Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Category: 30Hz Cinema (Page 4 of 23)

The Dismembered (1962) – 31 Days of Horror

the dismembered 1962

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Garagehouse Blu

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1960’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#13. The Dismembered (1962)

the dismembered 1962When the words “lost” and “film” appear together I sign the dotted line. I love the sense of time-capsule re-discovery that goes along with these types of releases, like they’ve just been unearthed and no one on the face of this earth has seen them in 50+ years.

When the term “regional horror” also appears between “lost” and “film,” I get anticipatory goosebumps.

After ordering The Dismembered aka Oswald, You Botched It Again! from DiabolikDVD earlier this year, I held off watching this particular Garagehouse release until it was high time for the @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Challenge.

I didn’t know anything about the movie other than what I’d read on the Garagehouse website. A horror-comedy filmed in Philadelphia in 1962, The Dismembered was making its home video debut on Blu-ray, mastered from director Ralph S. Hirshorn’s only 16mm print.

If that Blu-ray cover and the tease of a forgotten regional, low-budget horror-comedy doesn’t interest you, you might just be a Halloween grinch.

the dismemberedThe Story

After a successful jewel heist, the mastermind thieves hide out in an old house haunted by a few demented spirits whose only joy in this world is dispatching unwanted guests with the most gruesome methods at their disposal. The catch is that the methods at their disposal are more Tom & Jerry than Edgar Allan Poe, and the cantankerous spooks are competing with the undead from a nearby cemetery to see who gets the young men first.

I have no way of knowing if Stuart Gordon happened to see a copy of this film, but if he had, I imagine this became juicy fodder for Re-Animator. Ralph S. Hirshorn had a camera and some ingenuity and a bunch of willing conspirators and goddammit they were going to make a movie. The low-budget nature of the production emphasizes the humor over the horror, but the film’s not lacking in the kind of grotesque macabre that could have been found in any number of AIP horror films of the era. The Brain That Wouldn’t Die seems relevant.

Dismembered body parts that make up the title of the film roam the house, but they’re more Thing from the Addams Family than the occupants of any of the murderous hand pictures such as The Beast with Five Fingers (1946), Mad Love (1935), Idle Hands (1999), The Hand (1981)… holy hell there are a lot of murderous hand movies. As I was saying, the dismembered bits and pieces torment like mischievous, rogue spirits from a rather morbid Scoooy-Doo Where Are You? episode.

the dismembered 1962

From the goofy, opening credits The Dismembered revels in its low-budget constraints, goading its viewers to come along as willing conspirators in the shenanigans. As the production clearly lacked any financial backing whatsoever, that’s not a bad opening play. The film’s self-awareness becomes, in fact, its greatest asset.

The community theater spooks morbidly plotting to kill the bank robbers dress like they walked into a Goodwill and asked for the vintage section, and the practical effects are virtually non-existent. The dismembered appendages that wander in and out of frame are tossed by off-screen stagehands and when they travel, they distinctly ambulate as if tied to fishing line. The oozing mush that passes as a murderous brain becomes the star of the production, but I won’t spoil that particular effect with gory details.

I don’t mean to suggest that there’s a lack of talent involved. Hirshorn clearly had talent and it’s a shame that he never really had the opportunity to deliver on that potential. After directing The Dismembered and a competent short film from 1959 called “The End of Summer,” Hirshorn shipped off to Hollywood on a deal from Columbia, but returned to Philadelphia shortly thereafter as a result of the death of his father and the subsequent failure of the family business. It’s impossible not to wonder what he could have done with money and talent, but then again Hollywood has crushed plenty of creative spirits that just wanted to make movies for the fun of it.

the dismembered 1962

Final Thoughts:

Horror fans should be well versed in the language of low- or no-budget filmmaking. An average viewer would likely dismiss this film after approximately 15 minutes of its modest 65-minute runtime. But we’re not average viewers. We’re veterans that relish the enthusiasm of the men and women who pieced their films together with only blood, sweat, tears and a wicked sense of humor.

