Archive for Lon Chaney

Haunted Palace (1963) Review

Posted in Haunted Palace with tags , , , , on November 17, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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THE HAUNTED PALACE

**** Out of 5

Tagline- What Was the Terrifying Thing in the Pit That Wanted Women

Release Date- August 28th, 1963

Running Time- 87-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Charles Beaumont (Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft)

Director- Roger Corman

Starring- Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Frank Maxwell, Leo Gordon and Lon Chaney as Simon

When it comes to the career of Roger Corman he’s quite legendary in B-cinema and while he has plenty of directing credits its as producer that he’s most prolific. To most Corman is just some guy that produces B-films, but I don’t think people realize the impact that Roger Corman made not just in B-cinema, but film as a whole. It was Corman who launched the careers of many Hollywood superstars and resurrected the career of Boris Karloff. When you produce as many low budget films as Roger Corman has you’re bound to have a whole lot of poor films and since the Hollywood monster grew and grew in the mid 90s the good portion of Corman’s films have been poor (though some are fun in a silly way, but not like those in his prime). While Roger Corman produced some very popular cult films (though not always credited) such as The Big Bird Cage and Women in Cages. While not the first WIP (Women in Prison) films they were the ones that paved the way for what followed. Even in slasher films Corman made an impact with films such as Slumber Party Massacre and of course monster films with films like Humanoids from the Deep. Nobody will mistake Corman’s work for Oscar worthy caliber films, but he is an icon in the film industry even if your average person doesn’t realize it. As I stated he launched the careers of many big players such as Jack Nicholson and Francis Ford Coppola. Back in the 60s when Roger Corman was an active director he actually made some very solid films and not silly B-Movies, which while a lot of fun don’t showcase fully how talented he is. However regardless if the film is good or a so bad its good film there is good reason why Roger Corman’s career has spanned as long as it has. And as I mentioned not making Oscar caliber films, Corman has an Oscar for his achievements in film and while some may disagree, but I think it was very warranted.

The Haunted Palace is actually based off the work of H.P. Lovecraft rather than Poe, but there was more marketing in Poe’s name and this was very common in the 60s to have all these films based off the work of Poe, but the film had little or nothing to do with his work. Actually not only the 60s, but even in the 30s with some of the Karloff and Lugosi films based off Edgar Allan Poe stories had nothing to do with them. It’s sort of like the based on a true story, which in reality has very little of the true story its inspired by. Regardless of the fact, The Haunted Palace is an excellent film in the careers of Vincent Price and Roger Corman and while I can’t say for sure its my favorite Price/Corman film it is easily a contender.

Joseph Curwen (Price) was an evil warlock that was burned at the stake by villagers, but just before he puts a curse on future generations of the villagers. Now 110-years later Charles Dexter (Price in a dual role) inherits the palace. Curwen possesses the body of Charles and seeks revenge on the ancestors of those who killed him while also trying to bring his dead wife back.

The screenplay by Charles Beaumont is generally well written with solid characters and for the most part the Haunted Palace is well plotted, but certain things just sort of happen with no real explanation, but with that said it never hurts the film. Outside of some minor flaws Beaumont’s script is quite well done.

As director Roger Corman shows here he’s more than just campy films. The Haunted Palace is well made with a great an eerie gothic look. Corman delivers a well paced film with plenty of suspense and again eerie atmosphere. As I mentioned Corman is more prolific as a producer and he’s produced some excellent films with many being silly and campy fun, but a lot of his directorial efforts weren’t silly nor campy and he deserves far more credit as a director than he gets. While he may not be on the level of say John Carpenter, Roger Corman in my opinion is still one of the great horror filmmakers.

The Haunted Palace is a great showcase for the talents of Vincent Price as he’s equally great as both the villain and good guy. Price was such a terrific actor and is one of the horror genre greats and in many ways reminds me of Boris Karloff as each brought a touch of class to their films regardless on quality of the film and both could play the good guy and villain and be great in each role. It’s always great to see Lon Chaney who was far better than given credit for and while Chaney is seen as a horror icon he was always in the shadow of his father and than later Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again I always preferred Chaney, Jr over Sr and I like Lon Chaney, Jr as much as Lugosi (Karloff will always be the king of the genre for me). This film was released when Chaney’s best roles were behind him and this was probably the best film he’s made in years and possibly his last great role.

