November 12th, 2008

NIGHT TIDE (1961) ***

Dennis Hopper stars in director Curtis (Ruby) Harrington's moody and evocative romantic fantasy as Johnny, a sailor on leave in a small California seaside resort town who falls in love with the beautiful Mora (Linda Lawson) who plays the mermaid in the local sideshow.  Mora actually believes that when the moon is full, she will become the mythical mermaid, a siren of the sea who lures men to their doom.  Since Mora’s previous boyfriends ended up dead, it doesn’t look like they’re going to have a lasting relationship.

 

Being someone who grew up in an ocean resort, I have to say that Harrington captured the atmosphere in Night Tide perfectly.  The barren stretches of boardwalk, empty carousels and lurid carnie advertisements reminded me of my childhood.  Harrington made effective use of the locations and they lent a unique ambience to the film.  The Psycho inspired ending where everything is over-explained doesn’t exactly work, but there’s still enough to love about this movie to make it recommended.  Though the pacing ebbs and flows like the tide itself, the flick’s still a helluva lot better than Splash I’ll give it that.

 

Hopper’s played so many nutzo characters in his long career that it’s easy to forget what a great actor he can be.  In Night Tide he delivers one of his best performances and he has an easy chemistry with Lawson, who is also excellent.  Luana Anders (who later appeared in Hopper’s Easy Rider) also puts in a nice turn as a lovesick carousel operator.

 

Harrington and Hopper teamed up again five years later for Queen of Blood.

A FACE IN THE FOG (1936) **

The Fiend is a hunchbacked killer who murders people using untraceable bullets made out of “frozen poison”.  After murdering the leads in a Broadway show, the killer targets a nosy reporter (June Collyer) who claims to know The Fiend’s true identity as his next victim.  The cops naturally nab the wrong man, leaving the murderer free to add to his ever escalating tally of corpses.

 

A Face in the Fog is an easily forgettable early Sam (Don’t Knock the Rock) Katzman production from the cheapie Poverty Row company, Victory Pictures.  The film gets off to a snappy start with The Fiend bumping off a few victims, but it slowly runs out of steam as it meanders along to its humdrum conclusion.  The main drawback to the flick is that the killer’s identity is revealed rather early on and it deflates whatever tension the film could’ve built up had it saved the surprise for the final reel.

 

Even though A Face in the Fog is creaky and slow moving, the silver lining of this black and white thriller is that it’s less than an hour long.  The print is jumpy, scratchy and worn but there are some things here that make the flick worthwhile.  The Broadway dance sequences are flat out hilarious (it must have been the Satan’s Alley of its day) and Al “Fuzzy” St. John (whose catchphrase is “What’s the difference, as long as you’re healthy?”) provides some funny slapstick comic relief as a bumbling photographer looking to get the first picture of The Fiend.

A SHOT IN THE DARK (1935) **

A college student (Charles Starrett) discovers his roommate’s dead body hanging from a window and calls the police.  At first it looks like a suicide but after the cops investigate, they learn that he was actually dead long before he was strung up.  While the police continue to scratch their heads, more students drop like flies.  In the end we learn the murderer was just trying to get his hands on his on Starrett’s roommate’s inheritance.

 

Unlike most murder-mysteries made around this time, A Shot in the Dark features absolutely no intrusive comic relief, which makes it quite refreshing.  All the characters treat the murders with great sense of urgency and the policemen all seem more realistic than usual.  Having said that though, the flick is still isn’t all that good. 

 

A Shot in the Dark gets bogged down frequently (despite a relatively short running time) and has a tendency to get rather dull now and again.  As the plot lumbers on; you’ll find it harder and harder to care about who did the murdering and why.  Director Charles Lamont does do some things right though.  The reveal of the hanging corpse is well done and atmospheric (we only see his feet swaying back and forth out the window) and must have been pretty shocking for ’35.

 

Edward Van Sloan (Professor Van Helsing from Dracula) co-stars.  Lamont later went on to helm several Abbott and Costello movies.

DUNGEON OF HARROW (1962) *

A guy gets shipwrecked on an island where the evil Count de Sade (William McNulty) lives.  The Count has bizarre visions and sees ghosts, but he’s really just bat shit insane.  He welcomes the dude into his home and tries to put on airs, but again, the Count is clearly nuttier than a squirrel turd.  He also has a big black burly sidekick who keeps people chained up in his dungeon and tortures them while the Count’s mute daughter looks on.  Turns out that the Count has a big aversion to pirates (they were the ones who cut out his daughter’s tongue) and he thinks our hero is one of them so he locks him up in the cellar and lets his leprous wife go to town of him.

 

Dungeon of Harrow is one of those bad movies that are so terrible that you just have to keep watching in order to get every zany morsel.  Although it’s not a “good” bad movie by any means, you will probably doubt your sanity more than once before the film is over.  From the inane voiceover narration that superfluously echoes the action on screen that borders on Coleman Francis territory, to the random ass dream sequence of dogs fighting for no apparent reason, Dungeon of Harrow is one poor excuse for cinema.  There’s also a model boat that’s worse than anything you’ve seen in a Godzilla movie and a… I could go on, but it would be too painful.

 

There is some good stuff here though.  Easily the best thing about the flick is the scene where the Count’s leper of a wife makes out with the hero.  With a face that looks like moldy cream cheese and still wearing her tattered wedding gown, her appearance maybe brief but it certainly is memorable.  The ghost effects are simple yet effective (the guy was simply photographed in negative) and the decrepit cobwebby castle looks pretty dang cool.  It’s just a shame that the rest of the movie is about as dull as watching your dog lick his nuts for 90 minutes.

