October Fast Cuts: The Middle Slice

Welcome to the second part of my October horror movie extravaganza (part one can be found here).  I, along with nearly every other horror fan in the world, have decided to ring in the Halloween season by watching a horror movie every night this month.  Unlike about 20% of those other fans, I have a blog on which I can share my experiences and opinions.  So, without further ado, let’s take a look at my viewing choices from Oct. 11th through to Oct. 20th.

Warning:  As stated in the previous post, the brevity of these reviews may place too much emphasis on any negative comments.  Therefore, do not allow these reviews to deter you from any film the premise of which you find appealing.

  1. Dracula – Spanish Version (1931)

During filming of Dracula (1931), a rather amazing, but not uncommon for the period, thing happened.  Each day after director Tod Browning was finished putting Bela Lugosi, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, et al. through their paces, a completely different cast and crew would steal onto the set.  These creatures of the night, led by director George Melford, would produce an alternate version of Dracula using the same basic script and the same sets but performed entirely in Spanish.  It is a fascinating bit of history and comparing what two separate groups of people can produce with the same material, locations, and props is intriguing.  The Spanish Dracula is a very good film in its own right.  Some critics have gone so far as to rank it as superior to its English counterpart but I don’t agree with that assessment.  The Spanish version does add a few details that flush out the story and the female leads, especially Lupita Tovar as Eva, outshine their English-speaking peers.  On the other hand, anyone would be hard pressed to overshadow the performances of Lugosi and Frye as Dracula and Renfield.  Sadly, Carlos Villarías, who plays Dracula in the Spanish version, gives one of the weaker performances in the film.  He’s not terrible but the film suffers for not having a strong, charismatic lead.  Rounding out the headliners, Edward Van Sloan and Eduardo Arozamena are equally well suited to take on Dr. Van Helsing although they provide quite different interpretations of the character.  Some viewers find the English Dracula slow paced and stilted as it shows its theatre-based roots.  In my opinion that is not judging the film on its own merits, but, if you feel this way, know that the Spanish version shares that staged feel and slow, almost exaggerated movements.

Available on Blu-Ray from Universal Pictures as part of Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection.

Carlos Villarías as Dracula commands Dr. Van Helsing to “Ven aquí!”
  1. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

What you first notice about The Curse of the Werewolf is how detailed and carefully worked out is the story being told.  A beggar, thrown in a dungeon and forgotten, slowly goes mad.  Years later, when the opportunity arises, he assaults the only person who ever showed him any kindness, a mute servant girl.  The servant girl, portrayed by Yvonne Romain, runs away and is taken in by kindly Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans) and his housekeeper.  That Christmas, the girl dies giving birth to the beggar’s son.  Don Corledo names the son Leon and raises him as his own.  Unfortunately, the nature of Leon’s conception and birth has cursed him with lycanthropy.  Don Corledo and the housekeeper are able to keep Leon’s affliction mostly under control and under wraps throughout his childhood.  Eventually, however, Leon grows up to become Oliver Reed and his problems really start.  This is a unique take on the werewolf mythos that does not involve transmission from wolf bite.  Some may feel that the werewolf appears too late in the film and that the ending is sudden.  Those are probably fair criticisms but they are a result of the time devoted to spinning a rich fable.  Leon is a sympathetic character and the story is a tragic one.  The fact that The Curse of the Werewolf involves shape-shifting and murder is really secondary.

Available to rent from Amazon Prime.

I’m sure it’s just a phase he’ll grow out of.
  1. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1978)

In Friday the 13th, the killer is (SPOILER!) Pamela Voorhees, mother of young Jason who drowned at Camp Crystal Lake due to the neglect of the camp counsellors.  In Friday the 13th Part 2, we learn that Jason did not in fact die and is now going on his own Camp Crystal Lake killing spree…for reasons that are less clear.  The film is iconic for being Jason’s first foray into a lucrative serial killer career despite his wearing a burlap sack on his head instead of his famous hockey mask.  There is a slightly confusing time displacement at the beginning of the film as it jumps forward five years apparently to justify Jason having grown into a very large and muscular man.  Overall the film delivers on its promised mayhem but it is a very by-the-book teen slasher.  I suppose that is to be expected when you’re watching part of the franchise that was fundamental in the writing of that book.

Available for streaming on Shudder.

