Monday, October 29, 2012

Diary of the Dead 2012: Week 4

I’m logging my Monster Movie Month © viewing with ultra-mini reviews every Monday in October (as was the case last year, I’ll only be discussing movies I haven’t reviewed elsewhere on this site). I write it. You read it. No one needs to get hurt.


           
October 22

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011- dir. Troy Nixey) ***½

For the most part I was pleasantly surprised by this remake of a 1973 TV movie, perhaps because I never saw the original. Little Sally and her folks move into a rundown mansion infested with tiny demonic tooth fairies. Sally’s explorations through the house reminded me a little of Coraline, and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark shares that film’s willingness to show kids in real danger. Unlike Coraline, this movie is probably too scary and violent to actually show to most kids. My biggest problem is that we see way too much of the CG monsters. And why would they cast a girl who looks exactly like Katie Holmes to play Holmes’s stepdaughter? The filmmakers really missed an opportunity to make Holmes Sally’s biological mother, but then they couldn’t have taken advantage of all those “kid adjusting to new mommy” clichés.

           
October 23

Lisa and the Devil (1974- dir. Mario Bava) ****

Mario Bava’s Lisa and the Devil finds tourist Elke Sommer taking her room and board at Alida Valli’s haunted mansion. Telly Savalas is a satanic butler and there’s a weeping phantom with a taste for chocolate sprinkles. Lisa and the Devil is a sometimes bloody, sometimes romantic, sometimes darkly comic, always incomprehensible Old Dark House yarn. Everyone is totally nuts, but Savalas takes the cake. In other words: it’s fab.

October 25

Bay of Blood (1971- dir. Mario Bava) *½

I kept waiting for this proto-slasher tedium to become a Mario Bava movie, but it never did. The master just wasn’t trying when he dashed off this crap about a killer stalking the woods around a bay. If this is the movie that inspired the pathetic Friday the 13th, then it’s utterly unforgiveable. Half-a-star for an effectively gross shot of a live octopus crawling on a corpse’s face.

The Raven (1935- dir. Louis Friedlander) ****

Early in The Raven, we learn that sadist Bela Lugosi is so obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe that he actually built an actual pit and an actual pendulum in his basement. No doubt, Chekhov’s pendulum is going to be put to use by the end of this film, but first Dr. Bela has to become obsessed with a pretty patient and give Boris Karloff a bad facelift. We also get to hear Lugosi recite the title poem, which has to be some sort of cultural landmark. He clearly had a great time playing this role. Plus there’s the rare opportunity to hear Karloff do his famed Frankenstein growl without the flattop make up. Louis Friedlander is not in the same league as Universal’s best directors—Whale, Browning, Ulmer, Freund—but he tosses together a nice potboiler of macabre and jolly schlock.

October 26

The Premature Burial (1962- dir. Roger Corman) ***½

The Premature Burial is similar to so many of Roger Corman's Poe pictures in that it takes a story that was already sketchy on the page and stretches it as thin as is imaginable. But, goddamn, does it ever look fantastic! Corman was a master of aesthetic and atmosphere, and The Premature Burial provides the opportunity to spend 80 minutes in cobwebby crypts and foggy graveyards. Where else would you rather be?

October 27

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971- dir. Seth Holt/Michael Carreras) **

Sorry, but Valerie Leon in a super sexy Egyptian princess get up is not enough to raise this Stoker adaptation from the dead. Leon suffers on-and-off possession from long-entombed Princess Tera and people start dropping dead. There's some languid investigating and some exploitative gore and lots and lots of talk all adding up to very little. Seth Holt died of a heart attack while directing this movie and Hammer head Michael Carreras took over. 


Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932- dir. Robert Florey) ****

Another Halloween season approaches its finale and Diary of the Dead shudders to a close with a screening at the lovely Landmark Loews in Jersey City. Poe mostly gets tossed out the window for Universal's bizarre adaptation of Murders in the Rue Morgue. Instead, Bela Lugosi is a particularly mad scientist who somehow seeks to prove the theory of evolution by injecting women with gorilla blood. It sounds silly, but plays out sadistically and Karl Freund's background in German Expressionism oozes through his disturbed cinematography. The intentional humor is strong too, particularly in a gag in which three men give their interpretations of monkey language. 

Hope your Halloween is terrifying... and not hurricane terrifying.


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