F.W.Murnau’‘s Nosferatu (1922) rightly ranks on nearly every historian’s list of the greatest films to emerge from the silent era (as does his Sunrise). Murnau’s concept of the vampire manages to embrace its absurdities and simultaneously repel us. Probably as much “Varney The Vampire” as Dracula, Murnau’s demonic, Victorian count is more a diseased, toothsome, carnivorous rat than a crepuscular Valentino. Murnau, who served as his own cameraman, artistic director, designer, and editor, and did his own lighting, filtered this greatest of all vampire films through his perfectionist sensibilities (only Carl Theodore Dreyer‘s 1932 Vampyr has a comparable, but contrasting beauty.
Of course, the vampire genre became increasingly ludicrous. Worse, Dracula and his cohorts became dull, repetitive, and insignificant. The Lord of the Undead became so tame that producers tapped Sheridan Le Fanu’s lesbian-tinged “Carmilla” (repeatedly) in an attempt to reinstate an edge, which suited the 1970s sexual revolution. Despite mixed results, it worked to a degree (We have yet to see buxom lesbo vampires selling breakfast cereal, but give it time).
When Hammer Horror offered its premier director, Terence Fisher, his own franchise, he chose to work with the Frankenstein character rather than Dracula. Fisher was astute enough to realize that Mary Shelly’s saga had more potential for expansion and innovation. Even so, Fisher was hampered Universal Studio’s preexisting model of dos and don’ts. Once Boris Karloff forever removed Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup, the Monster became a lumbering bore played by lesser actors (Lon Chany, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Glenn Strange) and directed by hacks.
For his part, Karloff, in a variety of films, essentially took on the role of Dr. Frankenstein (in all but name). His Dr. Niemann was certainly the most colorful highlight in the assembly line monster mash House of Frankenstein (1944). Most regrettably, Niemann himself did not dispose of the whiny hunchback (J. Carrol Naish), Wolf Man (Chaney Jr.), or the irritatingly bland protagonists. While John Carradine’s Transylvanian count at least had a degree of personality, his screen time was brief. Briefer still was the monster (Strange) seen in a lethargic, somnolent state. When he finally awoke, his only threat was curing us of insomnia. This left Karloff to salvage what was left of the movie, and he did just that in a most entertaining way (unfortunately, the sequel, 1945’s House of Dracula, only had Carradine to attempt a rescue, which he failed to do). Of course, the doctor was infinitely more interesting than the monster here because he was played by the vastly superior, original monster. Fisher obviously realized this shift, paving the path for his Frankenstein series, which was actually about Frankenstein (the doctor, not the monster).
Karloff’s run as a mad doctor actually got its start in 1936, one year after his role in Bride Of Frankenstein. The Man Who Changed His Mind (aka The Man Who Lived Again) was made for a UK Production company and directed by Robert Stevenson. The formulaic script is aided considerably by witty dialogue from the scriptwriters (including John L. Balderston, who penned Universal’s Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and Bride of Frankenstein); ripe, eccentric performances; and Stevenson’s fast-clipped pacing.
Boris Karloff`s series of Mexican films is anything but routine. Of the entire ill-reputed group, House of Evil (1968) has something that most resembles a traditional plot. It is orthodox only in that it is a retread of the old dark house scenario. However, that genre is filtered through such bizarre ineptness that it would be an incredulous stretch to claim House of Evil is a film bordering on coherency. The movie is available via that valuable distributor, Sinister Cinema. Their brief assessment of House of Evil is telling: “not bad.”
As with Fear Chamber, House was co-directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez and co-stars south of the border sexpot Julissa. A murdered girl has been found by local villagers and, just like another recent victim, her eyes have been torn out. Upon hearing the news, Matthias Morteval (Karloff) is mightily upset. His friend and doctor, Emery (Angel Espinoza), tries to simultaneously caution and calm Matthias. Dr. Emery reminds Matthias of similar murders in Vienna, involving Matthias’ brother Hugo. Before a painting of his late father, Matthias pulls himself together and vows to rid their garden of the evil weed that has sprung up. The camera pans, revealing that the eyes have been cut out of the fatherly figure in the painting. Continue reading “HOUSE OF EVIL (1968): FROM KARLOFF’S BIZARRE AND FINAL SIX PACK”
Snake People (AKA Isle Of The Snake People) feels like pure Jack Hill; that is, Jack Hill the exploitation guru to whom Quentin Tarantino has built an altar.
The opening narration is a duller variant of Criswell’s repetitive but puerile Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) monologue: “During Many centuries in Various parts of the world, Various diabolical rites and ceremonies have been practiced in homage to Various sinister gods who are believed to have Many supernatural powers. These rites are generally known as voodoo!”