Overall The Haunted Palace is a terrific gothic horror film that has quite a creepy feel with a terrific performance by Vincent Price and Lon Chaney. It’s films like Haunted Palace that really showcase the talents of Roger Corman.

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High Noon (1952) Review

Posted in High Noon with tags , , , , , on August 5, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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HIGH NOON

***** Out of 5

Tagline- The Story of a Man Who Was to Proud to Run

Release Date- July 30th, 1952

Running Time- 85-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Carl Foreman

Director- Fred Zinnemann

Starring- Gary Cooper, Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, Otto Kruger, Katy Jurado, Lon Chaney

When people ask me where my love of film stems from I would point them to such movies as High Noon. Released in 1952 High Noon is considered by many as one of the all time great westerns and one of the all time greatest films. AFI rated High Noon as the 33rd greatest film of all time and High Noon was nominated for several Oscars including wins for best song sung by Tex Ritter (John Ritter’s father) and Gary Cooper won the Oscar for best actor. In my opinion High Noon is amongst the greatest films ever made and its a story of honor and integrity and bravery. Gary Cooper’s character Will Kane is one of the greatest film heroes of all time and in the face of adversity he handles himself with heroic bravery. Modern filmmakers really should watch High Noon as this has everything a film should have; great writing, directing and acting. I first saw High Noon many years ago and it was a film I wanted to see for ages and when I finally did I really wasn’t as into it as I thought I would be. After a few years I revisited the film and absolutely loved it. High Noon has everything I look for in a film and its a masterpiece of filmmaking on every level.

Will Kane (Cooper) on his last day as Marshal gets married to Amy Fowler (Kelly) and is getting ready to leave town with his new bride. Frank Miller(MacDonald) is an outlaw Kane brought down and was sentenced to hang, which was commuted to life than ended up being pardoned. Frank and his posse are returning to town to see revenge on Kane. Kane is urged to leave town, which he does, but than returns knowing he’ll never be in peace if he runs. Amy is a Quaker and violence is against her religion. She tries to talk Kane out of it and to leave town with her, but when he won’t listen she decides she will leave without him. Kane is trying to round up a posse to help him, but the town he saved from ruin are all cowards and nobody will stand by him. Kane still refuses to run and decides to confront the outlaws alone regardless of the outcome.

The screenplay by Carl Foreman is simply outstanding. The script is well plotted with great characters and its a script that should be studied by every aspiring writer. Despite the age of High Noon the script is so wonderful it could still work word for word in the modern era. I simply cannot give enough praise to Forman as his script has everything a great one does. Quite honestly I just might rate this as one of the ten greatest film screenplays as it truly is that amazingly written.

Director Fred Zinnemann crafts a masterpiece of a film. The pacing of the film is great as every scene furthers the film in either story, characters and suspense. High Noon is one of the best tension filmed movies I’ve ever seen. The film is a buildup to the showdown and and the suspense and tension are some of the very best I’ve ever seen in a movie. And like how the writing holds up so does the direction and direction should also be studied on how to make a film. Normally reviews are easy to write, but in this case it actually isn’t since I really can’t put into words how truly brilliant the direction (and film) was. One of the highlights of the film was right before Kane goes to battle; he’s in the street alone and the camera pulls back to a crane shot and its like a ghost town. This might be a simple technique we’ve seen over the years and here its highly effective as it shows Kane is all alone and the town of cowards are all in hiding.

High Noon features a great cast led by Gary Cooper. There’s good reason why he won the Oscar for this film. Cooper’s performance is nothing short of brilliant. Cooper as Will Kane is everything you look for in a hero. No matter what the odds he carries himself with bravery. Unlike most films where the hero is outnumbered he isn’t afraid at all, which is cool, but what makes this film and performance so great is Kane is afraid. He’s outnumbered and out gunned and knows good chance he won’t survive and even when nobody is willing to stand with him he still does the honorable thing for a town that doesn’t deserve it, but the fact he was afraid only makes him more heroic. After seeing Rear Window I simply fell in love with Grace Kelly and she became one of my favorite actresses. Grace Kelly is the very definition of beauty. As much as the film and more so the ending was a character defining moment for Kane the very same can be said about Kelly’s character, which often goes unnoticed. While I won’t spoil the ending I think you know what’s gonna happen.

