometimes acts as if she was starring in a screwball comedy. Her broad attempts at humor seem totally at odds with the rest of the film, especially the scenes featuring sinister Arthur Adamson, who--in the capable hands of Devane--is one of Hitchcock's most heartless (if perhaps one-dimensional) villains.

Harris and Dern in the runaway car.
Surprisingly, Hitchcock struggles to generate any palpable suspense. A scene with Dern driving down a twisting mountain road without brakes starts out well, but its impact fades as it becomes too long and repetitious. Still, there are some trademark Hitchcock touches, such as Devane trying to hide a priest's body quickly, only to have a piece of a bright red robe peek out from under a black car door.

Hitchcock and screenwriter Ernest Lehman (who penned North By Northwest) reward discerning viewers with some subtle in-jokes: a street named Bates Avenue, someone smoking at a gasoline station, and discussions about having a "bird in hand." The film's best joke, though, lies with its ironic plot twist (not revealed here!). Interestingly, Lehman had earlier rejected an opportunity to make his own version of The Rainbird Pattern, the 1972 novel on which Family Plot was based.

Hitchcock was 75 when he completed Family Plot, his 53rd film and a modest success. During the final years of his life, he worked with Lehman and James Costigan on the screenplay for a spy film tentatively titled The Short Night. Hitchcock died in 1980 of renal failure.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Essential Books for Classic Film Lovers

Over the last decade, Internet film sites have displaced reference books as the primary source of classic film information. While I appreciate having access to an expansive virtual library, I always approach its content with some caution. Popular sources, such as the Internet Movie Data Base and Wikipedia, are written by... well...anyone who can log into their sites. I like to balance what I learn from those sources with what's available in reference books written by film literature professionals. Over the next year, the Cafe will periodically review what we consider to be some of the essential reference books on classic movies. This month, we'll start with seven film encyclopedias.

The Film Encyclopedia by Ephraim Katz - First published in 1979, Katz's mammoth book is universally recognized as one of the finest film references--with accolades from Library Journal, Newsweek, and even Katharine Hepburn. It's not a book of film reviews, but rather an encyclopedia with entries on performers, filmmakers, studios, film terms, and even short histories of the evolution of cinema in various countries. It's noted for its accuracy (indeed, I've used it for four decades and found one error). Katz, who was also a documentary filmmaker, died in 1994 before completing a second edition. It has been updated by others since, but I recommend seeking out Katz's original edition.

Halliwell's Film Guide by Leslie Halliwell - Halliwell was best-known for writing The Filmgoer's Companion, one of the first important film reference books. But since there's a good deal of overlap between it and Katz's even better Film Encyclopedia, I recommend adding Halliwell's Film Guide to your library. First published in 1977, it's an incredible collection of capsule film reviews--all written by one person! That's why the Film Guide is superior to rivals, such as Leonard Maltin's books, which are authored by panels of film reviewers. Some critics claim that Halliwell's personal prejudices are a detriment to his reviews. I strongly disagree for two reasons. First, I often agree with Halliwell. More importantly, those "prejudices" provide the book with a singular point of view that gives it a consistency missing in other books of capsule film reviews. As with Katz's book, I recommend you steer clear of later editions updated after Halliwell's death in 1989.

TV Movies by Leonard Maltin - No, the title is not a mistake. The best editions of Maltin's book were the earlier ones called TV Movies and later TV Movies and Video Guide. These editions contain thousands of capsule reviews, generally ranging from the start of the sound era and ending nine or so months prior to publication. They include made-for-television films, as well as reviews of film series such as Tarzan, Maisie, and Boston Blackie. Maltin did not write all the reviews, but selected a panel of collaborators to assist him. As he continued to add movies each year, the book eventually became too large and, unfortunately, many older reviews were relegated in 2005 to a separate volume called Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide. I recommend you seek out an older edition of Maltin's book.

Movies on TV by Steven H. Scheuer - Although many people think Maltin pioneered the capsule film review encyclopedia, that honor goes to Scheuer. He published the first edition of Movies on TV in 1959, ten years between Maltin's TV Movies. As a youth, I regularly consulted both Scheuer and Maltin--it was always good to get a second opinion on a movie. Scheuer stopped updating his book in 1993.

Guide for the Film Fanatic by Danny Peary - Although Peary is better known for his books on cult movies, I prefer this quirky encyclopedia of pithy reviews. Peary includes a healthy mix of classic American movies (Way Down EastThe Letter), foreign-language films (The Conformist), British and Australian cinema (My Brilliant Career), cult movies (Queen of Outer Space), and even famous adult films. His reviews are longer than those in the books by Halliwell, Maltin, and Scheuer. And, although his approach could never be construed as academic, Peary offers an occasional fresh view on a popular classic.

The Motion Picture Guide by Jay Robert Nash, Stanley Ralph Ross, and Robert B. Connelly - A true encyclopedia, the 1985 edition of The Motion Picture Guide included 25,000 in-depth reviews in ten volumes. A later volume added 15,000 silent films. A huge undertaking, it's a shame that it wasn't updated over the years. Still, what was once an expensive purchase only for libraries, can now be bought used for under $100--and you still get all the classic films plus fabulous write-ups on many film series.

Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series by Richard B. Armstrong and Mary Willems Armstrong - For personal reasons, I'll keep this write-up brief. However, if you are looking for a reference guide to films by category, this book is your best bet. In other words, if you can't recall the name of that movie about reincarnation, you can look the topic up and find a list of representative films, along with a brief overview of the category. There are over 670 categories, ranging from the Abominable Snowman to Zorro. When originally published as The Movie List Book in 1990, Library Journal called it "the most important film reference in several years."