A Tod Slaughter Cinematic Retrospective – Part One

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Tod Slaughter 3When classic horror fans talk about their favorite star, names like Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi are immediately mentioned. You have others who enjoy legends like Vincent Price or Peter Cushing. However, one name that almost never gets an ounce of credit is Tod Slaughter. I’m sure many of you right now are wondering who this amusingly named actor was and what films did he star in. It’s time to correct that. Beginning today and over the next five weeks, let’s take a look at who the man was Tod Slaughter and turn our weekends into Slaughterdays!

Tod Slaughter was an English actor born as Norman Carter Slaughter in 1885 in the era of Victorian melodramas. Yes, Slaughter was actually his real last name, not a Hollywood concoction. He didn’t adapt the first name of “Tod” until 1925 as it was more fitting of a leading man, which he had become at that point. He was the oldest of twelve children and even served with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I. He was a genuinely distinguished and respected actor who served his country and entertained many during his stage and film career.

Considering that he didn’t do his first film until he reached 49 years of age in 1934, and that he ultimately only has 21 film credits to his name, it’s no wonder how he can get overlooked by bigger film stars. Yet, all it takes is a viewing of one key film roles and you can’t help but enjoy his melodramatic over-the-top performance. He was the type of villain who would be twisting his mustache while kicking the poor widow out of her home and into the snow. While this type of villain is dated by today’s standards, it can be a lot of fun for true film historians.Tod Slaughter 2

Ironically, he didn’t start off playing the villain. After gracing the stage for the first time in 1905, he would move into the heroic leading man role for years. And when he wasn’t the lead, he was more often playing character roles but never the villain. He would earn a spot in the British theatrical history books for his contribution to stage in the mid-1920s for his work in South London, where he would revive several memorable melodramas including the now classic Sweeney Todd. He even played the lead role in Sherlock Holmes! But in 1931, his acting career took an important turn.

Tod Slaughter 4His first villainous roles would be that of Long John Silver in a production of Treasure Island. He then moved on to play William Hare in The Crimes of Burke and Hare. He had transitioned from leading man to villain, due in part to his aging physique. He was now able to pull off a more evil appearance necessary to convince the audience of his villainous intentions. He had earned the nickname of “Mr. Murder” but it was his starring role in Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street that made him a household name. He was in his late 40s, late by today’s standards, but he had found his true calling. His exaggerated expressions and gestures were common for such stage presentations but would they transition to film? The burgeoning British film industry thought so and sought him out. It was time for Tod Slaughter to come to celluloid. After all, he had a name destined for evil deeds.

Next week, we’ll follow his career as his cinematic journey begins with Murder in the Red Barn (1935).

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The Films of Karloff: West of Shanghai (1937)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2“I’m sorry, my friend. In one hour, you die…but I not let you die alone. I come watch.”
– General Wu Yen Fang (Boris Karloff) in West of Shanghai (1937)

In 1932, Boris Karloff first donned makeup that would transform him into the Asian character Dr. Fu Manchu in The Masks of Fu Manchu. Five years later, he would do so again in the seldom-seen West of Shanghai (1937). Insensitive by today’s standards, Caucasian actors playing Asian characters was not that uncommon in the 30s and 40s. Karloff was actually quite good at it but it is a little hard to watch today. However, if you can reconcile that with the understanding of the time in which the film was made, West of Shanghai is actually a fun and quick film at just 64 minutes long.

West of Shanghai is actually based on a play by Porter Emerson Browne and was originally set in Mexico. However, with the ongoing war and interest in China, the location was changed. While Karloff plays the lead role of General Wu Yen Fang, there are actually many other Asian roles played by Asian actors, which greater enhances the film.West of Shanghai poster

Gordon Creed (Ricardo Cortez) heads to a remote village in search of Jim Hallet (Gordon Oliver) in an attempt to buy his oil field. Creed’s estranged wife Jane (Beverly Roberts) happens to be there as well, working with the local mission. Meanwhile, General Fang is terrorizing the countryside and just happens to stop off in the village at the same time. He takes over and begins to show interest in Jane, which Creed uses to his advantage in attempt to cheat Hallet out of his oil fields and escape from Fang.

West of Shanghai 1Karloff is given some wonderful lines that bring a sense of levity to his otherwise evil character. Some believe his makeup wasn’t convincing but I actually thought it looked quite good for the time. Whatever is lacking in the appearance is well-made up in Karloff’s performance. While the story is simple, the production never comes off looking cheap and Karloff certainly makes the film a fun way to spend a late night or an early afternoon.

West of Shanghai isn’t Karloff’s best but it certainly is worth checking out. For many years, the film was rarely seen other than an occasional showing on Turner Classic Movies. After years of being unavailable on home video, it was finally released two years ago as part of the Boris Karloff Triple Feature DVD set from Warner Brothers with The Invisible Menace (1938) and Devil’s Island (1939). Watch the trailer and track down the movie. If you can accept Karloff in the lead role, you’ll have some fun with this one. Not his most iconic role but certainly worth a watch.

