Friday, April 28, 2017

Director Run-Through - William Castle


Welcome back to another entry here, and the time has come for us to discuss one of my personal favorite directors. Much like the last director I covered, this one isn't about a very prolific person but is instead more of a pronounced individual that left a large mark on the scene as a whole, and with it having been his birthday this past Monday what better way to honor him than by going for a retrospective on William Castle.


As per usual, let's get to know a little more about our chosen director:
William Castle was born William Schloss Jr. on April 24, 1914 in New York City. Orphaned at 11, Castle dropped out of high school at 15 to work in the theater. He came to the attention of Columbia Pictures for his talent for promotion, and was hired. With a German-Jewish surname, he originally translated it 'Castle' which became his pseudonym when he arrived to work in the movie business. He learned the trade of filmmaking and became a director, acquiring a reputation for the ability to churn out competent B-movies quickly and on budget. He eventually struck out on his own, producing and directing thrillers which, despite their low budgets were effectively promoted with gimmicks, a trademark for which he is best known. He was also famously the producer for Rosemary's Baby.

Now, let's get into a little more about why we're covering Castle. Once again, we're not covering a prolific director as the film's here are covering only a seven-year period of time and are pretty much consisting only of one film per year on average, so frankly there's not a whole lot of work to be said here about his work in terms of quantity here. Instead, it's rather the quality of his work, as for the majority of the films he's done there's not a whole lot of flaws to be found, and with one exception I really can't find any that aren't any good at all, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. The main reason to do this one is the opportunity to discuss something that's quite intriguing with Castle, as he's renown for the inclusion of theater gimmicks for his films that are just as famous (or in some cases, infamous) than the movie they accompanied. Now, I'm not incredibly fond of gimmicks (I'll get into that in due time) but frankly, these films are still fun even if you take into account how the films are structured in order to get the gimmick into play.

So, as usual, let's get to his films.

Macabre

Overall, this was an exceptionally flawed and not really all that worthwhile effort, as the gimmick isn't that great and the movie's little better. The central premise for this one is quite chilling, with the abduction of the daughter and being buried in a grave that requires a man and wife to find her, means we get some incredibly wonderful Gothic atmosphere with the scenes in the cemetery that are quite creepy in design and chilling in how the story's built up. These scenes here and their bantering about where she is and where to dig are really the only parts of this that are worthwhile, as the rest of the time it doesn't have a whole lot to really get interested in. As it goes around with all the potential suspects and why they're interested in seeking revenge, the flashback nature of these participants and why they're out for revenge is not in the slightest bit interesting and drags the movie to a halt as it goes about this section of the movie, dropping all potential horror angles and does so for the majority of the film's running time. Even more so, the fact that the central premise doesn't allow for a lot of time dealing with the graveyard search forces this upon the viewer, a rather unfortunate handicap right off the top. It's got its moments, but not a whole lot of them. (5.25/10)

So, what's the gimmick? He came up with the idea to give every customer a certificate for a $1,000 life insurance policy from Lloyd's of London in case they should die of fright during the film. He stationed nurses in the lobbies with hearses parked outside the theaters.


House on Haunted Hill

This is a little flawed, but there are some good points to it. When it gets to working right, the film is really on. The biggest instance is the film's incredibly creepy finale, which is one of the most creative ideas ever used to end a film. There are a couple of really great jump scenes in here where the ghosts pop out and terrorize the characters, including one really great one near the end where several individual jump scenes converge at once to throw in a really spectacular scene. The fact that the house looks pretty creepy works for it, for the big halls and huge spaces make it stand out in the creepiness factor. This does have some great moments, but there are some problems with this one that really lowers this one. The biggest one is that film really makes no mention of the ghosts haunting the house for most of the movie. It's mentioned several times throughout that they're responsible for several past incidents in the house and it's built around them, yet they are hardly in the movie. Once the marital strife subplot is brought up, the ghost angle pretty much sinks into the background and is completely ignored for most of the film that winds up hurting the film's premise for the majority of the time. The other really big flaw is that there's a really drawn-out pace for this one. The constant dealings with the married couple, which take up the majority of the second half of the film, is completely dull and boring as nothing interesting happens during the entire part. Seeing them argue with each other is boring and slows down the film, offering nothing much interesting for the film as all the bickering and pretend-deaths get old fast and take time away from the film's purpose. These are the film's biggest flaws. (7.75/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Emergo," where a skeleton with red-lighted eye sockets was attached to a wire and floated over the audience in the final moments of some showings of the film to parallel the action on screen when a skeleton rises from a vat of acid and pursues the villainous wife of Vincent Price's character. Once word spread about the skeleton, however, kids enjoyed trying to knock it down with candy boxes, soda cups, or any other objects at hand.