Jason’s choice of facial cover will improve…but not until the third film.
  1. Fade to Black (1980)

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher) is a film geek in the worst sense of the term.  A social outcast who spends all of his time either at the theatre or, more likely, in his bedroom watching movies, Eric is awkward, creepy, and ultimately unlikeable.  The one chance he has at happiness and gaining our sympathy is blown when he overreacts to being accidentally stood up by a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like (Linda Kerridge).  In response to this event, Eric begins dressing as famous movie roles and murdering anyone who has ever slighted him, which is anyone who has ever had contact with him.  It is an interesting if simple premise that could have gone somewhere or at least resulted in some interesting kills.  Eric’s choice of costumes (Dracula, the Mummy, Hopalong Cassidy), however, are uninspired and the murders he commits as those characters are way too on point.   Dennis Christopher’s performance is rather bland and one dimensional.  There is nothing to garner any compassion for Eric.  Unfortunately most of his victims are equally unpleasant.  With a sub plot about a criminal psychologist going nowhere, there is absolutely no one in the film for the audience to relate to.

Available for streaming on Shudder.

Cosplay in 1980.
  1. Slither (2006)

A meteorite crashes to Earth just outside of the small town of Wheelsy, South Carolina bringing with it alien slugs.  The slugs take over the bodies and minds of the townsfolk with the intent to spread throughout the world.  Those possessed by the slugs become starving, bloated, mutated zombies controlled by a hive mind dominated by the personality of the first victim, Grant Grant (Michael Rooker).  If some of this sounds familiar, Slither owes more than a little to Night of the Creeps (1986) and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers films.  Slither was the directorial debut of James Gunn who also wrote the script and his style is clearly on display.  The film is a little scary, a little funny, and cranks up the gross out factor.  The cast is very good, especially Nathan Fillion who is perfectly cast as Police Chief Bill Pardy.  Pardy is not a reluctant hero but rather a hero in disbelief over the horrifying yet absurd situations he finds himself in.  Half of the fun is watching Pardy’s attempts to cope with crooked smiles and droll comments.

Available to rent from Amazon Prime.

Michael Rooker just hasn’t been feeling himself today.
  1. Drive-In Massacre (1976)

It doesn’t take significant cognitive abilities to guess the plot of Drive-In Massacre.  A serial killer is murdering people at the drive-in.  Although, since there are only two victims on any given night, I don’t think his/her activities qualify as a massacre.  Bruce Kimball and John F. Gott play ineffective police detectives attempting to catch the killer.  Given the focus on Kimball and Gott, the film is more of a badly written police procedural than it is a horror movie.  The tone of the film is all over the place including the terrible decision to add some comedy by having Gott go undercover in drag.  A scene with a killer and his potential victim cornered in a warehouse is dragged out for far too long despite it being obvious that this is just a red herring with no relevance to the rest of the movie.  The film ends with a warning that a psychopath is loose in the drive-in in which you are watching right now.

Available for streaming on Tubi.

Chuckle at John F. Gott dressed as a woman. Laugh when Gott and Kimball pretend to make-out to maintain their cover.
  1. One Dark Night (1983)

Aren’t high school cliques the worst?  All Julie (Meg Tilly) wants is to be a part of the Sisters, a group of three annoying mean girls in satin jackets.  Unfortunately, lead mean girl Carol (Robin Evans) is the ex-girlfriend of Julie’s boyfriend, Steve (David Mason Daniels), and is torturing Julie with initiation challenges.  Julie’s latest challenge is to spend the night locked in a mausoleum.  A dead, telepathic “psychic vampire” with the unlikely name of Karl Raymarseivich was just interred in the same mausoleum earlier that day.  Talk about bad luck!  As Julie tries to sleep and the mean girls try to scare her, Raymar, as he was known by his colleagues, uses telekinetic powers to manipulate the other corpses in the mausoleum.  The makeup and special effects used for the corpses is pretty good but, rather than shamble, the corpses are dragged about by Raymar’s telekinesis.  The corpses float around for a while scaring the girls apparently just because Raymar likes to be a jerk.  If this all sounds exciting, think again.  It is literally an hour and ten minutes into the film before things start happening.  Watch for a very young E. G. Daily as one of the Sisters and Adam West as the uninterested husband of Raymar’s daughter.

Available for streaming on Shudder and Tubi.