 

AKA:  Dungeons of Harrow.  AKA:  Dungeon of Horror.  AKA:  Dungeons of Horror.

THE DEVIL’S SLEEP (1949) **

Scali (Timothy Farrell) is a sleazy drug dealer who pushes pills out of his health spa for overweight women.  He wants to expand his business so he gets a delinquent teen to pose as his “nephew” and throw big parties where he gets the town’s teenage populace hooked on “bennies”.  A stern judge (Lita Grey-Chaplin) tries to stop Scali, but he takes some incriminating photographs of her daughter at one of his soirées and she quickly backs down.  It’s then up to a tough cop to bring down Scali’s pill racket once and for all.

 

The Devil’s Sleep is one of those cautionary films like Reefer Madness that warned of the dangers of addiction.  What prevents it from being a classic is the overabundance of plot, the molasses pacing, and precious few “risqué” nudie scenes.  There is one scene where a chick gets into a steam bath and her titty BARELY peeks out from underneath her towel, but that’s about it.

 

I’ve always been a big Timothy Farrell fan, so I still kinda dug this flick despite everything.  Farrell is suitably slimy as Scali, with his greasy pencil thin moustache, seedy demeanor and penchant for wearing cheap suits, his performance is far and away the most fun thing about the film.  He later returned as Scali in Racket Girls and Dance Hall Racket, and while The Devil’s Sleep isn’t quite as good as those flicks, it still has its merits. 

 

The flick is also filled to the brim with lots of great, hateful dialogue.  My favorite comes when Scali’s assistant remarks about his overweight clientele:  “Those blimps really line your pockets!”

CARNAGE (1984) **

A couple commits suicide while dressed in their wedding clothes in their new house.  Years later another pair of newlyweds moves in and almost right away, the house starts exhibiting some peculiarities.  Doors don’t stay closed, teacups move around by themselves and the phonograph ominously plays “Here Comes the Bride”.  Eventually we learn that the deceased couple is haunting the place and they want the latest tenants to die so they can become ghostified and live with them forever.

 

Low budget horror director Andy (The Rats are Coming!  The Werewolves are Here!) Milligan was actually working with something of a budget on this film and the results really aren’t too bad at all.  The biggest gripe I had was with the sluggish pacing and the fact that the actors were all amateurish and extremely unphotogenic.  That’s okay though because Carnage had enough (unintentional) laughs to keep me semi-entertained for 90 minutes.

 

The funniest part comes when the spirits toss a radio into the bathtub on some poor unsuspecting dope.  The fact that he is clearly wearing underwear during this scene is funny enough but the fact that the radio is playing an all-accordion version of Elvis’ “Now or Never” makes it that much more bizarre.  I also highly enjoyed the scene where the cleaning woman gets pelted with a whole bunch of supernatural Silly String for no good reason whatsoever. 

 

The main “scary” thing the ghosts do is make things move around by themselves.  It looks as stupid as it sounds, but at least when the ghosts starts levitating axes, pitchforks and meat cleavers, people end up losing body parts left and right.  (The decapitation scene is particularly shitdiculous).  There’s also a juicy self-induced throat slashing in there too for good measure as well.

 

Yeah the effects are terrible (the ghosts appear via jump cuts and the levitating objects are obviously being held up by strings), but that doesn’t make the flick altogether unwatchable.  While parts of the film WERE a chore to sit through, it did feature enough gore to justify its title.  It’s far from the worst Milligan movie I’ve seen, that’s damn skippy.

RETURN TO SLEEPAWAY CAMP (2008) ****

Well, it’s been 19 years since the crazed, gender confused, psychopath Angela (Felissa Rose) slashed her way through a bunch of campers, but I tell you it was worth the wait.  We haven’t had such a good summer camp slasher in a long time and this one is probably the best one to come down the pike since the original Sleepaway Camp in 1983.  This just isn’t hyperbole either; it’s the God’s honest truth.  Angela really outdid herself this time. 

 

Let’s talk about the plot:  A cook gets thrown face first into a vat of boiling grease.  A stoner gets force-fed a gallon of gasoline and then is forced to smoke a joint that turns him into a Buddhist monk.  A cage full of hungry rats eats someone from the inside out.  A sharpened broomstick gets shoved through some dude’s eye.  A fat chick gets killed via bunk bed of death.  Impromptu cosmetic surgery via barb wire.  Skinning alive.  And last but not least, Return to Sleepaway Camp features THE most gruesome castration scene since I Spit on Your Grave.  I kid you not. 

 

The nasty, mean-spirited humor of the original film is alive and well in this installment.  Robert Hiltzik, the writer and director of both Part 1 and Return really shows the true ugliness of teen bullying but he also knows how truly hilarious a good bully can be.  Hiltzik can also put the screws to an audience like it’s nobody’s business.  The final twist is nowhere near the same league as the diabolical ending of the first film (Seriously though, what ending COULD top that one?), but it works in its own right and will have you slobbering for another sequel ASAP.

 

Felissa Rose gives an amazing performance in this movie, so much so that you’ll have to re-watch the flick again just to realize it.  Jonathan Tiersten and Paul DeAngelo also return from the original and put in memorable turns as well.  I also had fun watching the “stars” Vincent Pastore and the late Isaac Hayes hitting their marks as well.

 

But the film really belongs to one man and one man only:  Michael Gibney.  As Alan, the nerdy, fat, obnoxious kid who never bathes, Gibney gives a tour de force performance.  I know how everybody keeps jabbering how Heath Ledger is gonna win Best Supporting Actor for The Dark Knight, but if there is any justice in this world, the Academy will go with Gibney.  This kid is going to be the next Brando.

 

Memo to Spielberg:  THIS is how you do a 19 years later sequel.