The Tingler

This one provides enough entertainment to prove worthwhile. One of the best features is that there's a really new and creative idea presented in the film to inspire terror. The fact that the creature is born from the human body's attempt at processing fear, and through a sense of experiments it comes to reason that its whole being is itself entirely creative. The film's at its best during its dream sequences, which are quite creepy and more than a little different from the other types out there. The design of the creature isn't that bad either, going along with the cheesy tone here with the theater sequences at the end, quite obviously put in there as gags for the theater experience long ago. These elements help the film become quite fun, while there's not a whole lot wrong with this one. The film's biggest flaw is that this stops dead for the opening and closing monologues by featuring him talking directly to the audience. Granted, they're inherently charming in their own way, but there's just the more obvious fact that you're watching a gimmick rather than actually being around something like this in real life. The only other one that strikes the film down is that there are way too many subplots at the beginning which just drag the opening out. The beginning really should've been about the discovery of the creature and the condition that creates it, not the marital issues that plague the characters. That really makes it feel like it's a part of a really different film, and doesn't really offer a lot of good moments. Otherwise, this one was pretty good. (8.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Percepto." The title character is a creature that attaches itself to the human spinal cord. It is activated by fright, and can only be destroyed by screaming. Castle purchased military surplus airplane wing de-icers (consisting of vibrating motors) and had a crew travel from theater to theater attaching them to the underside of some of the seats. In the finale, one of the creatures supposedly gets loose in the movie theater itself. The buzzers were activated as the film's star, Vincent Price, warned the audience to "scream – scream for your lives!" Some controversy about this has emerged over time, however, as sources incorrectly state the seats were wired to give electrical jolts. Filmmaker and Castle fan John Waters recounted in Spine Tingler!: The William Castle Story how, as a youngster, he would search for a seat that had been wired in order to enjoy the full effect.


13 Ghosts

This one has some really good stuff about it. The single best feature is undoubtedly the special effects used for the ghosts as most of the time about them is spent seeing shadowy, translucent forms. These are done quite well, and they really give this quite a creepy feel as few glimpses of them where we can get a clean look at them, they do look quite unsettling and a little disturbing. The fact that they also make up a large amount of screen-time, resulting in some great scenes, is quite nice with plenty of fine action here in the basement, the Ouija game the children play and the séance scene has some creepy moments in it. Along with a great pace and action-packed conclusion, these are the film's best moments while this one here didn't have a whole lot wrong with it. One of the big flaws is the presence of one of the biggest leaps of logic in movie history. The clues can be found towards the end, with all the secrets, but isn't hidden and is easily found. The other big flaw is that no attempt is made to make the house seem creepy at all. This one really could've played with the atmosphere and turned up the creep factor significantly, and it doesn't do that. Some of the effects might be considered cheesy, but on the whole, the other flaws are much more harmful. (8.25/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The film was filmed in "Illusion-O," where each patron received a handheld ghost viewer/remover. During certain segments of the film, a person could see the ghosts by looking through the red cellophane or hide them by looking through the blue. Without the viewer, the ghosts were somewhat visible. The DVD release included red/blue glasses to replicate the effect.


