Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 10: Halloween Leftovers

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Halloween has come and gone, though most people have plenty of leftovers on hand, including your Cracked Rear Viewer. Here are some treats (and a few tricks) that didn’t quite make the cut this year:

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ISLE OF THE DEAD (RKO 1945, D: Mark Robson)

Typically atmospheric Val Lewton production stars Boris Karloff as a Greek general trapped on a plague-ridden island along with a young girl (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorvolaka (vampire-like spirit). This film features one of Lewton’s patented tropes, as Drew wanders through the woods alone, with the howling wind and ominous sounds of the creatures of the night. Very creepy, with another excellent Karloff performance and strong support from Lewton regulars Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr, and Skelton Knaggs. Fun Fact: Like BEDLAM , this was inspired by a painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”.

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THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (Allied Artists 1954, D: Edward Bernds)

Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and the gang  get mixed up with the creepy Gravesend family in a spooky old mansion, complete with mad scientists, vampires, a man-eating tree, a robot, and of course a killer gorilla in this above-average series entry. Sure it’s low budget and derivative as hell, but it’s also a lot of fun, with a better than usual supporting cast that includes John Dehner, Lloyd Corrigan, and Ellen Corby. Director Bernds and his co-screenwriter Ellwood Ullman put their Three Stooges experience to good use, and the result is a silly scare farce that even non-Bowery Boys fans will probably enjoy. Fun Fact: Ex-bartender Steve Calvert bought Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s old gorilla suit and appeared in JUNGLE JIM, THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (written by Ed Wood), and the awful BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA .

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THE OBLONG BOX (AIP 1969, D:Gordon Hessler)

AIP tried to continue their successful Edgar Allan Poe series with this film. Roger Corman was long gone, so Gordon Hessler took over the director’s chair. Vincent Price is still around though, as the brother of a voodoo victim who was prematurely buried, then dug up by graverobbers to seek revenge. Christopher Lee has “Special Guest Star” status, but isn’t given much to do as a Knox-like doctor using bodies in the name of science. The movie seemed a lot scarier when I saw it as a youth; unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up very well. The 24 year old Hillary Dwyer is much too young to play 58 year old Price’s fiancé. Fun Fact: Michael Reeves (THE SORCERERS , WITCHFINDER GENERAL) was scheduled to direct before his untimely death; this probably would’ve been a better film with him at the helm.

HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS 'HANDS OF THE RIPPER' (1971) STARRING ERIC PORTER, JANE MERROE AND ANGHARAD REES. Dir: PETER SASDY ABOUT TO BE RELEASED ON BLU RAY. THEBLACKBOXCLUB.COM

HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Hammer 1971, D: Peter Sasdy)

Minor but effective Hammer chiller about the daughter of Jack the Ripper (Angharad Rees) who’s possessed by daddy’s evil spirit, and the psychologist (Eric Porter) who tries to help her by using the then-new Freudian therapy techniques. It’s science vs the supernatural, with some good moments of gore, but the slow pace makes it definitely lesser Hammer. I must admit I loved the ending, though. Fun Fact: Director Sasdy filmed several Hammer horrors in the early 70’s, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and COUNTESS DRACULA. He also was responsible for the Pia Zadora vehicle THE LONELY LADY, winning himself the prestigious Razzie Award in 1983!

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BURNT OFFERINGS (United Artists 1976, D: Dan Curtis)

A family rents an eerie old country home for the summer, and are soon pitted against an evil force. With all that talent in front of (Bette Davis , Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckert) and behind (producer/director/writer Curtis , co-writer William F. Nolan, DP Jacques Marquette) the camera, I expected a much better film. Even the great Miss Davis can’t help this obvious haunted house story to rise above the level of a made-for-TV potboiler. Disappointing to say the least. Fun Fact: Production designer Eugene Lourie directed the sci-fi flicks THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH , and GORGO.     