It’s no small miracle that The Dismembered has returned from the grave after all these years — and fans of classic film would be well-served to seek out this release. Support independent DVD and Blu-ray distributors that go above and beyond in bringing you lost gems like this. It goes without saying that this is not objectively great filmmaking. The value lies in the willingness of the viewer to embrace The Dismembered‘s goofball charms for what they are — pure cheese and self-aware schlock. if you do that, I bet you’ll enjoy Ralph S. Hirshorn’s The Dismembered just as much as I did.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

the dismembered 1962

Garagehouse’s Blu-ray features a remarkably clean scan of a 50+ year old regional horror picture filmed on 16mm. That we even have the opportunity to see The Dismembered is beyond comprehension. Make sure to listen to the audio commentary by Ralph S. Hirshorn himself and Philadelphia indie filmmaker Andrew Repasky McElhinney.

amazon-buy-button

diabolik dvd.

2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. House (1986) / #19. The Old Dark House (1932)

The Body Snatcher – 31 Days of Horror

body snatcher 1945 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Unwatched Lewton production

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1940’s
Pre-1970’s


 

#12. The Body Snatcher

the body snatcher 1945I crashed #TCMParty last week because I knew The Body Snatcher was a Lewton-produced, Karloff-starrer I hadn’t seen. When showtime arrived, I tried to change the channel, but what ho! I was recording Brooklyn Nine Nine and This is Us. A show I wouldn’t miss and one show I’d be dead if I deleted.

As it turned out I owned The Body Snatcher in the Lewton DVD set, so I bustled over to my box-set bin and unearthed the beauty just in time to tune in with the TCM broadcast.

Some years ago, I immersed myself in the literature and film of “body snatching” and the culture of 19th century grave diggers in order to write a short for my MFA thesis. Among many others, I read the Robert Louis Stephenson story that supplied the story of The Body Snatcher. I read up on Burke and Hare and all sorts of other true tales of grave robbing and the like. It’s a wonder anyone survived this period in medical history.

This kind of thing happened all the time. The Body Snatcher rang true with many real life accounts. Medical schools lacked cadavers, and certain nefarious types know how to get cadavers. Though I came away schooled in the profession, my short story never really came together, and it ultimately hit the cutting room floor after a few fruitless revisions.

If I dig I might unearth a copy, but something tells me that it’s not worth the effort. It might be better off buried. It concerned the story of a grave digger who dug his own grave, but couldn’t bring himself to lie in it. A nice pick-me-up, you know?

Oh now I’ve piqued my own curiosity. Let’s get a taste, shall we? After all, it’s akin to literary grave robbing. Aha! The ten-year-old file was actually where it belonged. Here’s the opening paragraph from my unpublished, unloved short story “Restless with Phil”:

Death arrived Tuesday around noon. He started to introduce himself to Broxton, but the gravedigger hushed him. “I know who you are,” he said. “In my profession, you better know Death when you see him. But I would really rather call you Phil than by your proper name.” Death agreed to being called “Phil” and sat down beneath a nearby poplar and watched Broxton dig. Broxton dug for a long while. Death grew bored and passed the time by talking about the recent heatwave and how it had kept him busy much of last week with farm animals and the elderly and how the whole thing had really left him little time for recreation. When Broxton finally spoke, he asked Phil why, exactly, he’d chosen to sit under this tree, in this particular cemetery, if it was indeed recreation he sought.

If anyone’s interested in reading a story that goes absolutely nowhere, I can pass around copies. My adviser had some choice words about this piece of literature that would be enough to sway anyone from ever attending a creative writing program.

But back to Robert Wise’s The Body Snatcher.

The Story

Dr. Toddy McFarlane needs cadavers to practice newfangled surgeries. A student named Donald encourages Dr. Toddy to perform a miraculous procedure on a young girl (Tiny Tim in everything but name). Toddy promotes Donald to be his assistant and soon Donald starts to question where Toddy’s getting his parade of corpses. Toddy has, of course, been obtaining bodies from the local cabbie — because where else would you get dead people? Donald starts to ask questions about the legitimacy of this enterprise.

I enjoyed the tone and pacing. Boris Karloff’s brilliant turn as the unscrupulous “snatcher” keeps the entire enterprise afloat, but like most of these Dickensian-era grave-robber tales, I find them too mired in the period to be effective as moody shockers. The Burke and Hare story has become so well-trodden as cinematic fodder that it’s almost meta to reference the Burke and Hare murders in a story inspired by Burke and Hare.