Homicidal

Overall this one really wasn't all that great even though there are a few solid points here. The main problem here is the near-total reliance on tactics that just aren't in the least bit threatening. The majority of her interactions with others makes for a thoroughly uneventful time here with all of these segments never once doing anything to prove she's nothing but a mere loony rather than mentally disturbed. As well, there's the rather bland method of going through a really long time to finish off the investigation of her activities, as the supposedly secretive actions are announced to all at nearly every opportunity affording not only a lazily-relaxed investigation manner but also affording them an opportunity to sabotage what's going on and keeping the ruse going. There are some good points here. The film's best part is the opening, which is a shocking and quite gruesome sequence that gets the shock by nicely intermingling the calmness before the attack to a rather startling sequence, the sheer suddenness bringing about a rather creepy time here and then the act itself works with the stabbing being quite brutal and leading to a fine escape. As well, the investigation makes this one feel quite a bit more suspenseful than expected here as this slowly breaks down the inevitable which is where there's a lot to like and really enjoy here by how this sets up the story. The last positive here comes from the finale, where the big suspenseful walk-through of the house and following brawl in the living room where it gives off a great revelation to the set-up throughout here that's quite original and makes for a really fun time here. These here help this one and move it up, but the flaws are a little too much for this one. (6.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? There was a "fright break" with a timer overlaid on the film's climax, as the heroine approaches a house harboring a sadistic killer. The audience had 45 seconds to leave and get a full refund if they were too frightened to see the remainder of the film. He came up with 'Coward's Corner,' a yellow cardboard booth manned by a bewildered theater employee in the lobby. When the Fright Break was announced, and you found that you couldn't take it anymore, you had to leave your seat and, in front of the entire audience, follow yellow footsteps up the aisle, bathed in a yellow light. Before you reached Coward's Corner, you crossed yellow lines with the stenciled message: 'Cowards Keep Walking.' You passed a nurse who would offer a blood-pressure test. All the while a recording was blaring, "'Watch the chicken! Watch him shiver in Coward's Corner'!" As the audience howled, you had to go through one final indignity – at Coward's Corner you were forced to sign a yellow card stating, 'I am a bona fide coward.' In an early showing, wily patrons simply sat through the movie a second time and left at the break to get their money back; to prevent this in future, Castle had different color tickets printed for each showing.


Mr. Sardonicus

This was a fairly pleasant and enjoyable surprise. The main factor here is in the rather nice Gothic atmosphere on display here with the typical heavy fog rolling in on the landscape variety that creates a memorable impression all the way to the incredibly chilling moments in the graveyard later on during the flashback. This redeems the film drastically by looking incredibly tense and creepy, the actions being done during this section gives off a great vibe and there's a fantastic shock within when it gets to the casket revelation. The torture chamber scenes are just plain creepy, taking place in a stone cavern within the building that manages to produce a mood of utter despair and dread, the perfect setting to cast instruments of terror. There's even a nightmare sequence that's played up even more due to the fact that the room seems to be in on it as well and does whatever it can to enhance the terror as the shorter scenes work so well. Given the great look of the paralyzed individual, there’s a lot to like here while there wasn't a whole lot here that didn't work. The main one here is that the film decides to act out the back-story rather than just say it out. They play out way too long and just could’ve used a special backstory to tell it, as instead, these scenes drag a little. It’s what holds this back, (9/10)

So, what's the gimmick? The audience could vote on the villain's fate in a "punishment poll" during the climax. Castle himself appeared on screen to explain two options. Each member of the audience was given a card with a glow-in-the-dark thumb they could hold up or down to decide if Mr. Sardonicus would be cured or died. Supposedly no audience ever chose mercy, so the alternate ending was never screened. Though Castle claimed in his autobiography that the merciful version was shot and shown occasionally, many believe otherwise. In the drive-in version, drivers were asked to flash their car headlights to choose.


Strait-Jacket

There wasn't a whole lot to this one either way. The film's only real virtues are its creepy scenes towards the end. The body count picks up slightly and there are even a few good suspense scenes thrown in from some nice stalking in the yard by the barn to the scenes by the house that are quite nice. The final twenty minutes, where the real stalking and suspense take place are the film's best moments being full of stalking, the revelation of the killer in the twist and much more to be had that make this one really fun. These here are the film's good parts as there wasn't much with the film. The film's main flaw is that it's incredibly slow and boring. The film doesn't do much of anything until the end, and there's plenty of inactivity to be had from the film during these parts. The sheer fact that nothing happens until the end makes the beginning a real chore to sit through since it takes forever to get going and seems far longer than it really is. It's nearly impossible to get any excitement out of them, since it follows the pattern of setting up a potential moment, only to laugh it off when they break it down to them being deranged but only threateningly. As there’s a problem with it being unable to really commit to a style rather than go for a more thrilling moment, these here really lower this one. (6.5/10)

So, what's the gimmick? Actually advised by his financial backers to eliminate gimmicks, Castle hired Joan Crawford to star and sent her on a promotional tour to select theaters. At the last minute, Castle had cardboard axes printed that were handed out to patrons.


And with that, that's all for this entry. See you all next time.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Genre Run-Through - Jiangshi: The Hopping Vampire

Well, it’s time now for another write-up, and this time we’re going to tackle a topic that’s one of the best reasons for what the purpose of this blog is about. We’re going around the world to a special subset of horror films most might not have seen but has a thriving subset of films deep in the history of this particular country.