The song from High Noon performed by Tex Ritter was written for the movie and it was played in its entirety in the opening, but after that parts of the song are played throughout the film, which matches what’s happening in the film and I don’t know what the first film was to use a song to further the story, but prior to High Noon I’ve never seen that done before.

I love at the end after Kane defeats the outlaws the people of the town come out from hiding and Kane just looks at them than throws down his badge and leaves town. This is also something we’ve seen before in perhaps different situations, but again its highly effective filmmaking and acting.

Overall High Noon is one of my favorite films of all time and for me no doubt ranks as one of the greatest films ever made. High Noon has everything a film should; great writing, directing and acting. It also has a main character who defines what bravery and heroism is all about. High Noon truly is a masterpiece on every single level.

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Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) Review

Posted in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man with tags , , on June 29, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN

*** Out of 5

Tagline- All New Thrills as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

Release Date- March 5th, 1943

Running Time- 74-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Curt Siodmak

Director- Roy William Neill

Starring- Lon Chaney, Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles, Lionel Atwill, Maria Ouspenskaya, and Bela Lugosi as the Monster

Before there was Freddy Vs Jason there was Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. I suppose it was only fitting this would happen sooner or later seeing as Universal were behind the Monster movies so why not take advantage of it? This was the first of the crossover movies and while the film is enjoyable its also far inferior to the Monster movies of the 30s. Mixing in two franchises isn’t very easy and Freddy Vs. Jason was probably the most successful in doing that, but even that had problems. While the mixture worked well here for the most part, but it very much feels like a cash in more than anything else. After the Wolf Man the Monster movies despite being made by Universal Studios were very much B-Movies, which started with Ghost of Frankenstein and continued here. With that said it isn’t a knock on the film since for fans of the franchises there is fun to be had and I can only imagine how audiences in 1943 had a blast with this. When compared to the first three Frankenstein movies and the Wolf Man this film is far inferior.

Larry Talbot (Chaney) is resurrected by two grave robbers. Talbot takes off looking for Dr. Frankenstein in hopes to be cured. At the Frankenstein castle he sets free the Monster (Lugosi) and the Monster and Wolf Man have an epic battle.

Curt Siodmak who wrote the Wolf Man was given the task to write Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and while he managed to mix both franchises together in a way that made sense problem is the plot was a bit messy in some spots. The first half of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was well done for the most part, but around the middle of the movie it begins to run out of some steam. Siodmak’s script works best when it’s more of a Wolf Man sequel, but even than the script can often repeat itself. However for the most Siodmak does deliver an entertaining script early on, but once the 2nd half rolls around it begins to get messy as its the same scene over and over again with nothing new added to the series. The script by no means was bad, but lacked any real narrative flow. Siodmak was an excellent writer and while this may not be among his best its still entertaining enough.

Director Roy William Neill does well with the Wolf Man scenes, but there are some problems with the Monster. The pacing early on is fun and while never a great film it is entertaining, but as the film goes on the pacing begins to get very sluggish in spots. The suspense and tension is lacking except the opening minutes of the film and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is far inferior to the Wolf Man, which was released just 2-years earlier. As much as I love the Monster movies after the Wolf Man and to a lesser degree Ghost of Frankenstein there was a clear drop off in quality. Even if the films were fun they lacked that eerie atmosphere and early on Neill does provide some solid scenes, but the 2nd half while not bad are a bit sluggish and loses the eerie tone from the opening. With the first two Frankenstein movies, James Whale knew how to use the Monster and having Karloff also helped, but when James Whale left the series after Bride of Frankenstein it’s never been the same. Karloff did return once more for Son of Frankenstein and Karloff was excellent, but it lacked the James Whale touch and that’s very much the case with the direction here and partly on Lugosi (more on that later). The overall production is very B-Movie like and while enjoyable a far cry to the early days of the Monster movies.