The Films of Karloff: Night Key (1937)

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The Films of Boris Karloff 2“What I create, I can destroy.”

-Ominous warning from Dave Mallory (Boris Karloff) in “Night Key”

By 1937, Universal Studios was changing. The Laemmle’s had sold the studio, the classic logo with the airplane circling the globe had been replaced and the ever-present horror films were nowhere to be seen. Boris Karloff remained under contract but since he had become so entrenched in scary pictures, Universal wasn’t sure what to do with him. After several projects fell through, Karloff found himself headlining a thriller called Night Key.

Karloff plays an elderly inventor named Dave Mallory who has spent the last fifteen years trying to perfect a new wireless alarm system that uses light projection. Time is running out as Mallory is going blind, so he’s eager to sell his new system. His attorney has arranged a meeting with Stephen Ranger, Mallory’s former employer who stole a previous alarm system from him and has amassed a fortune. Mallory trusts his attorney to secure his future as well as that of his daughter Joan Mallory (Jean Rogers, Flash Gordon). However, the attorney is working with Ranger and, once again, Mallory is cheated out of success. But this time, he decides to seek revenge by using a device that proves the old security system is fallible. Unfortunately, master criminal “The Kid” becomes aware of this device and decides to use Mallory, which sets a series of events in motion with several lives in the balance, including that of Joan Mallory.Night Key 1

Karloff does a wonderful job of portraying an elderly scientist here and, for a change, he isn’t mad nor does he have unscrupulous plans. Here, is simply out to prove his new alarm system is better. Of course, we have the usual love interest to help the story move along as Joan is initially followed and then romanced by security guard Jimmy Travers (J. Warren Hull, The Walking Dead). Alan Baxter turns in a fun performance as gangster “The Kid” while keen eyes will recognize Samuel S. Hinds (Stephen Ranger) from countless films including the Dr. Kildare series as well as Pa Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life (1947).

Night Key 2Night Key isn’t necessarily a classic and it never really rises above a standard B picture. However, Karloff’s presence elevates the movie and it really is great fun to see him in a slightly different type of role. The movie received good reviews at the time, especially Karloff’s versatility. However, the movie is often overlooked despite being part of the original Shock TV package. Watch the trailer and seek it out on DVD as it deserves to be part of your Karloff collection. It’s readily available either as part of The Boris Karloff Collection or individually through the Universal Vault Series.

Next time, we take a look at a very different Karloff performance from the same year…West of Shanghai!

A New Blog Worth Checking Out and More from the Basement

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Just a quick update from Monster Movie Kid Central as things have been a little busy on this end. Some new Karloff reviews are coming up before the end of January as well as the start of a month-long tribute to Tod Slaughter. Meanwhile, allow me the opportunity to offer up two recommendations.

CaligariFirst, a friend of mine has jointly launched a new blog called Booze, News and Reviews. Phillip Gehring, Mitch Hoover and Alexandrea Feldkamp all love to drink their beverage of choice and write about their passions. Films and books top the list but don’t be surprised if some current events or science find their way online as well. They are starting off strong with a fresh look at the 1920 classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Check it out and tell them Monster Movie Kid sent you.

Boris LurkingMeanwhile, our good friend Gunther Dedmund continues to unearth classic episodes over at The Basement Sublet of Horror. For example, this week’s flick is Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966). These early episodes are a blast as they offer up a different look at our beloved flicks.

Let them keep you busy during the early year chaos. But fear not, Boris is lurking around the corner waiting for the right moment to scare you.

More Classics and Tributes Coming in 2015

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Peter LorreHappy New Year from Monster Movie Kid! With the first of the year comes resolutions and goals. It seems I’m always wanting to watch more Kurosawa and Hitchcock. And I always get sidetracked. So, for 2015, the plan is to keep it simple and fun.

I had a tremendous amount of fun revisiting Boris Karloff last October during the 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween. But there was no way I could watch everything I wanted to in just one month. So, there will be more Karloff in the upcoming year. No timelines, no schedule, just a promise that there will be random Karloff movies reviewed, some within the horror genre, others not so much.

Price Cushing LeeAnd what about the 4th Annual 31 Days of Halloween? Coming up this October, there will be a tribute to Bela Lugosi. There will be 34 films in 31 days, starting off with Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) and ending up with the infamous Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Derek over at Monster Kid Radio celebrated Bela Lugosi on his podcast this past year, so it’s only natural that he is planning on toasting Mr. Karloff this October. Great monster minds think alike!

Mad MaxI like the idea of mini-tributes as well, so I’m working on some ideas about the seldom-mentioned Tod Slaughter as well as Peter Lorre and Rondo Hatton. Things are brewing for a trifecta of madness in May to celebrate the birthdays of Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. And there will be more Scrooge in the 4th Annual Countdown to Christmas!

Keeping with the theme of simplicity in 2015, there will be lots of classics and, as always, surprises at every corner. Plus, more issues of The Basement Sublet of Horror are being planned! Beyond that, we’re just going to roll with the punches and have fun!