The corpses are effective. The electricity from Raymar’s eyeballs is not.
  1. The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Father/Son coroner team Tommy and Austin Tilden (Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch) are pulling an all-nighter to determine the cause of death of a young girl found at the scene of a multiple homicide.  The body is outwardly in pristine condition but, as the autopsy continues, Tommy and Austin discover that her insides have been subjected to unimaginable horrors.  Supernatural occurrences soon make it clear that Jane Doe is no ordinary corpse.  This is a very well put together film with a unique and interesting story that for the most part works.  The autopsy seems realistic enough to make the squeamish cringe but the action itself is not particularly gory.  Cox and Hirsch give very believable performances both in their interactions with each other and their reactions to events occurring around them.  Respect also has to be given to Olwen Kelly who has the thankless job of portraying a naked, inanimate corpse for most of the film. There is at least one outlandish assumption that is taken as a given and the ending could be just slightly less ambiguous but The Autopsy of Jane Doe is an example of a chilling story brilliantly told with a small cast.

Available for streaming on Shudder.

The nature of the job is creepy enough but, believe me, it gets worse.
  1. The Man They Could Not Hang (1939)

Boris Karloff is back as another mad scientist determined to solve the limitations of the flesh.  Dr. Henryk Savaard (Karloff) believes he has found a way to revive the dead.  While testing his equipment, he is stopped by the authorities before he can bring his willing subject back to life.  Savaard is convicted of murdering his patient and sentenced to be hung.  After the hanging, however, Savaard’s assistant brings him back to life using the same equipment.  The revived Dr. Savaard seeks revenge on the judge, jury, and prosecutor who convicted him.  This is a morbidly fun film and Karloff is again wonderful in the lead.  I do, however, wish the script had allowed him to kill off a few more of his enemies before he is stopped.

Available to rent from Amazon Prime.

Crossing Boris Karloff is something you just don’t do.
  1. Killers from Space (1954)

Peter Graves is held captive by aliens that live underground in Nevada.  The aliens have a plan to take over the Earth that involves breeding oversized insects and lizards.  This allows for a very drawn out and repetitive scene in which Peter Graves’ attempt to escape is thwarted by stock footage of bugs and animals around every corner.  The aliens have ping pong balls for eyes and seem to be holding them in place by clenching their brows.  The only thing more absurd than the alien plan for world domination is the simplistic way in which Peter Graves is able to thwart that plan.  Killers from Space is classic bad sci-fi and good for a few laughs but it is also very dull with an anticlimactic ending.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

Nice cummerbunds!

May all of these films haunt your dreams.  And check out the final part of my October movie watch here.

12 thoughts on “October Fast Cuts: The Middle Slice

Add yours

  1. I watched Boris Karloff’s The Man They Could Not Hang just a couple of months ago — it’s a lot of fun, inventive, nicely paced, suspenseful and shot much more creatively than the typical B of the period. My reaction was the same — it needed 10 or 15 additional minutes to lay on more suspense via the diabolical traps he has set. Slither is another favorite, which flawlessly walks that gross-out-horror-tinged-with-comedy tightrope.

    1. Hi, Brian. Since you enjoyed The Man They Could Not Hang, I suggest you check out The Man With Nine Lives that I mentioned in part one of my October viewing list. Largely thanks to Karloff’s performance, it has a similar feel. These films, along with Before I Hang and The Devil Commands, are apparently considered part of an unofficial series of Karloff films in which he plays ‘mad’ scientists.

      Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate it!

  2. I’ve only seen a few of these, so thanks for giving me lots to seek out. I’m especially interested in The Autopsy of Jane Doe.

  3. I remember seeing the Spanish version of “Dracula,” and I agree it’s not as good as the Bela version. Still, it’s interesting to see how these two filming units interpreted the same material on the same sets.

      1. Ha, that never occurred to me! I guess I chalk it up to what the studio and/or censors thought the repressed, English-speaking audience could handle versus the expectations of the passionate, Spanish audience. 😉

        Thanks for reading, Rebecca.

  4. A nice eclectic collection Michael 👍
    I have not seen the Spanish version of Dracula but I heard it was better then they originally. I believe it because I find Bela lugosi’s Dracula extremely boring.

    1. Blasphemy! That sort of talk will get you staked and beheaded around here. Or at least a light whipping. Or maybe just some really intense evil eye. 😀

      You’re not alone in that opinion. Many criticize the pacing while admiring the performances. I don’t happen to fall into that category but I understand where you (and others) are coming from.

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