As a result, I’m convinced there’s a more interesting story to tell here. Wise plays it entirely straight, and without any likable characters I found myself lacking anyone to care about in this tale. The righteous characters are willfully ignorant or insufferable and the evildoers are buffoons. We’re left with Karloff’s grave cabbie-turned-robber-turned-murderer as the heart of the production. As he’s merely the villain-in-name, Wise’s production under-serves this character in favor of the surgeons, aka the villains-in-subtext.

When you’re cheering on the offing of annoying minor characters (the blind street singer/Little Match Girl, for example), something’s gone slightly amiss in the execution.

Final Thoughts:

As the final cinematic pairing of Karloff and Lugosi (the latter’s role is minimal), The Body Snatchers has a built-in curiosity factor. The sight of either of these two actors on-screen elevates the film, but Wise naturally focuses on Daniell’s Doc and Wade’s assistant. There’s enough of Karloff’s brilliance to recommend a viewing, but I would expect viewers to be merely whelmed overall. I wanted something greater from a Lewton-Wise-Karloff-Lugosi production so perhaps expectations damned my enjoyment. So forget everything I just said and go in cold. Okay?

I know The Body Snatcher has it’s boosters, but it’s pretty far down on my Lewton list of favorites.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


 

Availability:  

val lewton collection

I watched The Body Snatcher from the Val Lewton Horror Collection. While the price of that little 9-film box set has soared to upwards of $100, you can still rent or purchase the individual Lewton films from Amazon for $3/$10. Of course if you want all 9 films it makes sense to just splurge for the OOP set because at least you’ll get physical copies of all the films rather than those digital thingamajobbers.


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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974) / #16. Eating Raoul (1982) / #17. Spellcaster (1988) / #18. House (1986) / #19. The Old Dark House (1932)

friday the 13th part 2

Friday the 13th Part 1 & 2

friday the 13th 1980 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Straight-up Shoulda Seen It Shame

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s

 


 

#10. Friday the 13th Part 1 (1980)

friday the 13th 1980 posterFriday the 13th appeared on my Cinema Shame Statement for 2017. I then took it off in favor of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. True to form, I waffled back over to Friday the 13th because I felt that this was the film and the franchise that I’d most inexplicably overlooked.

Cultural phenomenon. Horror icon. Omnipresent imagery. Yet I’d never bothered. I even played the old Friday the 13th Nintendo game.

The reasons? I’ll place blame on the desire to discover and watch more hidden gems. The American slasher genre exploded in the 1980’s. What was the fun in watching a movie everyone had already seen when there were hundreds of likeminded films with far lesser followings in need of a champion?

As I consumed mass amounts of horror in my high school years, I found myself drawn particularly to foreign horror. The Italian giallo films, especially. Where was the fun in calling up your friends in 1996 and saying “Guess what I just saw?! It was some little movie called Friday the 13th. Wanna come over and watch?”

This worked with Michele Soavi’s The Church. This worked with Lamberto Bava’s Demons. Peter Jackson’s Meet the Feebles. At the time many these films were not all that available and I used to order legal bootlegs from a company called Revok. (I think I still have my copy of Dellamorte Dellamore with Japanese subs laying around somewhere.)

meet the feebles poster

Obligatory inclusion of a Meet the Feebles poster in a bl-g post about Friday the 13th.

The cult of the *new* fueled my moviewatching. Truth be told — it still fuels my moviewatching habits. Hence the existence of Cinema Shame in the first place. Without Cinema Shame, I might continue to ignore these films and these franchises that everyone has seen.

And as a result of Friday the 13th‘s cultural omnipresence, I just felt like I’d seen this film a hundred times over in the hacks and imitators that sprung up in its wake. I watched a bunch of movies that were Friday the 13th in everything but name. At least now I’ve watched the “origin of the species” — and now I can talk about the film’s specific influence instead of waving my hand and saying something about all that “Jason stuff.”

This is progress. Thank you, Cinema Shame.

friday the 13th 1980

The Story

A bunch of kids go to Camp Crystal Lake to re-start a summer camp despite being warned by the lunatic locals that the damn place is cursed beyond all get out and they’re all going to die a grizzly death.

