Black Pit of Dr. M (1959) is a Wonderfully Creepy Mexican Horror Classic

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BPODM 1It’s always fun to take a stroll down Mexican Horror Film Lane. It isn’t a place that I go too often but whenever I visit, I’m always discovering something new. Sometimes, the visit is filled with the odd and bizarre, other times it’s like I stumbled upon a lost Universal horror classic. Such is the case with The Black Pit of Dr. M (1959) aka Misterios de Ultratumba, a flick just oozing with atmosphere that could easily fit as if it had come from the legendary Universal studios.

First, a big part of any good Mexican horror movie is the imagery. From the very first few frames, we gaze upon an old house filled with cobwebs and neglect. The narrator explains that this is the site of something horrible and shocking. We are taken back to witness the death of Dr. Aldama, who makes a deathbed promise to Dr. Mazali that he will fulfill their pact. Both men swore to the other that whoever died first would return to share the secrets of the afterlife. After Aldama is buried in a graveyard that seemed straight out of Frankenstein (1931), Mazali then conducts a séance to summon Aldama back to Earth. It turns out that Mazali can experience the afterlife but it will cost him greatly. What follows is a tale that involves an asylum, crazy patients breaking loose, a hideously disfigured madman and unrequited love.

What truly makes The Black Pit of Dr. M enjoyable is the overall appearance of the film and the strong performances. Rafael Betrand turns in a wonderful role as Dr. Mazali. He is also known for starring in the last film of Boris Karloff’s career, The Isle of the Snake People (1971). Of course, no horror movie is complete without the femme fatale, Mapita Cortes, who stars as Patricia Aldama. Director Fernando Mendez isn’t a household name but he clearly understands the genre as he masterfully commands the lighting and use of shadows to elevate the film beyond what many others were simply cranking out at this time.BPODM 2

For many years, The Black Pit of Dr. M was impossible to find. In fact, the English dubbed version is still considered lost. Thankfully, Casa Negra released this film on DVD in 2006, looking as great as it ever would have in 1959, if not better. This only adds to one’s depression that Casa Negra has since folded, leaving many other Mexican horror classics unrestored and unreleased, only to be forgotten in some dusty old film library. It is now out-of-print but can still be found at a reasonable price from various sellers. It is also available to rent on You Tube.

Check out the trailer and prepare yourself to be surprised. Also, be sure to listen to episode 299 of the B-Movie Cast with Vince and all of the gang as they review and discuss this classic.BPODM 3

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) is a Gothic Romance with a Vampiric Twist

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Assuming we all agree that vampires exist, we know that not every vampire goes around saying “I want to suck your blood” nor are they bloodthirsty savages. Sometimes, they are trapped in their existence, struggling to survive day-to-day. Searching for blood without taking a human life is a challenge in this modern day where everyone is constantly connected virtually and cameras capture our every movement. It can lead to depression for vampires and isn’t quite the glamourous life Hollywood makes it out to be. That is the background to the main story director Jim Jarmusch presents in Only Lovers Left Alive (2013).OLLA poster

The main vampire of the flick is Adam (Tom Hiddleston, Thor), a musician who has become a recluse, living in a rundown home in Detroit. He is off the grid as he powers it with energy sources he learned from Nikola Tesla. He hates the modern world and the people in it, referring to them as zombies. His countless centuries have left him depressed at the downfall of mankind. He travels to a local hospital at night posing as a doctor so he can get his supply of blood from Dr. Watson (Jeffrey Wright, Quantum of Solace). He enjoys a mysterious celebrity status for his music, occasionally seeing fans walking up to his door seeking him out. His only friend in the real world is Ian (Anton Yelchin, Star Trek), who brings him guitars and musical equipment.

OLLA 2Adam is contemplating suicide and asks Ian to find someone who can create a wooden bullet. He claims it is for a project but he actually plans to kill himself. Just as he is ready to do it, he receives a video phone call from his wife Eve (Tilda Swinton, Snowpiercer). Eve lives in Tangiers, lurking in the shadows and getting her blood supply from a fellow vampire named Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt, Alien). Eve travels to Detroit in hopes of saving Adam. Upon her arrival, they rekindle their love and passion for each other. The veil of darkness over Adam is lifted…until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska, Alice in Wonderland) arrives. Ava is young without control and their peaceful existence is rapidly pushed aside as their lives soon spiral out of control.