Lon Chaney is great as Larry Talbot once again and while the material is nowhere near the level of the Wolf Man, Chaney still gives it his all. As popular as Lon Chaney is I still feel he doesn’t get his respect. While his performance was better in the Wolf Man, but again he had better material, Chaney is still excellent and despite his popularity far too often he’s compared to his father and Karloff and Lugosi and while I do favor Karloff I liked Chaney more than his father and he’s very close to Lugosi in my opinion.

Some of the problems with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is really poor continuity from Ghost of Frankenstein. This ties in fairly well with the Wolf Man and I suppose Curt Siodmak is the reason, but it doesn’t tie in very well with Ghost of Frankenstein. First up Ilona Massey plays Elsa Frankenstein who was played by Evelyn Ankers in Ghost of Frankenstein and the problem is Ilona Massey has an accent. Massey was originally from Hungary and I don’t if that was the accent here, but Ankers who was American sounds like it in Ghost of Frankenstein and not only that, but their personalities are also quite different and I had to double check to make sure they were the same character. Sadly the poor continuity doesn’t end there.

As much as I love Bela Lugosi I didn’t really like his take on the Monster. While not as horrible as some make him out to be he really wasn’t all that great either. In fairness he isn’t playing the same Monster made famous by Karloff. In Ghost of Frankenstein, Ygor played by Lugosi had his brain transplanted into the Monster and the end result was the new Monster went blind. However in this film there really isn’t much of a mention of Ghost of Frankenstein and if you never saw that one you would just assume Lugosi’s Monster is the original Dr. Frankenstein creation. Apparently the film originally tied in with Ghost of Frankenstein, but was edited out. Even if true it would still be disjointed. At times it does seem as if the Monster is blind where as other times he can clearly see. As the Monster, Lugosi stumbles around and the whole walking idiot was really started here. Lugosi just sort of stumbles around like he’s drunk. Many people incorrectly assume the Monster has no personality, which drives me nuts since if you’ve seen the first 2 Frankenstein films and to a lesser degree Son of Frankenstein they would clearly see that’s not the case. But Lugosi’s Monster is bland and boring and just a walking idiot. Regardless if you wanna see Lugosi as the original creation or a new Monster his performance is a dud, but to his defense he isn’t the original creation, but I suppose it doesn’t help much.

The interesting thing about Lugosi playing the Monster was he was the original choice to play the role in the original Frankenstein. One report has Lugosi turning it down seeing as an insult coming off Dracula, while other reports are it was James Whale that didn’t want Lugosi; which ever one is true doesn’t matter now since Karloff got the part in the original and Lugosi would end up playing the role in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is a fun if not flawed movie; seeing these two Iconic characters in the same movie is a real treat for the fans. As for the crossover films I’m not sure I can say one is better than the other as each have something going for them though Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was an excellent film and the best of the crossover films, but I sort of see it as its own movie. My review for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is exactly glowing, but fans of the Monster movies will still probably enjoy them for the most part.

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Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) Review

Posted in Ghost ot Frankenstein with tags , , , , on June 28, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN

*** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- New Thrills as the Monster Stalks Again

Release Date- March 13th, 1942

Running Time- 67-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Scott Darling

Director- Erle C. Kenton

Starring- Cedric Hardwicke, Ralph Bellamy, Lionel Atwill, Evelyn Ankers, Janet Ann Gallow with Bela Lugosi as Ygor and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Monster

Ghost of Frankenstein was released in 1942 and was the last time the Monster would have his own movie, after this he would appear in only crossover movies. Ghost of Frankenstein was the first movie in the series to have another actor to play the Frankenstein Monster who was of course played by the brilliant Boris Karloff in the first three. Lon Chaney Jr. now steps into the role of the Monster. By the time this film was released the Monster Movies were now B-Movies with the exception of the Wolf Man released the previous year. Ghost of Frankenstein is a flawed film and nowhere near as good as the first three in the series, but flaws and all Ghost of Frankenstein ends up being a lot of fun.

