Day 24 – Frankenstein 1970 (1958)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2In between Boris Karloff’s two films for Amalgamated Pictures, he signed a three-picture deal with producers Howard W. Koch and Aubrey Schenick. They were the duo behind the disappointing Voodoo Island and they already had one picture lined up and ready for Karloff, entitled Frankenstein 1975. Although he had vowed never to do a Frankenstein film again, he agreed as this time was finally able to play Dr. Frankenstein. Well, a descendent of the original doctor anyway.

Frankenstein 1970, the title upon which it was eventually released, has Karloff playing the disfigured Baron Victor Von Frankenstein. He was tortured by the Nazis during World War II, leaving him with a definite limp while walking, a twisted body and scarred face. But his hands were never touched as they needed him to continue to perform their scientific experiments. He survived and now all he wants to do is continue the work of his ancestor and create a man and bring him to life. However, funds are low and, needing an atomic reactor to complete his work, he must rent out his castle to a Hollywood studio so they can film a low budget horror movie.Franenstein 1970 poster

The movie crew is full of the usual clichés. There is the director who has eyes for his young starlet while his seething wife sulks off in the distance. The starlet is kind and naïve, showing attention to Frankenstein’s butler, which only serves to upset the good doctor has he has eyes for her. He longs for his younger and normal face, which we see a picture of courtesy of an old publicity picture of Karloff. The doctor needs body parts to finish his experiment so, one by one, people disappear. The director begins to suspect something is going on but can he convince the police in time to stop the doctor and his mad creation?

Visually, Frankenstein 1970 is actually stunning at times. It was filmed on the leftover set of Too Much, Too Soon, a biographical pic on the life of Diana Barrymore, daughter of famed actor John Barrymore. It enhances the movie far beyond the rather lackluster script. The laboratory isn’t as exciting as what Universal offered us but it is better than you might expect. Karloff is convincing at times as the mad scientist but he appears to be walking through the film. However, even when Karloff phones in a performance it still looks and sounds great. However, the rest of the cast is forgettable.

Frankenstein 1And what about the monster? Well, the producers cheated because we never really see the monster. He’s wrapped up like a mummy the entire film, only having its face revealed at the very end. I won’t give it away but suffice to say, it was cheesy rather than shocking. The monster was played by a rather large professional wrestler of the day, yet doesn’t do much more than stumble around once he finally gets off the slab.

I liked Frankenstein 1970 well enough. Not a great film but Karloff did worse. It looks great, having finally been released in widescreen as part of the Karloff and Lugosi Horror Classics box set. Watch the trailer and you’ll get a definite 1950 drive-in feel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Karloff did have a few better films on the horizon but, as we begin to near the twilight of his career, there are some real tough ones coming up in the days ahead as well.

Monster Movie Kid Will Be At Free State Comicon This Weekend!

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Tomorrow, October 25, I will be a guest at the 9th Annual Free State Comicon in Lawrence, KS. If you would have told me two years ago what I would be doing in 2014, I would have laughed at you. But, amazing things are happening here at Monster Movie Kid Central. This is thanks in large part to Joel Sanderson, the creative force behind Gunther Dedmund and The Basement Sublet of Horror.Free State Comicon

After years of entertaining horror movie fans both locally and throughout the United States through various television stations and that little thing called the internet, Joel has begun to expand the basement. Last year, he launched a new comic book series with issue #2 making its’ debut at this year’s Free State Comicon. He is also launching a new Basement Sublet of Horror magazine with the first two issues being available this weekend. Yours truly has three articles in the first two issues and there will be more to come in 2015. In fact, work is underway for some exciting projects that will lead to some incredible articles. Stay tuned monster movie kids!

BSOH Magazine Issue 1The Free State Comicon is an annual event from Kansas City Fan Conventions that supports local artists and writers, such as myself, while gathering fans together for a day of fun. Vendors will be spreading the word about their creations and there will be a ton of merchandise for comic book lovers and genre fans alike. Director Craig Klotz is expecting a record attendance as the weather will be fantastic and with Halloween right around the corner, this is a great event for big kids and little kids alike.

Be sure to check out this great article about the event from The University Daily Kansan where I am graciously mentioned as one of the guests. There will be a lot of great talent there and I am quite lucky to among the guest list.BSOH Comic 2

If you are in the Lawrence area, you have no excuse but to check out the Free State Comicon on Saturday, October 25, at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2110 Harper Street, Building #21. Admission is only $5, children 12 and under are free, and the doors are open from 10 am to 5 pm. A tremendous amount of talent will be there just waiting to meet you. I hope to see you there!