Just a bunch of kooky local flavor if you ask me. Except every five minutes or so another one of them does die so I guess the locals weren’t so kooky and playfully insane after all.

It’s the most basic of concepts — sexy teens, isolated location, rampaging killer — but it’s incredibly effective.

friday the 13th 31 days of horror

Despite my admiration for the film’s simplicity, my gut reaction remained “I’ve been here before.” I’ve seen this before. I’ve seen the evolution of this movie throughout the 1980’s and beyond. And I didn’t find Friday the 13th particularly scary. What I did find impressive, however, was film’s bravado when it came to showcasing cinematic bloodletting.

Straight out of the shoot, Friday the 13th executes two of its characters with abrupt and shocking scenes of practical gore. A slit throat. An arrow impalement. The camera unflinchingly frames these deaths front and center.

This is where the film excels. The practical gore effects and unsettling voyeurism. I found it lacking, however, in that the film makes such an effort to strike the horror chord so regularly, and so efficiently, that Friday the 13th feels like a spreadsheet. Every five minutes “the killer” punches his timecard, goes back on the clock, and a character is killed off or put in peril. As a direct result of this focus on horror elements, none of the characters ever really become known. They all remain faceless pawns in the film’s endgame.

I don’t expect a character study, but when relentless scenes of slashing bleed into each other that leaves no room for the characters to breathe and inhabit the screen as anything other than Slash-Test Dummies. We gain a measure of proximity to the “final girl” because she’s merely on-screen the longest.
friday the 13th 1980 31 days of horror

And in the end Friday the 13th isn’t doing anything wildly new. It’s repackaging a known commodity for a generation of teenagers that had become numb to big screen horrors anesthetized for their entertainment. Halloween updated tropes by bringing terror to suburban teenagers. And while John Carpenter’s film sold legitimate white-knuckle tension and masked most of the overt horror — Friday the 13th upped the ante. Minimal story, maximum horror.

Friday the 13th changed the way gore could be viewed at the mainstream cinema. Gore and practical effects would grow to be considered an art form. Low budget invention and creative workarounds. But it all depended upon your perspective. Back in 1980, Siskel and Ebert clearly disagreed. If nothing else I find this debate interesting. I respect and value their thoughts on the matter. While I think they’re missing the point, there’s plenty to think about here.

For the other side of this argument, the side that argues that there’s poetry in blood geysers, I present Chainsaw and Dave’s elaborate prank from Summer School. Maybe they’re not the best debaters, but they get their point across.

Final Thoughts:

My perspective on this film has been clouded. As a landmark even in film history, Friday the 13th occupies a place on the historical record. The film maintains the power to thrill — and even surprise. (Knowing the ending may have somewhat spoiled it for me.) If I’d seen the film in the 1980’s when it was still considered an elicit thrill, watching something parents had deemed verboten, I do not doubt that I would have been far more receptive to it’s dime-store pageantry of blood.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


friday the 13th part 2 31 days of horror

Nature Shame:
Straight-up Shoulda Seen It Shame

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1980’s
Franchise sequels

 


#10. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981)

 

I watched Part 1 so let’s keep this train rolling right on into Part 2, released just the next year to capitalize on the buzz.

Some weird part of me enjoys the deep dive into a succession of never ending sequels of generally decreasing value. After the origin story, you’re free to indulge in trash cinema in the name of completism! Whatever you call it — it’s just fun to watch a bunch of crap that doesn’t require much attention or thought sometimes.

There’s no better venue for such simple-minded moviewatching than 31 Days of Horror and the Hoop-tober Challenge. It’s basically homework. I’m doing this to complete my cinematic education.

Totally.

The Story

See above. No really.

Same camp:

friday the 13th 31 days of horror

 

New Kids on the Camp:

friday the 13th part 2

 

Their theme song:

FINE. So you don’t like the New Kids job intruding on your horror movies. FINE. BUT I LITERALLY DON’T HAVE ANYTHING NEW TO ADD TO THE STORY PART OF THIS BL-G POST. FINE. FINE.