Blood and gore play a very little part to the story behind Only Lovers Left Alive. In fact, vampire fangs are almost entirely absent. The true story here is the gothic romance between Adam and Eve (intentionally symbolic names). The film is almost entirely set at night, adding a mysterious shroud over the film full of atmospheric clichés that truly work here. Seeing Hiddleston in a role other than Loki is great as he embodies the character of Adam. Swinton offers up her usual otherworldly charm while Hurt puts in an understated performance. Wasikowska does well in her role as the annoying and troublesome Ava. A small but very talented cast bring what is a simple story to life.OLLA 3

The final piece to the cinematic puzzle is the music behind the film. From Adam’s musical creations to the haunting song performed by the street singer Yasmine in Tangiers, it helps this film stand out amongst other vampire films. The singer is Yasmine Hamdan, an accomplished musician easily found on YouTube. Check out her music and you’ll be drawn into another world.

OLLA John HurtWe’ve seen just about everything we can when it comes to vampires, so when something this fresh and different comes along, it’s worth recognizing. Only Lovers Left Alive was recently available through On Demand and released on home video. Check out the trailer and seek out this unique film. It’s one of my personal favorites of the year and I highly recommend it.OLLA 1

Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem (2013) is a Visual Feast

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You know going into a Terry Gilliam film, the experience is going to be unique. The Monty Python star-turned-director of such classics as Time Bandits (1981), Brazil (1985) and 12 Monkeys (1995) takes on another look at a dystopian future with his latest, The Zero Theorem (2013). With two-time Academy Award-winning actor Christoph Waltz (2009s Inglourious Basterds and 1012s Django Unchained) heading up the cast, you know the ride is going to be a special one.ZERO poster

Waltz stars as Qohen Leth, a computer programmer who works for a company called Mancom. He has been waiting for a mysterious phone call while questioning his existence. He hates to leave his home (an abandoned church) because of the world in which he lives is surrounded by advertisements and sensory overload. He wants to be assigned to home duty but instead is given virtual therapy sessions with Dr. Shrink-Rom (Tilda Swinton, The Chronicles of Narnia). He wants to meet with management (Matt Damon, Elysium), which may or may not have eventually happened, depending on how you take the events of the film.

ZERO 1At a company party, Qohen meets Bainsley (the enchanting Melanie Thierry) who appears to have feelings for Qohen but isn’t quite whom she claims to be. After Qohen is assigned solve the Zero Theorem, a mathematical formula that may hold the meaning to life, he begins working with Bob (Lucas Hedges), management’s son. His life begins to spiral out of control as he ignores the outside world, hiding within the confines of his home and maddening work. Why is management watching him? Is Dr. Shrink-Rom really trying to help Qohen?

If you’ve never seen a Terry Gilliam film, then you are in for a treat as long as you go in with the right expectations. There are so many visuals to take in while watching the film, it requires multiple viewings. The musical score from British composer George Fenton (Planet Earth) is haunting and greatly enhances the experience. Waltz puts in an amazing performance, every bit as great as his Academy-Award winning films but less likely to earn him any mainstream recognition. Gilliam offers up films that are a far cry from the usual Hollywood fare. Enhancing the film with brief appearances by Damon and Swinton adds to a complete package that is unique and hard to honestly describe.Still from Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem

With all of that said, I really enjoyed it. Not my usual type of film and one that I really needed to be in the mood for. Thankfully, I was in the right state of mind to enjoy it. The Zero Theorem is currently making the rounds through On Demand services and streaming services such as Amazon and iTunes. However, there is no North American home video release date yet. As you start searching for it, watch the trailer to get a glimpse of the journey that awaits you. I recommend you check it out however you can.ZERO Matt Damon

Monster Movie Kid Headed To Print and the Free State Comicon

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It’s hard to believe but this blog is almost two years old. Back in October 2012, I launched this site as a way to ramble on about movies and the occasional thought on comics or TV. However, my first two articles actually appeared somewhere else, the B Movie Man website. This site is ran by Nic Brown, author of the Werewolf for Hire series and co-host of the B Movie Cast. His generosity inspired me to write more. Now, more than two years later, these articles are being revived in print.Free State Comicon

Several years ago, I made the acquaintance of Joel Sanderson, better known to some as Gunther Dedmund, the host of The Basement Sublet of Horror, broadcast in Lawrence, KS and around the world via the internet. He was the man behind my first article on the long-lost but not forgotten flick, The Beast from the Beginning of Time. Several months ago, he reached out to me as he was interested in printing these articles, along with another I wrote about the Joyland amusement park in Wichita. He is starting up a new horror magazine called The Basement Sublet of Horror, inspired by his TV show. The first two issues will be let loose upon the monster community on October 25 at the Free State Comicon in Lawrence, KS. And readers, want to know the cool part? Yours truly has been invited to be a guest.