I just love the Frankenstein series (the solo movies) and while the first two are horror classics for a reason and I would even label Son of Frankenstein a classic as well and it’s a film that doesn’t get enough attention. Ghost of Frankenstein while sure a drop in quality is better than given credit for. This one doesn’t really offer anything new to the series and its more or less the same as the past 3 with the results not being as great and seeing how great the first 3 are its quite easy to dismiss Ghost of Frankenstein, which I fully understand why, but looking past all that Ghost of Frankenstein makes for an enjoyable B-Movie. Upon my first viewing I didn’t really care for it, but now I’ve really come to enjoy this and find it a lot of fun and with a running time a little over an hour it makes for a fast paced campy good time.

Ygor (Lugosi) brings the Monster to Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein (Hardwicke) to get the Monster a new brain, Dr. Frankenstein sees this as a way to restore the Frankenstein family name and plans to replace the Monsters with that of a normal brain, but unaware to Dr. Frankenstein, Ygor has plans for his brain to be put inside the Monster.

The screenplay by Scott Darling is actually pretty good overall; while not as creative as the previous parts and as I stated earlier this one doesn’t really offer anything new to the series it is well written and has a solid bunch of characters. Maybe not everything here works, but the good is good enough to make up for any shortcomings. The script does borrow heavily from the original, which is fine since the original had a terrific script. Darling delivers a fun B-Movie romp.

Erle C. Kenton directs his first of three Monster films. After Ghost of Frankenstein he would direct the crossover films House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula and this one in my opinion was by far the best of the 3. The 30s a lot of these films had an eerie atmosphere and while the 40s still featured that (Wolf Man comes to mind), but as a whole the films seemed to aim more for being fun than eerie atmosphere. The pacing of the film is strong and while the middle sections might slow down a bit, Kenton though always keeps the film fun and well paced for the most part. There are a couple of scenes with some decent suspense, but overall it does lack in that area, but what it lacks in suspense, Kenton makes up for with a really fun tone. This was the weakest of the solo Frankenstein films, but there is still fun to be had and makes for a fun late night viewing.

Despite popular belief the Monster isn’t a walking idiot or is he really a villain. Whenever people refer to him as that I have to laugh since they obviously never watched these movies even though they claim they did. The Monster was very sympathetic at least when played by Karloff and the only time he was really dangerous is when provoked or scared. The Monster had almost this childlike quality that Karloff brought to the role, but he was hardly an idiot. Karloff in the original brought so much personality to the role without a single line. Even though he speaks in Bride of Frankenstein, Karloff is still able to show a wide arrange of emotion even when he doesn’t speak. James Whale directed the first 2 films and as great as Karloff was in Son of Frankenstein at times he was mis-used, which had more to do with the change of director, but Karloff still brought a lot to the role. Lon Chaney doesn’t show as much emotion nor does he invoke the same sympathy, but I personally would rate Chaney as the 2nd best Frankenstein Monster though a distant 2nd. It’s easy to put down Chaney as nobody can compare to Karloff and this being the first time another actor played the role it makes Chaney an easy target, but looking past that Lon Chaney does a very good job, but like Karloff in Son of Frankenstein the Monster is a bit mis-used, but Chaney still brings a lot more to the role than given credit for. This Monster isn’t as sympathetic, however Chaney does provide some humanity like his scenes with the little girl Cloestine (Janet Ann Gallow). While these scenes don’t quite have the impact as scenes in past films with Karloff in the role, but Chaney does provide a little more than any other actor to play the Monster not named Boris Karloff.

Bela Lugosi returns as Ygor and again is excellent in the role. By this time in Lugosi’s career he was pretty much reduced to Poverty Row and when in a movie by a studio like Universal it was normally a cameo or a part that was either non-speaking or very little dialogue. Lugosi is a blast as Ygor and outside of Count Dracula I’d actually rate Ygor as his best character. The rest of the cast is very good with strong performances by Cedric Hardwicke and Evelyn Ankers (The Wolf Man) who was one of the scream queens of the 40s.

Overall Ghost of Frankenstein is a better movie than if often gets credited for. While this might be the weakest of the series (ignoring the crossover movies) it’s still a pretty good movie with solid characters and solid acting. While Lon Chaney isn’t anywhere near the level of Karloff as the Monster, Chaney still delivers an excellent take on the Monster and with a strong cast Ghost of Frankenstein is a fun B-Movie and while it may not reach the epic of heights of past Frankenstein films it does provide a fun time.