Day 23 – Corridors of Blood (1958)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2Boris Karloff was impressed with director Robert Day while working on The Haunted Strangler. He felt Day had the same stylistic approach to filmmaking that Val Lewton did, which Karloff believed were some of his best films in the 1940s. His contract with Amalgamated Pictures gave him an option for a second film, so with a desire to return to England in the summer of 1958, Karloff signed on for The Doctor from Seven Dials, better known in the US as Corridors of Blood.

Despite the fact that horror films were experiencing a resurgence, thanks in large part to the success of Hammer Films, Robert Day was intentionally not resorting to shock factor in his films. The horror elements were more reserved. Corridors of Blood would have Karloff playing Dr. Thomas Bolton, a surgeon in 1840s England researching anesthetic gases that would provide painless surgery. While working at the hospital performing surgeries, he does charity work at a clinic in Seven Dials, a slum where a disreputable character named Black Ben owns an inn that some men enter but never leave. Ben works with his wife, an attractive young girl and his henchman Resurrection Joe (Christopher Lee, Horror of Dracula) to rob poor unsuspecting men after they are left drunk and helpless. Dr. Bolton is tricked into signing a death certificate, an act that opens the door to bigger troubles down the road.Corridors of Blood poster

Dr. Bolton begins to obsess about finding the right mixture, especially after his trial demonstration turns him into a mockery. As he continues to experiment on himself, he begins to spiral into addiction, leaving him easy prey for Black Ben. When Dr. Bolton accidently leaves behind his research notes during a drug-induced excursion, he is blackmailed into signing falsified more death certificates to help cover up the murders Ben and his crew are piling up. When the hospital suspends Dr. Bolton as it becomes obvious he needs a rest, the situation becomes desperate and forces him to resort to even more questionable means in the name of science.

Corridors of Blood 1Karloff never resorts to playing Dr. Bolton as a typical mad scientist. In fact, he really is a more sympathetic man as he never resorts to criminal activities until he is already addicted and murder never even crosses his mind. It’s almost hard to consider Corridors of Blood a horror film as it really is more suspense and thriller. The supporting cast is good but its’ most fun seeing Christopher Lee in the first of two films he would star alongside Karloff. While Resurrection Joe doesn’t do much, he is perhaps one of the scariest aspects of the film. Coming fresh off his role of the monster in Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Lee is given special star status in the opening credits, a sign of even better roles to come in the years ahead.

While The Haunted Strangler was paired with the equally good Fiend Without A Face as part of a double bill when MGM released it in the United States, Corridors of Blood didn’t do as well. The Haunted Strangler had turned a profit of $140,000 but Corridors of Blood was ultimately shelved for four years due to various changes at MGM Studios. When it was finally released in 1962, it was paired with the lesser Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory. Making only a small profit of $14,000, it was a financial disappointment and the last film from Amalgamated Pictures.Corridors of Blood 2

On several levels, Corridors of Blood is the better of the two films, telling a better and more believable story but I do enjoy both films equally. I’ve never seen director Robert Day’s film First Man into Space (1959) but now my curiosity has me wanting to check it out. Unknowingly, I’ve already seen some of his other work as he did four Tarzan films as well as the rather notorious Hammer film She (1965). I’d recommend Corridors of Blood so check out the trailer and seek out the Monster and Madmen box set.

Next up, we’ll take a look at the movie Karloff did between his two for Amalgamated…Frankenstein 1970 (1958).

Day 22 – The Haunted Strangler (1958)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2As the decade of the 1950s was coming to a close, horror films were ready for their resurgence. Hammer was returning them to prominence with new stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee leading the charge. Boris Karloff had made only one recent dip into the horror pool with the disappointing Voodoo Island. However, in 1958, he was ready for a whole new generation with The Haunted Strangler (aka Grip of the Strangler).

Boris Karloff’s friend Jan Read had written a script entitled Stranglehold and given it to producer Richard Gordon (Fiend Without A Face, Island of Terror). Gordon had wanted to make a film in England for some time and saw this as the perfect film in which to start a new film company, Amalgamated Productions. Gordon brought in writer John Croydon to rework the script so that the killer was like Jack The Ripper. With director Robert Day (First Man Into Space) on board, Karloff was soon signed and filming was underway.