So, what is this mystery horror set of films I’m referring to? Well, by random chance this weeks’ discussion is a specific Chinese legend called the Jiangshi. A jiangshi, also known as a Chinese "hopping" vampire, ghost or zombie, is a type of reanimated corpse in Chinese legends and folklore. "Jiangshi" is read goeng-si in Cantonese, cương thi in Vietnamese, gangshi in Korean, and kyonshī in Japanese. It is typically depicted as a stiff corpse dressed in official garments from the Qing Dynasty, and it moves around by hopping, with its arms outstretched. It kills living creatures to absorb their qi, or "life force" which usually occurs at night, while during the day it rests in a coffin or hides in dark places such as caves. Jiangshi legends have inspired a genre of jiangshi films and literature in Hong Kong and East Asia which we'll get to in just a bit.


Now, being that this is a creature that is based on actual Chinese folklore, there is the need for a brief history of where the creature came from. A supposed source of the jiangshi stories came from the folk practice of "transporting a corpse over a thousand li." The relatives of a person who died far away from home could not afford vehicles to have the deceased person's body transported home for a burial, so they would hire a Taoist priest to conduct a ritual to reanimate the dead person and teach him/her to "hop" their way home. The priests would transport the corpses only at night and would ring bells to notify others in the vicinity of their presence because it was considered bad luck for a living person to set eyes upon a jiangshi. This practice, also called Xiangxi ganshi, was popular in Xiangxi, China where many people left their hometown to work elsewhere. After they died, their bodies were transported back to their hometown because it was believed that their souls would feel homesick if they were buried somewhere unfamiliar to them. The corpses would be arranged upright in single file and be tied to long bamboo rods on the sides, while two men (one at the front and one at the back) would carry the ends of the rods on their shoulders and walk. When the bamboo flexed up and down, the corpses appeared to be "hopping" in unison when viewed from a distance away.

Once it came to the movies themselves, the films were quite adept at featuring elements in common with the films at the time. Adopting these visual elements for the creature, it plays more in line with the American idea of zombie films from the 30s and 40s which were mindless slaves unconcerned with more familiar tropes as in flesh-eating or even the vampiric sense of blood-drinking. Rather, they were presented as relics of a bye-gone era in visual appearance that were extremely proficient martial artists that used those skills to carry out the deeds of their supernatural controllers. This concept provided the films with not only extremely fun and fluid action scenes in the martial arts battles between the vampires and those that it comes into contact with but the concept of this mindless denizen looking like a relic from the past hopping around like a kangaroo is the source of really awesome comedy. Still, being a horror film the threat is taken with utter seriousness and the situation is given plenty of room to be threatening as well, giving it some solid horror workouts in the end.

Well, now that we’ve taken a quick look at the origins of the creature, let’s take a look at some of the films in the genre here. The earliest concerning vampires is Midnight Vampire, directed in 1936 by Yeung Kung-Leung although not much information about the film is available beyond the fact that it was made but it nevertheless remains the first one until the 70s where the genre picked up a little more. Starting with the Shaw Brothers/Hammer Studios crossover The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires which was a cross between traditional Gothic melodrama as only Hammer could do with the mixture of chop-socky martial arts courtesy of some of the finest kung-fu performers on the Shaw Brothers roster, the film brought a reintroduction of vampires into the Hong Kong cinema and resulted in several other releases in the genre although none of them contained any connection to the Chinese variant on the style. Ranging from efforts like The Spiritual Boxer to Fake Ghost Catchers and Those Merry Souls, these efforts are more line with treating the spirits as more ghost-like and Western-leaning in their behavior rather than the more traditional Chinese variations.


It would take one of Hong Kong martial arts cinema's favorite sons, Sammo Hung, to be the one to exploit these more traditional tropes. In the classic Encounters of the Spooky Kind, about a young man who is continually forced to spend the night in haunted temples where a demonic witch brings out all sorts of ghouls and creatures to defeat him so that it's employer can finally get with the man's wife, one of the main creatures raised by the witch is the jiangshi as a hopping vampire who sets out to kill him. The casting of a real martial artist in the role, Sammo's long-time friend, and fellow Kung Fu-tier Yuen Biao, allowed for a series of fantastic martial arts to be displayed which are jaw-dropping in their physical prowess while also containing some of the finest physical comedy in the scene.