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Top 10 Universal Monster Movies

Posted in Top 10 Universal Monster Movies, Universal Monsters with tags , , , , , , , on June 25, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

This list builds up to my top spot. In the future the list can change (well at least my 10th spot). But outside of number 10 the other 9 films will remain. So here we go my top 10 Monster Movies.

I left off Abbott & Costello mainly because I sort of forgot, but I also see it as its own film. If I were to list it I would place it 4th or 5th

10. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man

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This was the first of the crossover films. It’s a solid film, but works best in the first half when it’s a Wolf Man sequel. Still a fun movie.

9. Ghost of Frankenstein

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This one is when the Frankenstein films became B-Movies. This marked the first time another actor played the Monster as Lon Chaney took over the role. This one is just a lot of fun despite the flaws.

8. Creature from the Black Lagoon

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50s camp at its finest. While the middle has some pacing issues the final act is rather creepy. Even with some sluggish pacing it never loses its charm.

7. The Invisible Man

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More campy than suspenseful, which was a James Whale trademark this film is just fun. Claude Rains is great in the title role and the F/X actually hold up well and still make me wonder how they did that.

6. Dracula (Spanish Version)

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At 104-minutes its quite long for a horror film from this era, but yet it works. From a technical side of things, the Spanish version is better, but Lugosi, Edward Van Sloan and Tod Browning’s eerie tone give the English version the edge, but I was quite surprised by how much I liked this.

5. Dracula

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While the film is dated obviously I actually feel it also holds up well in terms of writing and directing; the shots in Dracula’s castle early in the film is text book filmmaking on setting an eerie tone. Though at the end of the day Lugosi and Van Sloan are what makes this so brilliant.

4. Son of Frankenstein

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The last time Karloff played the Monster. This was a terrific film only problem is the Monster wasn’t given as much to do. As much as I love this film it lacks the James Whale touch, but its still a truly great film.

3. The Wolf Man

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Like Dracula, I think the Wolf Man holds up well and still can be quite eerie. Lon Chaney was brilliant as the tortured Larry Talbot.

2. Frankenstein

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Love the dark and eerie feel; this was such a great film and one of the horror flicks that forever shaped the genre. Karloff with no dialogue gives one of the greatest performances of all time.

1. Bride of Frankenstein

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Words cannot describe how much I love this film. This is easily my favorite Monster movie and nothing really comes close. Again Karloff is brilliant. Unlike the first this has a lot more camp value, but also some truly touching scenes. A masterpiece simple as that.

House of Frankenstein (1944) Review

Posted in House of Frankenstein, Universal Monsters with tags , , , , on June 24, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN

*** Out of 5

Tagline- Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolf Man, Dracula, Hunchback, Mad Doctor

Release Date- December 1st, 1944

Running Time- 71-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Edward T. Lowe (story Curt Siodmak)

Director- Erle C. Kenton

Starring- Boris Karloff, J. Carrol Naish, John Carradine, Elena Verdugo, Glenn Strange and Lon Chaney

As I’ve stated in other reviews for the Universal Monster films by this point despite being Universal films they were B-Movies and House of Frankenstein released in 1944 is no different. By this time in the series we were far removed from the first 3 Frankenstein films and the original Dracula and Wolf Man. House of Frankenstein came 5-years after Son of Frankenstein and and 3-years after the Wolf Man, but it might as well been a 100-years since quality was so drastically different. House of Frankenstein is the 2nd of 4 crossover films with the first being Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and the last 2 being House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. I suppose it was only a matter of time before Universal took advantage of having these characters and put them in a film together. This time around Dracula (Carradine) is added to the mix and we have the B-Movie staple of Monsters, mad scientists and a hunchback.

If anything House of Frankenstein sort of feels like an anthology; first Dr. Niemann (Karloff) and his story is set up. Than Dracula comes into the story, than after that enter Larry Talbot (Chaney) and finally the Frankenstein Monster (Strange). Perhaps it was the times or just the writing, but it always seemed as if there were problems linking all these Monsters together. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man more or less seemed to be the most successful in doing so, but even that film got a little sluggish when the Monster entered as the movie worked best in the first half when it was a Wolf Man sequel. Here in House of Frankenstein Dracula seems to be just a throw in since his story is unconnected to the rest of the film, well sort of.