GuntherI’m honored that Joel worked some magic to have me there. I am just someone with a blog rambling on about movies and such. But it is this passion about what we do that makes me love the community we all reside in. To the left is Monster Boulevard and to the right is Comic Book Court. Straight ahead is Writer’s Row and over there is Flicker Alley. And in the center is the town square where all roads merge and we have opportunities to spend time together at events like Free State Comicon. If you happen to be in the Lawrence area on October 25, you now know where you gotta be!

Take the time to check out Joel’s site. Besides the upcoming first two issues of The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine, he is also ready to unveil the second issue of a great old school horror comic. And yes, there is already work on upcoming issues of the magazine in which I will be a part.Karloff

Thanks everyone for taking the time to check out this site and hanging with me while I took some time off this past spring and summer. Now that I am in Kansas City, I’m at the center of a lot of cool things. As I continue to get settled in, there are so many theaters waiting for me to explore and cool events just luring me in. I’ve got some great reviews lined up for September and yes, the 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween is less than a month away!

Godzilla (2014) Leaves Room for Improvement in Sequel

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It was just last year in mid-December before I could claim that I had seen all 28 Godzilla films. Okay, 29 films if we count that flick released in 1998. It was a journey dating back to a Sunday afternoon in the mid-70s when I first watched King Kong vs. Godzilla. There were highs and lows but I enjoyed every minute of it. This past May, Godzilla returned to the big screen for his official 30th film during the 60th anniversary of the franchise. At the time, this blogger was taking a break. But I was still going to the movies and I was there opening weekend. So, my series on Godzilla isn’t complete until I offer up my thoughts on the latest film.Godzilla_(2014)_poster

First, I’ll get it out of the way…I liked it. Godzilla (2014) is not my favorite film of the franchise but nor is it my least favorite. It has plenty of good going for it but there are some glaring negatives that can’t be ignored. Director Gareth Edwards had previously given us Monsters (2010), a very fun film that I highly recommend. So, he knows how to put together a monster movie. The movie does play around with the origin of Godzilla but I’m okay with that. It handles it in a way that is okay and really didn’t bother me like I know it did some people.

Our movie starts out in 1954 and we witness a secret nuclear test. A bomb with a monster symbol on it is launched just as we see what appears to be a giant creature emerging from the sea. Then, we flash forward to 1999 where scientists are investigating a giant skeleton in a Philippian mine. Next to it are two giant eggs, one unhatched while the other is broken. It appears that one has escaped the mine. Meanwhile, in Japan, a nuclear power plant is investigating strange seismic activity. Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad) sends his wife Sandra into the reactor to investigate. Suddenly, the reactor is breached and radioactivity is released, killing Sandra and the other technicians. Everyone is evacuated as the plant begins to melt down and explode.

Godzila preFifteen years later, Joe is a mental and emotional wreck, hell bent on proving something was behind the plant disaster. His son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass) is now in the Navy and growing weary of bailing his estranged father out of jail. Joe knows there is a cover-up and returns to Japan for answers. There, he and his son discover the plant is active again just before getting arrested. Their timing coincides with another incident as a giant winged creature attacks the plant, ultimately killing Joe. The creature is classified as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) and Ford finds himself in the center of a mission to destroy it. It turns out this is one of two from the eggs in the Philippian mine. This triggers the return of Godzilla, who we discover was the monster the military tried to kill in 1954 (a homage to the events of the first and original film). With the monsters set to clash and the military desperate to save everyone, our battleground is set.Godzilla 1

Godzilla offers up some great battle sequences. The scene where Godzilla first breathes fire is iconic. The MUTO does closely resemble the Cloverfield monster but, that aside, it is a great design. While the new design for Godzilla is not my favorite (yes, I agree his head is too small), he is still better than some of the goofier and more campy designs we’ve seen before. So, again, not the best but not the worst. I do like how we have a slow build-up to Godzilla’s arrival on screen. However, it would have been nice to see more of the battles and a little less of Ford’s character. His wife, Ellie (Elizabeth Olson, Avengers: Age of Ultron) also didn’t serve much of a purpose. Who I wanted to see more of was Joe and Dr. Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, Inception). His line, “Let them fight”, really symbolized what many people wanted.

