What Terrors Await Inside… The Black Room?

Serial killers are not a recent phenomenon in horror, they’ve been around for a while. The difference is, when one appeared in a horror movie back in the day, he was called a “mad killer” or, more simply, a “killer on the loose.” But they’ve been there a long time, especially once public interest in real life killers like H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper took hold.  When one thinks of classic portrayals of serial killers on the silver screen, the names Peter Lorre, Anthony Perkins and Anthony Hopkins immediately come to mind, having portrayed three of the most notable serial killers in film history, in the films M, Psycho and Silence of the Lambs (and its sequels and prequels), respectively.  But one name that should come to mind, and too often doesn’t, is Boris Karloff.  He’s played more killers than most people know and perhaps the best of them all is serial killer Gregor in the 1935 horror classic, The Black Room, directed by Roy William Neill.

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An Interview with Director Robert Day


At the age of 90, British director Robert Day has seen it all. Starting as a London clapper boy in the 1940s, he became a highly sought after camera operator in the 50s, before settling into a long and varied directing career starting with The Green Man (1956). Working on everything from Boris Karloff monster movies to Peter Sellers comedies, he was a jack of all trades before love brought him to Hollywood in the late ’60s, where he became a prolific television director through the 1980s. I was able to have a telephone chat with the gregarious craftsman, where we touched on the different phases of his wildly productive life.


Riding shotgun with Bobby, or the Thompson Guide to Targets


I pulled my copy of Peter Bogdanovich’s TARGETS (1968) the other day as part of a job I was finishing on an upcoming Boris Karloff box set. I’ve seen the movie countless times since I first clapped eyes on it in the mid-80s, having first heard about it a decade earlier in the pages of Denis Gifford’s Karloff: The Man, the Monster, the Movies. I wanted only to check one scene, very quickly, in and out… but I got sucked in. It’s that kind of movie. As I followed the story, set in Hollywood and various points of the San Fernando Valley on the other side of the Hollywood Hills, I started to recognize some landmarks from my day to day travels. [...MORE]

Thompson! Can you hear me?

Roger Corman

To my way of thinking there is no more cinematic an automatic weapon than the Thompson submachine gun. More than half of the association, for me, is the construction — that cylindrical magazine looks like a film canister and the distinctive rat-a-tat-tat of the of the Tommy gun’s report like the rattle of film threading its way through a projector — but it also has to do with the fact that gangster films, spawned as they were by Prohibition and allowing the Thompson its feature film debut, were one of the vehicles bridging the silent and sound eras.  [...MORE]

Summer Reading

Above: Actress Merle Oberon enjoying a book while lounging around the pool

I do a lot of reading all year long but during the summer months I tend to set aside some extra time to catch up with the books that have accumulated on my shelves. This is partially due to a habit I developed as a child. While other kids were outside playing and enjoying the bright sunshine I could often be found in my bedroom pouring over a good book. Even when my family would go on vacation I would always stick a book in my suitcase or duffel bag. For better or worse, many of my fondest childhood memories involve books that I read during the sweltering summer months while on camping trips and during long plane flights to visit grandparents. This summer I’ve started habitually reading some interesting non-fiction film related books so I thought I’d share some recent discoveries.


The Great Ones, Part 2: More On & Off the Set Photographs

Johnny Weissmuller strikes a Vanity Fair-like pose in this second series of candid on-the-set snapshots, oddball publicity stills and off-the-set photographs.           [...MORE]

The HorrorDads’ 2011 Dusk-to-Dawn All-Nite/All Fright Halloween Screamboree!

RHS: Let’s pretend the HorrorDads have the run of a disused movie theater and permission to run a Halloween dusk to dawn horrorthon. We will all contribute a movie to the line-up but before we begin, let’s talk about the kinds of horror movies each of us think is right for this time of year. Go… [...MORE]

Hey You, Horror Actor, Know Your Place!

When one thinks of Spencer Tracy, Ray Milland or Jennifer Jones, the horror/supernatural genre rarely springs to mind and yet, each one of them was in a celebrated film in just that genre.  Spencer Tracy in Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Ray Milland in The Uninvited and Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie.  Each one is a favorite of mine with The Uninvited being what I would consider the greatest ghost story ever put on film.

By contrast, when one thinks of Vincent Price, Peter Lorre or Hazel Court, the horror/supernatural genre instantly springs to mind even though all of them did plenty of non-horror work (well, Court not so much) before taking on the mantle of horror actors, especially Vincent Price.    Other actors, notably Jack Nicholson, did the reverse, starting out doing plenty of horror before graduating to bigger, higher profile, prestige movies in the seventies.

Finally, some actors, like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, had only a handful of movies not associated with the genre (The Lost Patrol or The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, for example, for Karloff and Ninotchka for Lugosi) and seemed to inhabit horror to such a degree that their very names alone signify the horror genre to generations.

So after breaking down all of that, the question remains:  Is there a such thing as a horror actor?


Exploring the past with Cinema Retro

The new issue of Cinema Retro arrived in my mailbox this week and I immediately made some time to flip through its glossy pages. The cover features an image of young Malcolm McDowell staring out from under the brim of his black bowler hat with a wicked openmouthed grin on his face. It’s taken from one of my favorite films, which I referenced just a few short weeks ago, Stanley Kubrick’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1970). If that imposing image doesn’t grab your attention than the cover text will. This is the magazine’s last issue of the year and its focus is on films that are “pushing the boundaries.” It offers readers a nice dose of unconventional film criticism, fascinating insights and surprising anecdotes about some of the best and most controversial films made during the ‘60s and ‘70s including Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS (1971) and Bernardo Bertolucci’s LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1972).


It’s Lovecraft Season

Like many horror aficionados I enjoy reading horror fiction as well as watching horror movies. And as summer makes way for autumn I’ve been indulging in a bit of both. Much like my fellow Morlock, Richard Harland Smith, I eagerly await this time of year. It gives me an excuse to spend my free time focused on all things spooky and scary so that’s what I intend to do for the next few weeks. I thought I’d start the month off with a look at one of my favorite H.P. Lovecraft film adaptations, The Crimson Cult (aka Cult of the Crimson Alter; 1968).

This moody British horror movie has recently become available through the Netflix instant watch program that allows subscribers to view films online or stream them at home. I hadn’t seen The Crimson Cult in over 20 years so you can imagine my surprise when I discovered that it was suddenly available at Netflix. The company seems to have acquired the rights to a small but impressive batch of ‘60s and ‘70s era horror films recently that aren’t available on DVD in the US yet such as the Hammer film Vampire Circus (1971), the zombie movie Sugar Hill (1974), the made-for-TV thriller Night Drive (aka Night Terror; 1977) as well as the British Lovecraft adaptation The Crimson Cult.


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