After escaping from prison Dr. Niemann looks to get revenge on the people who sent him to prison and with the help of his hunchback assistant Daniel (Naish) he uses the Monsters to carry out that revenge.

The screenplay was written by Edward T. Lowe based off a story by Curt Siodmak who wrote the original Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. The story while interesting might have been better suited as its own film and not a Monster movie as the Monsters are just simply there because Universal has the rights to them all. As I stated the script very much feels like an anthology since Dracula never shares any screen time with the Wolf Man or Frankenstein Monster and it seems he was just put in for the sake of it. The script by Lowe is fairly decent, but adds nothing new to the legacy of either of the 3 franchises. Larry Talbot for the most part just rehashes dialogue from the previous film and its quite clear there wasn’t anything left for the character to do. The biggest letdown is the Monster doesn’t come alive until the final 10-minutes and when he does come alive he’s strapped down and it isn’t until the final 4-minutes he breaks out of the straps. Overall the script isn’t bad, but its brought down by not really being able to work the Monsters in together and it feels like 4 different scripts were written than edited together. I think the film would have played a lot better had it just been about Niemann wanting revenge and not mixing in the Monsters. In Ghost of Frankenstein the Monster had his brain switched with someone else thus creating a new Frankenstein Monster, but in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man that’s ignored and ruined Lugosi’s performance as the Monster (which wasn’t very good to begin with) and that’s continued here in House of Frankenstein as the Monster is back to being the original creation and the fact he actually isn’t is ignored.

House of Frankenstein was directed by Erle C. Kenton who previously helmed Ghost of Frankenstein and the year after this film he would direct House of Dracula. Seeing as Kenton directed Ghost of Frankenstein it is a bit annoying that the fact the Monster isn’t the original creation anymore is still ignored, but I suppose not writing the film there isn’t much he can do. The pace of the film can at times be a bit sluggish, but that’s more with the script than the directing. Gone is the eerie atmosphere the Monster movies were based on in their early days. Of all the Monster films I think Dracula and the Wolf Man hold up the best in filmmaking techniques for the most part and too bad Kenton doesn’t use any of those. Suspense is light and there really isn’t an eerie atmosphere either. To his credit though Kenton does deliver a fun film and while this isn’t exactly high quality filmmaking, Kenton is a competent director and makes a fun film with the flaws being more to do with the script than anything else.

John Carradine is sort of the forgotten Dracula and this marked his debut as Count Dracula and he would reprise the role the following year in House of Dracula. Carradine doesn’t have the charisma of Lugosi nor is he as eerie, but with that said I do like Carradine’s take on the role and while sure he’s nothing like Lugosi despite playing the same character I find him entertaining, but he really isn’t given much to do. Glenn Strange plays the Monster for the first time here and he’d play the tole twice more (House of Dracula & Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein). It’s really difficult to rate his performance seeing as he only has a few minutes of screw time and most of that he’s strapped down. It’s impossible not to compare anybody that plays the Monster to Karloff and nobody has or ever will match or top Karloff in the role, but Strange wasn’t bad. It’s just unfortunate he isn’t given a whole lot to do. Lon Chaney again is excellent as the cursed Larry Talbot, but he just rehashes past dialogue and while Chaney by this point does seem to be going through the motions he’s still a joy to watch.

House of Frankenstein was Karloff’s return to the series as he last appeared in the franchise in Son of Frankenstein his last outing as the Frankenstein Monster. Karloff is one of my all time favorite actors and my favorite horror actor and Karloff is excellent here, but only hindered by his screenwriter.

My review for House of Frankenstein may not be overly glowing, but despite the many flaws it is an entertaining film only brought down by the fact the film seemed to be unable to mix these iconic Monsters together and again I think the film would have turned out better without them. However House of Frankenstein is a fun film to watch and flaws and all should please fans of the series.