Godzilla 2While I agree that we needed more Godzilla in this movie, I disagree with many fans who disliked the movie. As I stated earlier, I enjoyed it. Yes, it could have been better but let’s not forget 1998. It could have been much worse. It was a box office success and a sequel has been announced for June 8, 2018. With the announcement from Gareth Edwards that Legendary Pictures has licensed Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah from Toho Pictures, it is leaving many of us Godzilla fans hopeful that the sequel will offer up more of what we really want to see.Godzilla 3

Godzilla is definitely worth checking out. Watch the trailer now and buy the movie to add to your collection when it is released on September 16.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) Ends Our Journey Through The Apes Universe

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DOTPOTAIt all started with a novel written in 1963. We’ve journeyed through five theatrical films, two TV series, a misguided attempt to reboot the franchise and then, the true reboot in 2011. Now, this past summer, after we witnessed the rise of the apes, it was time for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

With a good story and solid CGI, it was no surprise that a sequel was announced for Rise of the Planet of the Apes. With the ALZ virus spreading at the end of that film, we were left to wonder if this was the apocalyptic moment of this franchise. Indeed it was. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes begins ten years after mankind’s civilization has collapsed. Caesar (once again played brilliantly by Andy Serkis) now leads a small society of apes in the Muir Woods, his refuge from the first film. Koba is his second-in-command and is looking for a more aggressive way to lead while orangutan Maurice is still providing words of wisdom for Caesar. Caesar is now married to Cornelia and has a son, Blue Eyes. Our film opens with Blue Eyes and another chimpanzee, Ash, encountering a human in the forest named Carver (Kirk Acevedo, Fringe), who panics and shoots Ash. Carver quickly reunites with his friends while Blue Eyes gets his father and the apes. Caesar asks them to leave and they do. After not seeing or hearing from humans for years, it appears some have survived and could be a threat to their peaceful existence.DOTPOTA 1

The survivors were immune to the ALZ virus and are struggling in the remains of San Francisco. They need electricity and believe a water plant in the forest could provide just that. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Dark Knight) is the war mongering leader of this ragtag group while Malcolm (Jason Clarke, the upcoming Terminator: Genisys) and his wife Ellie (Keri Russell, Dark Skies) are heading up the group that wants to go into the forest to restore power. However, Caesar leads a large group of apes into the city and warns the humans to stay away. Most of the humans are shocked and scared to hear him speak but Malcolm wants another chance to earn the apes trust. Dreyfus gives him three days, during which time he is arming the humans and preparing for war.

Malcolm earns the trust of Caesar, especially after Ellie helps his ailing wife following the birth of their second child. However, just as Malcolm is unaware of Dreyfus’ actions back in San Francisco, Caesar is unaware that Koba has his owns plans for war. With the peace efforts between Caesar and Malcolm being thwarted by both Dreyfus and Koba, the two forces are headed for a confrontation. Ultimately, the final confrontation between Koba and Caesar is reminiscent of Caesar and Aldo from the early 70s, solidifying Caesar’s status as a dynamic leader.

DOTPOTA 2Carrying similar themes seen in Battle for the Planet of the Apes, this movie far surpasses the efforts made back in 1973. The CGI continues to amaze to the point you believe you are looking at real apes. The battle sequences are fantastic and again, outside of the usual moment or two, you really get drawn into the events unfolding on the screen. Matt Reeves assumed the directorial reigns and moves the franchise beyond our modern world, as seen in the first film, into the post-apocalyptic world now jointly ruled by man and ape. Add to that a great soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek) and you have a really fun adventure.

The stage has been set for a third film and, after the huge success of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, it is officially coming on July 29, 2016. Sharp eyes will notice that a ship seen in the trailer was nowhere to be seen in the final movie. That’s because it was edited out at the last moment, saving that confrontation for the third film. A ship of survivors is indeed headed to San Francisco and the battle with the apes has just begun. And we should not forget the space mission to Mars mentioned in the first film. That is a storyline not yet resolved. As for James Franco’s character of Dr. Will Rodman, his fate remains unknown. He has a cameo appearance here via a video flashback. While some believe he could return, I believe it’s safe to say he did survive the ALZ virus considering he was at ground zero in the first film.DOTPOTA 4

I highly recommend Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. These two new films have created a fun and entertaining new Apes universe. The charm of the original five films will forever have a special place in my heart and cannot be replaced. But this new franchise is getting everything right and definitely worth checking out if you haven’t seen them yet. Go watch the trailer for this chapter and plan a double feature once the Blu-ray gets released, most likely in time for the holidays.