Halloween Havoc!: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (MGM 1970)

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Must-see TV for ‘Monster Kids’ in the late 60s meant watching DARK SHADOWS every weekday at 4:00 on ABC. The Gothic soap opera gave us daily doses of vampires, werewolves, witches, and man-made monsters courtesy of producer/director Dan Curtis and a talented cast of mainly New York based stage actors, led by Hollywood veteran Joan Bennett. Capitalizing on the show’s popularity, MGM greenlighted a feature version titled HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

The movie is a condensed and revised telling of the Barnabas Collins story arc that began in 1967. The film takes us to Collinwood, where governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) is assaulted by drunken caretaker Willy Loomis (John Karlen). Loomis is fired by Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds), but sneaks back onto the property to search for the hidden family jewels. Using an old map as a guide, he breaks into the family mausoleum and, opening an ancient coffin, is startled when a hand reaches out and grabs him by the throat.

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Sometime later, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) arrives, announcing himself as a “cousin from England”. Barnabas bears a striking resemblance to his namesake ancestor, whose portrait hangs on a wall. Giving matriarch Elizabeth (Bennett) a bejeweled necklace, its decided Barnabas will fix up “the old house” to live in. Cousin Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) becomes a little too fond of Barnabas, much to her regret, as she soon falls victim to the vampire’s bite.

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A party is given in Barnabas’s honor, and it’s there he first sets eyes on Maggie. She tells him, “We just met, yet I feel like I’ve known you for so long”. How right she is, for Maggie is a dead ringer for Barnabas’s long-dead love Josette. Carolyn becomes jealous, so Barnabas puts the finishing touch on her. Professor Stokes (Thayer David) and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) investigate the death. Carolyn (and a previous victim) both had strange marks on their necks, and suffered an inordinate loss of blood. Stokes believes it’s the mark of “vampirism”. Julia isolates an unknown cell in the victim’s blood, and thinks she can cure the vampire’s curse.

When Roger’s son David (David Henesy) tells the family he’s seen Carolyn, Stokes brings up his vampirism theory. No one belives it, but when Julia fixes her makeup in a compact mirror, she discovers Barnabas casts no reflection. Carolyn rises from the grave and attacks her boyfriend Todd (Don Briscoe) but is stopped by Stokes and the local police, all armed with crosses. Stokes then drives a stake through her heart, putting an end to Carolyn.

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Julia confronts Barnabas and tells him she can cure him. She begins giving him daily injections, and the vampire can now walk in the sunlight. Barnabas now pursues Maggie more ardently, going as far as to send her beau Jeff (Roger Davis) out of town on a job. But Julia is in love with Barnabas, and her next injection causes him to age rapidly. He strangles the doctor just as Maggie walks in. Sinking his fangs into Maggie’s neck, the vampire is rejuvenated, going on a killing rampage, as he plans to make Maggie his undead bride. Jeff returns and, discovering the carnage, engages in a desperate battle with Barnabas to save his love before she meets a fate worse than death.

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Jonathan Frid became an unlikely teen idol when he took the role of Barnabas at age 43. His soulful eyes and romantic escapades on the soap opera caused teenyboppers across the country to swoon. Soon Frid found himself plastered on the covers of 16 and Tiger Beat magazines. The Canadian-born, Shakesperian trained actor became typecast, unable to find decent parts. He returned to the stage, starring in the 1986 Broadway revival of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE in the role of Jonathan Brewster, made famous by Boris Karloff. Jonathan Frid, forever Barnabas, taught acting and appeared onstage until his death in 2012.

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HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is much more bloodier than the TV soap, causing parents to forbid their children from seeing it (I went anyway!).  Dan Curtis followed up with a sequel, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, then branched out into TV movies like THE NORLISS TAPES, DRACULA (starring Jack Palance), and the anthology TRILOGY OF TERROR. Curtis then made the mega-hit miniseries THE WINDS OF WAR and its sequel WAR AND REMEMBERENCE. Dick Smith’s aging makeup was grotesque, turning Barnabas into a 175 year old man. Smith was a top makeup effects man, also responsible for films like LITTLE BIG MAN, THE GODFATHER, and THE EXORCIST, winning an Oscar for AMADEUS. Robert Colbert’s familiar  haunting music from the show can be heard throughout the film. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is an homage to the old-time monster movies of the 30s and 40s, and it’s well worth seeing for both old fans of the show and latecomers. Two fangs up!