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The Wolf Man (1941) Review

Posted in Wolf Man (1941) with tags , , , on June 23, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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THE WOLF MAN

**** ½ Out of 5

Tagline- His Hideous Howl a Dirge of Death

Release Date- December 12th, 1941

Running Time- 70-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Curt Siodmak

Director- George Waggner

Starring- Claude Rains, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Maria Ouspenskaya with Bela Lugosi as Bela and Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot

When it comes to the horror genre you’ll be hard pressed to find a studio with a greater legacy than Universal and when it comes to the horror genre who knows where it would be if not for the Universal Monster Movies, which were big time releases that the studio promoted as big events. After reaching epic heights with the Frankenstein and Dracula series, which made Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi legends 1941 saw the release of the Wolf Man, which in many ways was sort of an end of an era as after this the Monster movies would be more along the lines of a B-Movie despite being made by Universal. The Wolf Man wasn’t the first werewolf movie Werewolf of London from 1935 also by Universal seems to get that honor, but its the Wolf Man that set the bar for every film of its type to follow.

Lon Chaney, Jr was born Creighton Chaney on Febuary 10th, 1906 and despite having a solid career it’s not easy when your father is Lon Chaney, Sr Man of a 1000 Faces and not only was Jr in his fathers shadow, but also Karloff and Lugosi. Of course the name Lon Chaney helped his career, but in some ways also hurt. Seeing as I’m not a big fan of silent films I prefer Jr and while I prefer Karloff and Lugosi I would rate Lon Chaney, Jr up there with them and he deserves far better credit than he’s given at times.

After the death of his brother, Larry Talbot (Chaney) returns home and also attempts to make amends with his father Sir John Talbot (Rains). One night while at a carnival, Larry attempts to help a woman being attacked by an animal and the animal ends up being a werewolf and bites Larry and now during a full moon, Larry turns into the Wolf Man.

The screenplay by Curt Siodmak is well plotted and well written and the characters are excellent and all greatly add to the picture. Like many movies of its era The Wolf Man is as much a drama as it is a horror movie and the monster also being sympathetic is another common theme. The script by Siodmak has influenced generation after generation of filmmakers and quite honestly of all the classic Monster movies I think the script (along with Dracula) holds up very well and while sure would need some tweaking I still think the script could play out well. Of all the Monster movies the Wolf Man would be my 3rd favorite behind Bride of Frankenstein and Frankenstein, but the script unlike those 2 I truly think could still work without a major rewrite.

Director George Waggner creates a film for the ages with the Wolf Man; the pacing is great though the 2nd half does move a bit slower, but pacing is always strong and Waggner creates some genuine suspense and atmosphere. Like how the script holds up I also think the direction does as well as many of the techniques used by Waggner could still work with a modern audience (again of course with some changes). The final act of the film is flat out brilliant with some of the best scenes for any of the Monster movies. The final act is also quite sad and tragic and really helps elevate an already brilliant film.

As much as I love horror flicks of the 30s and 40s my only complaint sometimes is the acting. Some of the best acted horror movies of all time came from the 30s and 40s, but they also had a lot of over the top acting, which really isn’t the case in The Wolf Man. Bela Lugosi is solid in a cameo and Claude Rains steals the show as Sir John Talbot. Claude Rains gives a brilliant performance and was the strongest link in the cast. Lon Chaney Jr. gives the best performance of his career as Larry Talbot. Like the Frankenstein Monster, Talbot is a sympathetic character. Once Larry turns into the Wolf Man he cannot help himself and he’s very much a tortured soul. Characters like Larry Talbot were done a lot in the classic era of the genre and here it works well again.

Overall The Wolf Man is simply a great film and by today’s standards it may not be scary anymore, but what it lacks there now is made up for with some eerie atmosphere. Like I said the film does hold up well for the most part and is one of the most important horror films ever made.

The Blu-ray release comes 71-years after its original release and Universal delivers a top notch transfer. While there might be some slight imperfections such as halos that appear, but I barley noticed it. The BD looks simply fantastic. I never got around to picking up the 2010 SE DVD so I really can’t say how much of an upgrade the Blu-ray is, but when compared to the Legacy Edition the DVD looks like a VHS. The only plus side to that DVD edition is you get 3 more films. But quality wise Universal delivers a beautiful HD transfer to go along with a solid audio track.

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