A bonafide tour-de-force and one of the country's finest movies ever regardless of genre, the film was naturally a box-office smash in its native Hong Kong and laid the groundwork for a slew of ripe and vicious horror to emerge from the country. While not necessarily inclusion into the topic covered here, the mix of black magic, sorcery and utterly inclusive Taoist teachings present in Spooky Encounters can be seen as the precursor to fare like the Shaw Brothers' Black Magic series of films, popularized by BewitchedThe Boxer's Omen and Seeding of a Ghost among others. Other knockoffs, as Devil Fetus and Black Magic with Buddha also emerged in that time and helped to cement the newfound relaxed censorship in the country by offering far more gruesome exploitation than the kind-hearted Spooky Encounters reveled in, dropping the slapstick comedy for revolting scenes of live animals and insects being vomited up or crawling over oozing wounds to varying effect which all nonetheless come across as the kind of work influenced by this success. As well, Revenge of the Zombies, The Miracle Fighters and Dreadnaught also emerged within a relatively quick time after that initial success and further the Hong Kong cinema's increasing use of period settings, religious mysticism, bone-chilling thrills and side-splitting comedy that were all in grand display and served as fine links in the line to the later efforts.

Alongside these releases, several other big films emerged to help spread several of the themes featured in the emerging hopping-vampire genre. First up was Kung Fu from Beyond the Grave, which features a young man who employs hopping ghost assassins to avenge his father's murder. Continuing to exploit the evil wizard character whose magic powers are complemented by considerable kung-fu skills, the film is mostly notable for having the Taoist priest summons Count Dracula to fight for him which makes for a rather interesting turn-around of the earlier Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires where the vampire instead possesses the body of a Chinese priest in that film. Other efforts, including the stand-out The Spooky Bunch which brings the genre out of the period setting and uses a more modern setting in its tale of a group of incompetent Chinese Opera company called out to a remote island for a performance only to find themselves beset by vengeful ghosts. Other fine efforts from that time period, including The Trail and Sammo Hung's follow-up film The Dead and the Deadly all manage to further the exploits of the genre.


However, no other film in the genre looms higher or more intensely than the legendary Mr. Vampire. One of the few legitimate rivals to the throne of finest Hong Kong horror film ever made, this gut-busting effort features the efforts of a Taoist priest and his bumbling assistants to try to curb the exploits of a hopping vampire accidentally released in a small village. With plenty of jaw-dropping martial arts courtesy of the late-great star Lam Ching-ying and supporters Chin Siu-ho, Billy Lau and Yuen Wah as well as exceptionally hilarious physical comedy from the two students who are completely overmatched by the ghosts and vampires suddenly in their midst, this one also manages to feature many of the usual tropes to be found in the genre to come in the form of a wise, benevolent Taoist priest that's adorned with a unibrow, proficient in the practice of spell-casting and martial arts who sets out to rid the town of the influence of the wandering ghosts and would become the standard-bearer for the genre henceforth.

The effect this film had on the industry as a whole is quite profound. Three loosely-connected sequels immediately followed in the late 80s, while officially-accepted sequel Mr. Vampire 1992/New Mr. Vampire arrived several years later in the early 90s. By then, the genre had bloomed into a fruitful enterprise with another effort titled New Mr. Vampire but a whole slew of films capitalizing on the success of the original which includes the efforts Vampire vs. Vampire, Magic Cop, Crazy Safari which itself is a second spin-off capitalizing on the success of The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Ultimate Vampire, The Musical Vampire and finally Exorcist Master all of varying quality but all still loosely connected to the same central themes established for the series.

Now, this form of gluttony cannot possibly be expected to continue on, and indeed that was the case here as this rabid onslaught of films forced the genre to die up. Not even an American attempt to cash in on the craze, The Jitters, brought out any kind of special attention to the genre after the glory years and managed to strike the rotting corpse back into the grave, seemingly forever.

In the new millennium, however, it did come crawling out for a tentative first few steps with a small handful of throwback efforts to the genre's heyday. The first effort, Vampire Controller is a rather straightforward and by-the-numbers affair that throws in the strong action and comedy that was prevalent in the style, even casting a few leading actors from these original group of films. The next two efforts, The Era of Vampires and The Twins Effect both tried some new elements into the mythos with Era going for a straight film without any comedy at all even with the throwback nature of the plot and special effects while Twins goes to more European vampire influences with the Dracula stand-in and behavior rules alongside the Hong Kong style previously utilized throughout here.