As The Haunted Strangler begins, a man, Edward Styles, is convicted of the crime of killing five women and is hanged in front of a rather bloodthirsty crowd. As his body is placed in the coffin, we see a hand casually throw in a knife. Then, at the graveside, we see an individual pass out as the body is being lowered into the grave. We move forward twenty years as we see Boris Karloff, who stars as James Rankin, a writer who begins researching the killer, now better known as the Haymarket Strangler. He believes Styles was innocent and begins to unravel the mystery. We are witness the sleazy world of can-can dancers and the prison where Styles was hanged. Once he manages to pay off a guard and get to the body of the killer, he digs up the coffin and discovers the knife. Once in his hands, we see Rankin transform, his left hand becomes twisted and his face distorted. He goes on a murderous rampage, almost turning into a Jekyll and Hyde persona. Is Rankin really the killer or is it all in his mind?The Haunted Strangler poster

Director Robert Day handles what could have been a throwaway effort with masterful style. Karloff turns in a much better performance here than he did with Voodoo Island. We see a man tortured by his past and physically altered, seemingly before our eyes. Yet, it is done not with makeup but through Karloff’s acting abilities. The only physical thing Karloff did was to remove his dentures as he transformed into the killer, helping his face appear distorted. The effect works, if not a little cheesy, and helps us believe Rankin really is the Haymarket Strangler.

The Haunted Strangler 1There are some elements in The Haunted Strangler not seen in previous Karloff films. The can-can dancers certainly flash a little leg and there is one close-up of a woman’s breasts as wine is splashed upon them. Clearly, people were noticing what Hammer was doing and the influence had already taken place by 1958. These factors do not deter from the film at all.

I first discovered The Haunted Strangler many years ago through a random VHS purchase and was pleasantly surprised. Criterion released it as part of a four movie set called Monsters and Madmen. It also seems readily available on YouTube. Enjoy the trailer as this is another to add to your collection. Next up, we jump ahead to look at Karloff’s other film for Amalgamated, Corridors of Blood, which pairs the legend with the new kid on the block, Christopher Lee.

Day 21 – Voodoo Island (1957)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2The 1950s saw Boris Karloff take on a lot of television work including the starring role in Col. March of Scotland Yard as well as the host and sometimes star of the unaired anthology series The Veil. In 1957, he would return to genre that treated him so well in Voodoo Island, a rather forgettable flick which had Karloff taking on the role of a pessimist and non-believer for once.

Karloff is a myth buster by the name of Phillip Knight who is hired by hotel magnate Owen Cunningham to check out a mysterious island. He had sent several men to survey it as a possible future hotel location but only one man returned, turned into a zombie. So Knight and a group of adventurers including the icy Sarah Adams (Beverly Tyler), the stereotypical horny male Matthew Gunn (Rhodes Reason, King Kong Escapes), the untrustworthy Martin Schuyler (Elisha Cook, The Haunted Palace, Messiah of Evil) and Claire Winter (Jean Engstrom), who has an eye only for young Sarah, head to the island to investigate. With their boat broken upon arrival, they head out to the jungle but all they find is an island is full of man-eating plants, natives and voodoo worshippers. With no plane, no boat and no motor car, things don’t look to good for our castaways.Voodoo Island poster

As far as horror films go, this may have been the first time that Karloff starred in something that was clearly beneath him. There are certainly worse movies out there but what really hurts this film is the nonsense that permeates throughout the plot. First, the island is in the south Pacific, which I’m fairly certain is not voodoo central. The man-eating plants look incredibly cheap and laughable (think Bride of the Monster). How quickly the icy Sarah warms up to Gunn is way too predictable. And isn’t it amazing how she is able to change her hairstyle in a flash to make herself more attractive. And isn’t it equally funny how quickly the natives decide everything is okay after they eliminate the money hungry Schuyler?

Voodoo Island 1Karloff does take on a very different role here. Rather than being a mad scientist bent on conquering the world with a race of killer plants or seeking out the mysteries of voodoo, he doubts everything or approaches it scientifically, almost to a fault. This is really the first film in which he plays a fairly sane character in a then modern setting. Too bad Voodoo Island didn’t have more going for it. About the only plotline of note is that of the obvious lesbian character Claire Winter. It was kind of surprising how it got past the executives and censors of the day but refreshing to see all the same.

I can’t really recommend Voodoo Island. However, the picture is sharp and clear. All the better to see how disappointing this flick really is. Catch the trailer and decide for yourself. You can still track it down as part of the MGM Double Feature DVD alongside the much better Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.

 

 

Day 20 – The Black Castle (1952)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2In 1952, Boris Karloff would star in the second film as part of his three picture deal with Universal. The Black Castle would see Karloff get second billing behind Richard Greene, who is perhaps best remembered for his 143 episodes of the television The Adventures of Robin Hood in which he had the starring role. Again, Karloff’s high billing was misleading as he really was only a supporting character. But, Karloff was happy for the lighter film schedule as he continued to also keep himself busy with radio and television appearances as well as traveling with his fifth wife Evelyn, whom he would be married to for nearly 23 years until his death in 1969.