In the interim year between Part 1 and Part 2, someone went and watched Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood, though. So we’ve got that going for us. First the double impalement scene in question from Friday the 13th Part 2:

friday the 13th double impalement

Now let’s take a look at the double impalement scene from Mario Bava’s early and highly formative giallo Bay of Blood:

bay of blood

I went from New Kids on the Block to Mario Bava in under 50 words.

top that

Right. So. I’ve heard tell of weirdos that kinda sorta enjoy Friday the 13th Part 2 more than Part 1. And I was like, “Whatever. They just want to say something weird to be different. Like those weirdos that try to tell me that Temple of Doom is better than Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pfft. Weirdos.

Part 2’s director Steve Miner clearly had a better handle on how to create tension than Sean S. Cunningham. Cunningham thought in high concepts. Test the boundaries of mainstream cinema, amplify the kill count, and foster constant dread every five minutes. Cunningham thought in nuts and bolts (which is why Cunningham likely excelled as a producer), whereas Steve Miner flashed a bit of on-screen directorial ability.

Steve Miner created dread in the gaps between kills so that by the time we’re down to our “final girl” Ginny (a rather terrific Amy Steele), the viewer has a sense that she’s an actual human and not a pawn in a someone’s low budget horror movie. Miner would go on to direct films I quite enjoy like House (1986) and Lake Placid (1999) whereas Sean S. Cunningham’s great post-Friday the 13th achievement would become The New Kids (1985), which I admit is an effective thriller starring Lori Laughlin.

I also admire how Friday the 13th Part 2 dares the audience to balk at its even greater transparency.

Sexy bits!

friday the 13th part 2 butt

Masked killer who only bothered to cut out one eyehole!

friday the 13th part 2

Decapitated heads on a table!

friday the 13th part 2

On the other hand, maybe it all just comes down to the fact that I had zero expectations for Friday the 13th Part 2 and I was pleasantly surprised at its competent (yet still rudimentary) retelling of virtually the same story. Or I just thought Amy Steele was pretty badass with a pitchfork.

friday the 13th part 2

Final Thoughts:

If you’re going to watch Friday the 13th, go deep. Hit that series and keep on going. These are by no means my favorite movies or even my favorite slashers but I’m in this for the Hoop-tober haul. Bring on Part 3. As soon as it arrives from Netflix.

30Hz Movie Rating:


 

Availability:  

friday the 13th dvd

I watched the good old fashioned DVD sent to me in the mail by Netflix DVD. Nothing seemed more 80’s than going to a movie store and renting a battered VHS tape from a low rack in the horror section. But we don’t have that opportunity nowadays, do we? The bastards took all our fun. So I settled for movie-by-mail and it lacks the same je ne sais quoi.


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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935) / #10. Friday the 13th (1980) / #11. Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) / #12. Body Snatcher (1945) / #13. Dismembered (1962) / #14. From Hell It Came (1957) / #15. Symptoms (1974)

the raven 1935

The Raven: 31 Days of Horror

the raven 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Long overdue for a rewatch Shame.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Pre-1970’s

 


 

#9. The Raven (1935)

the raven 1935 posterYou could transcribe, pretty much verbatim, the introduction to my prior #31DaysofHorror review about The Black Cat (1934) and place it right here for The Raven (1935).

Let’s go on a tangent instead. Tangents are often more interesting anyway.

I always meant to make a triple feature of this, Roger Corman’s The Raven (1963) and James McTeigue’s The Raven (2012) starring John Cusack. So wildly different in tone and form and yet all equally disinterested in adaptation. Instead of considering how they treat the material, you could study the ways in which they just don’t bother.

I’ve been guilty of judging films based on their adaptive muscle, but in many ways this falls back on lazy criticism. It’s a worthwhile exercise to throw shade on poor adaptation — but not adaptations that want nothing to do with adaptations to begin with.

Turning Poe’s poem into a full-length cinematic property approaches the definition of insanity. Marketing shorthand dictates that Poe has been a successful cinematic commodity, and therefore more Poe must be produced to make the dollars — but only a small segment of the population legitimately cares whether the film uses the original text. There’s a reason that three “adaptations” of The Raven exist and none of them approach the material earnestly.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
    While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
            Only this and nothing more.”