This ends our journey through the Planet of the Apes franchise. It’s always fun to go back and revisit these films once every few years or so. Now, we go from one beloved franchise to another. Back in May, a big monster returned to the screen while I was taking some time off. Having reviewed every film in that franchise on this site, I would be remiss if I didn’t go back and review this one. So, next time, it’s time to take a look at Godzilla (2014)!DOTPOTA 3

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) Revives The Franchise

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ROTPOTAIt had been ten years since Tim Burton’s attempt to reboot and revive the Planet of the Apes franchise. The movie had done well at the box office despite a lukewarm response from longtime fans. Ultimately, 20th Century Fox chose not to do a sequel and put the franchise to rest once again. However, there were plans brewing to try again with another reboot. This time, it would be an origin story taking the franchise into a new direction. And the result was fantastic.

In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes was released and become an instant hit. Commercially successful and connecting with both old and new fans alike, it did everything right. Its’ intent was to offer something new while paying homage to the original five film series. There are no references to Tim Burton’s film. I think everyone agrees that movie is largely forgettable so why fight it, go ahead and forget it. With the 2011 film, writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (the upcoming Jurassic World) take ideas from the original Pierre Boulle novel and move into a new yet familiar territory under the directorial reigns of Rupert Wyatt, heading up only his second theatrical film.

The movie begins with hunters tracking down and capturing chimpanzees in a forest in a scene pulled right out of the 1968 original but with the roles reversed. Immediately, we see how stunning the CGI effects are. Now, I’m always going to enjoy traditional makeup but, when done right, CGI can be fantastic and it is just that here. Add some talents like Andy Serkis (The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies), and you get characters that look natural. Our captured chimpanzees are headed to Gen-Sys where Dr. Will Rodman (James Franco, Spider-man) is testing a new cure for Alzheimer’s called ALZ-112. After seeing amazing results in a chimp named Bright Eyes (another 1968 reference), he’s ready for human testing. However, Bright Eyes goes ballistic in front of the investors and is killed. As it turns out, she was trying to protect a new-born baby. With the project shelved and all chimpanzees ordered euthanized, Will saves the baby and takes it home, where it immediately displays amazing intelligence.ROTPOTA 3

It appears that the ALZ-112 drug has the side effect of advancing intelligence. Will takes the chance and administers it to his father Charles (John Lithgow, 3rd Rock from the Sun), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. The results are almost instant and the drug appears to work. Charles immediately takes to the baby chimp and names him Caesar (yes, a familiar name in the franchise). Caesar continues to grow in both size and intelligence. He acts like a human, having his own room and speaking in sign language. However, hitting that age when all children begin to question things, Caesar begins to wonder if he simply a pet and wants to know where he came from. Will tells him about his mother and how she died.

ROTPOTA 1As the effects of the drug begin to wear off and Charles begins to succumb to Alzheimer’s again, Will realizes more testing is needed. After he manages to get the project going again at the lab, things take a turn for the worse at home after Caesar’s natural violent tendencies surface after defending Charles against an angry neighbor. Caesar is removed and taken to a facility where he lives with other primates. With the new testing moving forward at a rushed pace, exposing a lab technician to what ultimately turns into a disease for the human race and Caesar growing in intelligence and becoming a leader amongst the other primates, a confrontation seems inevitable. The results are amazing.

References abound in this film and are almost too many to mention. From an orangutan named Maurice to an evil handler named Dodge Landon (Tom Felton, Harry Potter franchise), it’s clear the writers knew the franchise and knew what the fans wanted. In many ways, this movie is a remake of the original Conquest for the Planet of the Apes. With more realistic primates, it really moves the franchise into the real world. The battle on the bridge was fantastic, setting up the conflict between the intelligent apes and the stunned humans. When Caesar speaks, the looks on their faces show just how much advantage the apes have over their stunned masters.ROTPOTA 2

There are two key elements in the movie that will carry the franchise forward. The disease is in the background as Caesar’s movement is building within the primate house. But, by the end of the movie, we see that the disease is real threat, one that will have deadly effects even more present by the second film. There is also a space mission to Mars playing out on TVs in the background. We know the ship is lost by the end of movie, a detail that will surely be picked up in a future film.

Now, nothing will replace the original films but this film was the start of something fun and entertaining. It was a huge hit at the box office, so no surprise that a sequel was ordered. If you’ve avoided it, check out the trailer for the first film. Then, next time, the apes have risen, so it is time for the Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014).ROTPOTA 4