AvengersAs for upcoming theatrical releases, here are the big ones I have high hopes for:

The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1)
Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15)
Jurassic World (June 12)
Terminator: Genysis (July 1)
 (maybe it’s more realistic to say I hope it isn’t too bad)
Minions (July 10)
Ant-Man (July 17)
Peanuts (November 6) 
(it’s Snoopy, ‘nuff said)
007: Spectre (November 6)
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 (November 20)
Star Wars: Episode 8 – The Force Awakens (December 18)
Mission: Impossible 5 (December 25)
 (the last one improved the franchise greatly)

And there you have it. Thank you for your ongoing support! It is very much appreciated. Now, fire up the projector, butter the popcorn and let’s start the New Year right. It’s time for some movies!Spectre

Reflections on the Best and Worst of 2014

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2014 is in the books and as is tradition here at Monster Movie Kid, it’s time to take a look back at the previous twelve months. What were the high points and low points in cinematic viewings? Now, anyone who follows me on Facebook will know that this year threw more than a fair share of obstacles my way. From moving to Kansas City to moving both children to my wife battling breast cancer, it was certainly a different and challenging year. That said, movies can always provide a good escape from reality, even if a temporary one to allow myself time to recharge. So, let’s first take a look back at the number of movies watched (in a theater, on DVD, Apple TV, etc.) through December 31, as well as the best of the best and the rest best forgotten.GOTG

Action: 8
Animated: 7
Comedy: 45
Concert: 0
Documentary: 5
Drama: 8
Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror: 116
Suspense/Thriller: 19
Western:  4
Total: 212 (down from last year but much more than I thought I actually had time to watch)

Total numbers of movies watched in a movie theater: 37 (surprisingly, the most I’ve seen since 2011)

Now, let’s start off with the best of the best. As always, some of you will agree while others will wonder if I’m just plain nuts. I always go into a movie with optimism. This year more than ever, I’ve learned to appreciate all that life throws your way.

X MenTop 10 Movies I Watched in a Movie Theater:
1. Guardians of the Galaxy – Fun old school adventure, one of the best from Marvel
2. X-Men: Days of Future Past – Perhaps the best X-Men movie to date, gotta love Wolverine
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Love the big spy epic feel this one had
4. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – By this point, you either like these films or not, I love them
5. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – Less action, more story, just as entertaining
6. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – Great follow-up and entertaining
7. Lone Survivor – Incredibly intense modern war flick
8. Fury – Love the grittier side of WWII
9. Godzilla – Sure, it needed more Godzilla but it was much better than some of those 90s flicks
10. The Monuments Men – Could have been better but really entertained me
Honorable Mentions: Interstellar, Gone Girl and Edge of Tomorrow

Top 10 Movies I Watched on DVD/DVR/TV/On Demand For The First Time:
1. Cash on Demand (1962)
– I loved the Christmas setting in this Hammer classic along with the usual stellar performance from Peter Cushing
2. The Big Gundown (1966) – Fantastic and underrated spaghetti western
3. The Babadook (2014) – Scariest movie of the year, much better than the average horror theatrical release
4. Stagecoach (1939) – Classic John Wayne western, what more could you want
5. Les Miserables (1935) – I love this story and I think this is one of the best adaptations, loved Charles Laughton
6. Scream of Fear (1961) – Another fun one from Hammer with some cool twists
7. The Visitor (1979) – Yes, this one is so bad its good
8. Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) – I loved the gothic feel, music and different take on vampires
9. Byzantium (2012) – Gemma Arterton, ‘nuff said
10. The Zero Theorem (2013) – I’m not usually a fan of Terry Gilliam but Christolph Waltz made this one for me

And now for the worst of the worst. I continue to be picky about what I watch but these few got back the filters.COD

Worst Movie I Watched in a Movie Theater:
1. Neighbors
– I’m not sure why I continue to give Seth Rogan my money

Worst Movies I Watched on DVD/DVR/TV/On Demand For The First Time:
1. Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014) – I watched this one not by choice, sure I chuckled once or twice but good God, who thought this was a good idea? And why was Grumpy Cat voiced by a woman?
2. Argento’s Dracula (2012) – Try as I might, I just can’t get into Argento and this one certainly didn’t make me a fan, horrible CGI, bad script, bad acting, why did they bother?
3. Tender Dracula (1974) – Not sure what Cushing was thinking with this one, bizarre is an understatement
4. Inchon (1981) – Worst war film ever, propaganda piece that is a curiosity at best

One of my biggest accomplishments this year was my 3rd Annual 31 Days of Halloween tribute to Boris Karloff. That was so much fun and proved to me that classics are always entertaining. I also had three articles in print in The Basement Sublet of Horror magazine. I am incredibly proud of that and special thanks to Joel Sanderson for making that happen. Sure, I never got around to Kurosawa or Hitchcock this year and I still crave more classic comedy and westerns. One thing I’ve learned is to make my movie goals much simpler in 2015. So, come back tomorrow as I talk about what I have planned for 2015!