 

the raven 1935

The Story

David Boehm’s screenplay merges bits of Poe’s “The Raven” with “The Pit and the Pendulum” to spin a story about an eccentric millionaire surgeon Richard Vollin (Bela Lugosi) whose obsession with Edgar Allan Poe has turned him into a deranged torture-happy psychopath. I should clarify. The story contains a taxidermed raven and features a pendulum. Director Lew Landers populates his screen with familiar Poe imagery, but never actually attempts anything beyond face value association.

the raven bela lugosi

After Vollin saves a girl who had been injured in a car accident, he falls madly in love with her. When she rebukes his advances (she is engaged to be married after all), he makes associations with Poe’s “Lenore” and slips further into his Poe mania. He invites the girl, her father and her fiancé to his humble abode with the nefarious intentions of murdering them with his collection of torture devices.

I considered Karloff’s performance in The Black Cat to be one of the best of his career. In that film he plays a villain of quiet and calculating cruelty, yet the performance never lacked eccentricity. While I admire his work as Frankenstein’s monster and the Mummy, the prosthetics handicapped his performance. Watch The Black Cat or the Val Lewton-produced Body Snatchers (1945) and you can see Karloff’s full arsenal of talents and subtlety.

the raven 1935

Lugosi, on the other hand, lacked, shall we say, similar nuance. He never learned to mask his thick accent and therefore always found himself reduced to a narrow collection of put-upons and Balkan misfits. Dracula stands as the monument of his career. Restraint benefitted his characters. When a director managed to corral his enthusiasm for showy performance, Lugosi gave gold. And in this instance, Landers starved Lugosi until it was high time to commence scenery chewing.

In The Raven Karloff again finds himself hidden behind grotesque prosthetics (the fake eyeball is especially unnerving), and Lugosi benefits by slipping into the trousers of the brilliant but sociopathic doctor. Here he’s allowed to underplay Villon’s madness until it all comes pouring out during the film’s wild and eccentric ending. In a bit of a role reversal, Karloff becomes the put-upon assistant and Lugosi the proper, regal villain.

the raven boris karloff

The makeup effects on Karloff after the mad Doctor Lugosi has his way with him.

Landers competently handles the material he’s given, but contemporary reviews proved unkind.

From the New York Times on July 5th, 1935: “If The Raven is the best that Universal can do with one of the greatest horror story writers of all time, then it had better toss away the other two books in its library and stick to the pulpies for plot material.”

And this was not an isolated criticism. Most everyone it seemed still believed that studios should attempt to adapt Edgar Allan Poe. As has been proven time and time again, adapting Poe’s stories — which almost wholly belong to the realm of psychological terror — proves problematic. How does one convey internal terror in a commercially-viable film?

Let me answer that. One doesn’t. One borrows bits and bites and plays fan service. A black cat wandering. The shadow of a raven. Haunting echoes. Reciting a poignant line hither and thither. The palette holds only so many shades of black and grey.

Final Thoughts:

The Raven entertains by virtue of Lugosi’s potent performance. Landers presents the mad doctor’s torture devices statically and perhaps in the vein of a low-budget adventure serial, but his grasp of light and shadow make up for a lack of inventiveness with the camera. Despite a prolific career, Landers never emerged from B-film purgatory.

It’s always entertainment when Karloff and Lugosi get to share the screen as equals. The Raven works, not because it has any inclination towards adapting Poe, but because it doesn’t bother and lets Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff fill in the gaps.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

the bela lugost collection universal

The Raven (1935) is available on the Universal Bela Lugosi Franchise Collection. The set also features Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Invisible Ray, and Black Friday.


amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934) / #9. The Raven (1935)

 

The Black Cat: 31 Days of Horror

the black cat 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature Shame:
Long overdue for a rewatch shame.

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Pre-1970’s

 


 

#8. The Black Cat (1934)

the black cat 31 days of horrorThere’s a limitation to the kind of horror films I can watch while the wife goes to sleep. Silent are great. Gothic are good. Likewise for old Universals. “The bad” involve lots of screaming, slashing, and general gore.

Trust me when I say you don’t want your wife waking up and seeing eyeball stabbings on the television. She will not “just go to sleep” and she will not abide.