More recently, though, it hasn’t lead to much else for the genre. The most recent offerings, a postmodern take on the subject titled Rigor Mortis which goes so far as to recast most of the surviving cast members of Mr. Vampire but to make it take place in a world where they’re actors who must take out the creatures they did in the movies and a final traditional offering in the genre, Sifu vs. Vampire which goes back to the traditionally established norms of the genre. It’s the most recent effort in the genre and really does seem like it should kickstart the genre once again but nothing else has emerged in the time since, and thus we leave it here in terms of the genre.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you next time.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Director Run-Through - James Whale

Well, we're back now and it's time for a new effort today, and this one is one I'm a little proud of in sharing here. Today's entry is going to be a director run-through for one of the founding fathers of the genre as he is perhaps one of the more important directors in the shaping of the genre even if he's not as prolific as some may like. Today, we're looking at the legendary James Whale.


So, why are we looking at Whale today? Several reasons, the first being that the nature of this blog allows me to look at the history of the genre from the beginning to today (so long as it's not Silent) and Mr. Whale here is perhaps one of the singular faces defining the history of what came after. Second, he only has four credible horror titles to his resume so this won't be a taxing read on you or as strenuous as it was for me to write up as the last two episodes on this blog were so a nice, breezy effort like this where it's light but I'm still providing content might be perfect to cleanse the palette after a brief break last week. Lastly, perhaps my all-time favorite podcast, The HorrorCast, have been producing incredibly high-quality discussions this year on Universal's monster movies which has included James Whale amongst their work, yet there are a few films of his that haven't been covered so this might fill in some of the gaps in their coverage.

With that out of the way, let's learn a little more about our selected individual here with a special biography:

James Whale was an English film director, theater director and actor. He is best remembered for his four classic horror films: Frankenstein (1931), The Old Dark House (1932), The Invisible Man (1933) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Whale also directed films in other genres, including what is considered the definitive film version of the musical Show Boat (1936).
In 1931, Universal Studios signed Whale to a five-year contract and his first project was Waterloo Bridge. Based on the Broadway play by Robert E. Sherwood, the film stars Mae Clarke.
Also in 1931, Universal chief Carl Laemmle, Jr. offered Whale his choice of any property the studio owned. Whale chose Frankenstein, mostly because none of Universal's other properties particularly interested him and he wanted to make something other than a war picture.
In 1933, Whale directed The Invisible Man (1933). Shot from a script approved by H. G. Wells, the film was a blended horror with humor and confounding visual effects. It was critically acclaimed, with The New York Times listing it as one of the ten best films of the year, and broke box-office records in cities across America. So highly regarded was the film that France, which restricted the number of theaters in which undubbed American films could play, granted it a special waiver because of its "extraordinary artistic merit".
Also in 1933, Whale directed the romantic comedy By Candlelight (1933) instead of a sequel to Frankenstein as he feared being pigeonholed as a horror director even though he eventually relented with the masterpiece Bride of Frankenstein (1935). Bride hearkened back to an episode from Mary Shelley's original novel in which the Monster promises to leave Frankenstein and humanity alone if Frankenstein makes him a mate. He does, but the mate is repelled by the monster who then, setting Frankenstein and his wife free to live, chooses to destroy himself and his "bride." The film was a critical and box office success.
He committed suicide by drowning himself in his Pacific Palisades swimming pool on 29 May 1957 at the age of 67. He left a suicide note, which Lewis withheld until shortly before his own death decades later. Because the note was suppressed, the death was initially ruled accidental.-credit:IMDb

Now, that biography did indeed spoil the contents of the films in the post but that doesn't mean we can't take a look at each of these:

Frankenstein


Frankly, this still one of the more important and impressive films in the genre. Though not the first adaptation of the classic story, this one still retains its power with the legendary resurrection scene that comes off as incredibly exciting even before the creature stirs beneath the sheets which is still one of the most visually-arresting and chilling scenes in the genre. Taking plenty of advantage of the opulent Gothic sets, they're filled with all manners of electronic gadgets and plenty of fanciful equipment which really bring out the grand nature of the location as the second half goes into the great scenes of them attempting to control it in the laboratory which proves incredibly difficult with his violent tendencies and begins lashing out at them forcing their need to dispose of it before it escapes. There's plenty of fun to be had here with the creature loose in the countryside generating more solid fun with the legendary sequence of it with the little girl and finally appearing at the house during the wedding which is another great and truly fun sequence. Finally, the action-packed spectacle that is the finale is one of the best in the genre with its full-scale hunting of the creature leading to the big battle at the windmill where not only is there the torch-wielding mob to contend with but also the brawling of the doctor that makes for a rather spectacular finish needed in this kind of movie. Though it gets a little slow at places with the final half with the atrocious dance number and lack of creature scenes featured, there's a lot to really like in this one. (10/10)


The Old Dark House

Though this is definitely the weakest of the man's films, there's still a lot to like here. The grand Gothic manner is enjoyable in the set-up here as the layout of the house is incredibly chilling and creepy, the antics of the family come off as far more creepy than what would be found in a normal family makes the groups' initial appearance at the house seem better than expected and the fact that there are so many introductory elements found here from the classic trope of strangers stranded for the night being forced to stay at the creepy old house with the creepy family within. That alone is reason enough to get into this one before getting into the rather hilarious comedy featured throughout here, from the incredibly witty wordplay or the goofy situations that come about here which are quite genuinely funny and work so well together with the films' horror-based tone. It does get far more fun in the finale which gets the big burning-down-the-house routine, but its impact is lessened by the fact that much of what came before it comes off way too stilted and bland, a product of its source material origins being adapted from the stage play. That ends up hurting the film where it feels overly staged and stiff during the middle half which makes it somewhat dull in these spots but overall it's still got a lot to like. (8.75/10)


The Invisible Man

This is one of the greatest horror films of all time. One of the best parts about this one is the special effects which are absolutely amazing, especially when you take into consideration that they were virtually inventing methods of composite mattes in the film to make the invisible man truly come alive and real. The effects are used liberally, giving scenes showing a shirt running around seemingly by itself or more difficult ones showing him unwrapping the bandages in a mirror to inanimate objects being controlled by themselves and are still a remarkable achievement to the technical prowess of the effects. The effects are not only used to build suspense and inspire fear, they are used to create a few comic moments as well which makes for quite the fun time here as this provides some nice laughs along with the chills. The action works nicely here with some big set-pieces with the train accident, the car crash and the police ambush at the very end, while the different tactics to try to corral him are clever and quite inventive. There isn't a whole lot at all to dislike. The biggest issue here is that romance angle between the two here doesn't work at all as there isn't much chemistry at all, and it's a hard time understanding what she saw in him even before he became invisible. There's also the fact that he seems to be remarkably immune to the cold despite the fact that it is winter, and he is buck naked whenever he goes about invisible. It would have better to see that angle explored a bit more as well as the issues of food, sleep, and shelter. Aside from these relatively excusable problems, this is a real classic film with a lot to like about it. (9.5/10)


Bride of Frankenstein

This here was quite the exceptional sequel with so much to really like here. Much like the original, this one exploits the concepts of life and death only to a much greater degree here. The central scene in the hermits' cottage emphasizes this quite effectively with the monster able to show compassion and friendship despite not having any need for doing so based on previous experience, and the concept of this shows this off far better than anything possible out there to attempt this and offers a great side to him that wasn't possible before hand. While this here is quite fun enough as it is, the fact that there's such a plentiful amount of action here that gives this one such a fantastic pace as there's the absolutely spectacular opening that not only follows through on fixing the ending from the other film while generating the proper action to start this one nicely, the following chase through the woods gives this plenty of great shots showing the villagers forcing him through the area is really exciting as the halting chases are utterly enjoyable as he escapes several times leading to even more brawls and chasing, and the film's main centerpiece sequence with the encounter with the Bride at the finale. There's so much to really love with the intensity of the creature coming back to life matching the original and it lifting off the table elicits the same eerie chills, and with it again playing into the life and death there's absolutely crazy finale in the castle tower which is the explosive, frenzied spectacle of the whole place coming and burying everything inside which is rather fun. Alongside the fine monster makeup for both creatures, these here are what make this one hold up incredibly well. There's only one flaw here, which is that the Bride comes into play so late in the film and doesn't really do much that it seems almost like an afterthought as there's so little screen time that it doesn't have much to do beyond its appearance. This here is what really holds it back. (10/10)


And with that, thanks for joining us for this look at one of the more important directors of the genre. We'll see you next time.