Lon Chaney Jr. – Lady Killer

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I recently set aside some time to watch all six of Universal’s Inner Sanctum Mystery films starring Lon Chaney Jr. Seeing these relatively short (60-67 minute) B-movies back to back over a couple of days was a joy and I found new things to admire and appreciate about the film’s leading man. But afterward I made the mistake of scouring through various film books and poking around websites looking for background information about the movies and I really shouldn’t have bothered. What I found angered me, then it depressed me and finally it just made me sad so I decided to share my frustration with you, dear readers.
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“It’s my blood. I gave it to you.”

Unlike some of my fellow Morlocks who often express their disappointment in modern horror films (I’m winking at my good pal Greg Ferrara who recently complained about the lack of good ghost movies) I happen to think we’re currently undergoing an impressive horror film renaissance that’s largely being ignored or has gone unappreciated. While Hollywood continues to pummel us all with over-hyped, self-conscious and all too predictable and derivative movies like CABIN IN THE WOODS, Tim Burton’s recent DARK SHADOWS remake or the ongoing SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series, independent or smaller budgeted films made in Europe, Britain, Asia and Australia as well as the US are exploring new ground and turning the genre on its head.

Unfortunately these films rarely make it into US theaters outside of New York or Los Angeles so horror fans like myself are forced to wait until they’re released on DVD to see them. It can take years for some of these movies to find an appreciative audience and in today’s fast-paced world they all too often get overshadowed by lesser films with larger advertising budgets. A great example of this ongoing problem is the popular TWILIGHT franchise, which has gotten an unprecedented amount of press here in the US while the most interesting and innovative vampire films are being made outside the country and include the highly acclaimed Swedish production LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) as well as Chan-wook Park’s Korean horror opus THIRST (2009) and Claire Denis’ French thriller TROUBLE EVERY DAY (2001).

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Terror by Telephone

Not only do I still have a landline, but my primary phone is a bright red Western Electric desk phone, Model 2500, made between 1968 and 1983. That makes my red phone 20 to 35 years old, and the sound is still clear and true. I paid five dollars for it in a second-hand store.  It is part of the décor of my office—an item with weight and presence. I wouldn’t take the next five generations of iPhones for it. My Western Electric 2500 doesn’t twitter, beep, laugh, play the latest tune, or make baby noises. When I get a call, my phone rings loudly with authority, forcefulness, and sometimes alarm.  My phone is the type used in horror films by unseen evil-doers, violent psychopaths, and even ordinary murderous husbands who want to menace innocent characters.

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The Children Are Watching

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The term ‘auteur’ is rarely associated with Jack Clayton. When critics and film scholars refer to the British director by name they usually describe him as being a “talented craftsman” or “skilled technician.” Credit for the extraordinary look and feel of Clayton’s best work is too often attributed to the skilled cinematographers (Freddie Francis, Oswald Morris, Douglas Slocombe, etc.) or screenwriters (Truman Copote, Harold Pinter, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.) that he teamed-up with but the director’s own vision is paramount. Andrew Sarris famously said that, “The only Clayton constant is impersonality.” But with only a handful of films in Clayton’s oeuvre I find it easy to link them together through their literary ambitions, parallel themes and stylistic directing choices. And of course there’s the remarkable performances he was able to extract from his actors. Clayton was particularly adept at directing women. Under his watchful eye renowned talents like Simone Signoret, Deborah Kerr, Anne Bancroft, Mia Farrow and Maggie Smith gifted us with some of their most memorable roles.

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Three Cases of Murder and One Uncredited Director

I love a good horror anthology so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I recently sat down to watch THREE CASES OF MURDER (1955) for the first time. This unusual British film seems to have gone relatively unnoticed by numerous horror film historians and if it does warrant a mention it’s usually dismissed without much afterthought. But with a cast that includes Orson Welles and a segment directed by one of Britain’s first female directors (Wendy Toye), THREE CASES OF MURDER stands out as a wonderful example of early British horror cinema that rivals the highly acclaimed anthology DEAD OF NIGHT (1945).

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All Aboard the HORROR EXPRESS!

It’s hard to imagine that there are any seasoned horror film fans that haven’t seen or at least heard of Eugenio Martin’s HORROR EXPRESS (1972). It often gets a mention in widely read books about horror movies. And many questionable companies out to make a quick buck have released this surprisingly entertaining Spanish/British production on video and DVD over the years but the quality was always lacking. The one minor exception was Image Entertainment, which made HORROR EXPRESS part of their impressive EuroShock Collection in 2000 but even their DVD was sub-par. Thankfully Severin Films has stepped up to plate to restore this cult classic in all of its bloody widescreen glory.

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Here’s to the Horror Film: A Measure of Our Times

I have the unenviable task of wrapping up the Morlocks’ week-long blogathon devoted to horror. Actually, most of us jumped the gun and wrote on horror movies or related subjects even before the blogathon began. I wish I were clever enough to offer an insightful summary or, at least, a show-stopping list of terrific horror movies, but I don’t think I can surpass the articles and lists already posted. Looking back over the blog topics for October, we covered everything from Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein to non-horror movies that are horrific to specific films that touched us for personal reasons, such as Voices and the The Hypnotic Eye. Along the way, we speculated on the meaning of monsters, questioned standard interpretations of classics, and drew attention to sound as a technique of terror. Our observations and interpretations speak volumes about the depth and breadth of horror, and I tip my hat to my fellow Morlocks for their insightful explorations of the genre. I conclude our blogathon by offering some thoughts on a genre that cinephiles tend to embrace, though mainstream movie-goers seldom take it seriously.

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Scarred by THE HYPNOTIC EYE

Everybody has probably been haunted or permanently disturbed by some movie they saw as a kid that burned images into their brain they couldn’t process or handle. For me it was a sick little B-movie that popped up on the late show called THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960) which I saw at the age of eight.       [...MORE]

Reimagining a Classic: Werner Herzog’s NOSFERATU

We live in the age of remakes and prequels. Every month Hollywood rolls out an easily recognizable title that’s been repackaged and recast with a plot that’s all too familiar. The horror and science fiction genre has been hit the hardest by these reimagined movies that all too often fall extremely short of the original film they’re trying to ape. But that’s not always the case. Once in a very rare while a talented director such as John Carpenter (THE THING; 1982),  Philip Kaufman (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS; 1978) or David Cronenberg (THE FLY; 1986) comes along and remakes a film that’s as compelling as the original. Notice I didn’t say “better” than the original because I don’t think that’s always the case but a good remake or reimagining can bring something unique to the work that allows us to see the original film with new eyes. A good remake should also be distinct enough to stand on its own as a gripping piece of filmmaking. Today too many directors rely on nostalgia and familiarity to bring in audiences. Their work seems to suffer from a lack of purpose and has no distinct vision.

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“The Voices of Terror – Twisting Two Minds!”

On the surface, Kevin Billington’s VOICES (1973) is an unusual supernatural thriller involving ghosts and a haunted house but if you take the time to look beyond its spooky exterior you might be surprised by what you find there. This fascinating horror film has a rich history that first took shape in 1953.

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