In The Black Castle, Sir Ronald Burton (Richard Greene) travels to Austria hoping to find out what happened to his two friends while they were visiting the sinister Count Karl von Bruno (Stephen McNally, Winchester ’73). Von Bruno is actually seeking revenge against the men who are responsible for setting some wild natives upon him in Africa, costing him his right eye. Von Bruno is married to Countess Elga (Paula Corday, The Body Snatcher), a marriage she had forced upon her. Wild animals and death traps lurk at every corner as Sir Ronald seeks vengeance while also trying to escape with his life and that of the woman he has fallen in love with, Countess Elga.The Black Castle poster

Karloff stars as Dr. Meissen, personal physician to the Count. However, his loyalties are with Countess Elga as he ultimately sees what an evil man the Count really is. His medicinal knowledge plays a key role in the final plot twist which involves premature burial. The role of Dr. Meissen is actually smaller than that of Voltan in The Strange Door. He is once again playing the part of the hero, which is certainly against type considering what he had been doing for the previous 20 years or so in Hollywood.

The Black Castle would mark only the second time Karloff worked with Lon Chaney Jr. Their first film together, House of Frankenstein (1944), would see both actors in an equal role. However, by 1952, Lon Chaney’s star status had slipped dramatically due in large part to his alcoholism. Here, Lon Chaney plays the mute Gargon, a brute who meets a rather unfortunate end.The Black Castle 1

Sharps eyes will recognize Michael Pate, who stars here as Count Ernst von Melcher. He was also in The Strange Door as Talon. Sci-fi fans might also recognize John Hoyt as Count Steiken. He was the first doctor on the television series Star Trek, playing Dr. Philip Boyce in the pilot episode “The Cage.”

The Black Castle 2Visually, The Black Castle surpasses The Strange Door, due in large part to producer William Alland. He would find even greater success two years later with Creature from the Black Lagoon. I find both movies have a lot of similarities, mostly to the gothic settings and expansive sets. I would lean a little more towards The Strange Door because of Charles Laughton’s performance. Karloff’s roles in both films are mostly interchangeable but he fairs better in The Strange Door. Both films are part of the Boris Karloff Collection and well worth your time.

Karloff would complete his Universal contract with Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1953). He would spend a lot of time over the next several years on television as well as some rather poor film appearances (The Island Monster, not a horror flick, and Sabaka) before returning to the horror genre. Tomorrow, we’ll see what’s happening on Voodoo Island (1957).

Day 19 – The Strange Door (1951)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2Following his three films with Val Lewton, Boris Karloff spent the late 1940s and early 1950s fluctuating from stage to radio to TV and back to Hollywood. Cameo roles in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) and Lured (1947) saw him do his usual menacing role with a bit of humor. He entered the world of Dick Tracy and shared the laughs alongside Abbott and Costello twice. He also stepped into the new realm of television on such programs as Lights Out and Tales of Tomorrow. He also managed to bring his character of Jonathan Brewster to the visual medium in a 1949 television performance of Arsenic and Old Lace. However, in 1951, he found himself home once again at Universal Pictures with The Strange Door.

The film is based on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, The Sire de Maletroit’s Door, and is more gothic thriller than horror. The real star is Charles Laughton (The Old Dark House) as Alain, the Sire de Maletroit, an evil and sadistic man who is seeking revenge on his brother for stealing his childhood sweetheart. Now, with his brother imprisoned in a dungeon, he plots to marry off his niece Blanche de Maletroit (Sally Forest, Son of Sinbad) to the seemingly worthless Denis de Beaulieu (Richard Stapley). He then plans to kill them both after they marry, all to hurt his brother but will his madness be his ultimate undoing?The Strange Door poster

Viewers were probably disappointed upon watching The Strange Door if they were expecting to see Boris Karloff in a big role. Posters made it seem like he had a starring role when, in reality, he was a mere supporting character. He plays Voltan, faithful servant to Alain’s brother Edmond. Having watched The Strange Door one day after Bedlam, I was a taken aback by how much older Karloff looked. Five years had passed and his back continued to plague him. It was also a little sad to see him in such a small role but this was part of his new deal with Universal as he wanted only smaller roles with less commitment. Karloff does everything he can to enhance the character of Voltan through his sympathetic performance. Not Karloff’s best work but he does ultimately play the part of hero as he battles Laughton on a bridge over a water wheel, which looks amazing thanks to a tremendous set.

The Strange Door 1Aside from Karloff’s small role, The Strange Door is actually a very good movie. The period setting enhances the story rather than limiting it. The sets are stunning as only Universal could do. By 1951, the horror era was over but Universal would continue to work their magic throughout the 1950s, occasionally producing a fun horror film while bringing in new elements of science fiction. The Strange Door is often overlooked but I recommend it as it’s entertaining and very well done. Watch the clip and be sure to add The Boris Karloff Collection to your must watch list.