So when I was scanning some acceptable options to fulfill some #31DaysOfHorror requirements, I landed on the Universal Bela Lugosi Collection because it was there and likely contained few examples sonic protuberances and few eyeball stabbings.

I last watched The Black Cat when I wrote a term paper on the inability to properly translate Edgar Allan Poe to film during my freshman year at Emory University. To clarify, I suggested that the only way to properly translate Poe was through silent cinema. I cited Jean Epstein’s La chute de la maison Usher from 1928 as the pinnacle of cinematic Poe.

La chute de la maison Usher (1928)

A still from Epstein’s La chute de la maison Usher (1928)

I wish I still had a copy of that essay. I bet I could learn a thing or two from the obsessive research of 19-year-old me. Alas, I can merely recall fondly the dozens of hours I sat up watching every cinematic adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe. They were many. Few stood out as honest representatives of the text. The short list contained not The Black Cat.

The Story

“Based” on Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1934 The Black Cat concerns the scheming machinations between two psychologically scarred World War I veterans, Werdegast and Poelzig, played respectively by Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.

the black cat 1934

Here’s the maniacal backstory: Poelzig betrayed 10,000 of his men. He then built his gothic, shadowy mansion of excess over their mass grave. Werdegast, one of the battle’s survivors, has returned to the scene of the crime after 15 years of imprisonment to seek his revenge. It turns out that Poelzig also stole away Werdegast’s wife and daughter during his prison sentence, further fanning the flames of Werdegast’s fury. And then an innocent couple, mere vacationers, gets caught up as pawns in the duo’s sick and twisted bloodsport.

Ulmer’s direction embraces the supernatural and impressionistic elements of the palatial house itself as a main character in the drama. The elongated staircases, the madness contained within the visual bleakness of glass and cold steel. In many ways, the film reminded me of a reverse negative of the original German impressionists. Where there would have been shadow there was stark white. The collision of these dark themes and Poelzig’s vapid minimalism creates an imbalance in the viewer and a purgatorial mise en scene where lost souls congregate, one step away from hell itself.

Unless I’m utterly mistaken, the connection to Poe’s short story “The Black Cat” happens in the metaphorical connection between Poe’s black cat (that he walls up in the basement) and the 10,000 dead soldiers upon which Poelzig has built his house. The cat represents the human conscience, the regret that cannot be suffocated by time or tide or walls or floorboards.

The Black Cat (1934)

Meanwhile Ulmer relies on genre conventions to make the oddly weighty metaphor palatable for mass consumption. He presents Karloff’s Poelzig through the already established “mad scientist” trope. There’s a mute and cro-magnon man-servant. The innocent couple trapped in a situation beyond their control — which trades on the spooky house blueprint established in films such as The Old Dark House (1932), The Cat and the Canary (1929), etc.

Karloff, per his usual, turns in a terrific performance, but it’s the purposeful and restrained Lugosi that most surprises. As the two old warriors dance around each other, it almost feels as if The Black Cat is the most Universal horror of all the Universal horrors. Two masters of the genre facing off without makeup, without capes or monster trickery, within a house built of chiaroscuro and latent evil.

Audio/Visual notes:

The version included on the Lugosi collection could use some TLC. It’s hazy and without sharp contrast. It’s perfectly reasonable for a lesser Universal shocker, but The Black Cat deserves better. It deserves “monster” treatment. Far lesser films have been given a deluxe revitalization just because the title contained the name “Frankenstein.”

Final Thoughts:

Whether you view The Black Cat with an eye toward genre or an eye toward the symbolic placement of World War I and the failure of humanity there’s something for everyone in the family! It’s only when the appreciation of the two schools come together into a melange of respect and kitschy thrills that you’ll mine The Black Cat for all it’s worth. It’s not a successful Poe translation, but it is effective at using Poe’s text as an inspiration for something completely other.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 


Availability:  

the bela lugost collection universal

The Black Cat (1934) is available on the Universal Bela Lugosi Franchise Collection. The set also features Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Raven, The Invisible Ray, and Black Friday.


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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936) / #3. The Velvet Vampire (1971) / #4. Mill of the Stone Women (1960) / #5. The Initiation (1984) / #6. Poltergeist (1982) / #7. Night of the Lepus (1972) / #8. The Black Cat (1934)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

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