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Burn, Witch, Burn (1962)

220px-BurnwitchburnNorman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde) is a professor at a prestigious British college where he teaches psychology, in particular the psychology behind superstition and various belief systems. When he finds out that his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), has been practicing witchcraft in order to protect them from what she believes are outside forces and attacks, he insists that she destroy all of her charms.

Almost immediately disaster reigns down on Norman and Tansy in the form of strange, hypnotic noises, lewd telephone calls, a near-death run in with a van and rape accusations. Norman shrugs it off as coincidence but as the strangeness continues he finds himself wondering if it was all true and if Tansy had been protecting them all along.

In the end it’s up to the audience to decide whether there was any real witchcraft going on or if it was all the power of suggestion.

Based on a novel Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Jr. and a screenplay by Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson, this British black and white horror flick rises above the cheesy pre-credits sequence that American International slapped on it when it obtained the American distribution rights. Once Paul Fries finishes dispelling any evil spirits that could be caused by watching this movie, the film maintains a serious tone throughout and leaves AI’s attempt at camp behind.

Modern viewers may find this film slow and talky, but I found it to be a serious-minded, atmospheric examination of the power of suggestion and how easily it can be to be convinced of the supernatural when a person’s mind and body is stressed beyond endurance. The performances by Wyngarde, Blair and Margaret Johnston (as Flora Carr, a colleague of Norman’s) are top-notch and not once do they not handle the subject matter seriously.

You’ll Find Out (1940)

You'll Find Out PosterA Halloween tradition in our household is the viewing of classic horror-comedies including the likes of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948) and Hold that Ghost (1941).

Last year we added to our collection with the purchase of You’ll Find Out (1940) which stars not one, not two, but three classic horror film stars – Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre.

However, the real star of the film is the now nearly-forgotten band leader Kay Kyser and his group, the Kay Kyser Band. Kyser was famous for his radio show “Kollege of Musical Knowledge” and the film actually starts with a radio broadcast of the show.

In the movie, Kyser’s band is hired to play at the 21st birthday party of the girlfriend of Kyser’s agent, Chuck Deems (Dennis O’Keefe.) It becomes clear quite early on that someone is trying to kill birthday girl Janis (Helen Parrish) and it’s up to Kay and the gang to figure this whole thing out.

The movie is full of self-aware corny jokes, over-acting, Scooby-doo type shenanigans and even a dog in a wig. Nevertheless, the séance scenes are genuinely creepy, the cast is enjoyable and it moves along at a nice pace. The character of Ish Kabibble (M.A. Bogue) is on-screen just a little too much considering how unfunny he is, but he was apparently quite popular at the time.

As for the main attraction for modern film-lovers, Boris Karloff is slimily sinister, Peter Lorre is apathetically aloof and Bela Lugosi creepily charming. All three of them are a delight to watch and one of the funnier conceits of the film is that no one suspects Lorre and Karloff of evil-doings until the last five minutes of the film.

If you’re a fan of these types of movies I highly recommend you try this one out. It’s a hoot and even has several very catchy musical numbers.

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)

The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967)They say humor is subjective. The film The Fearless Vampire Killers proves the point.

The Plot: Professor Abronsius (Jack MacGowran) and his assistant Alfred (Roman Polanski) have traveled to Transylvania in search of vampires. As luck would have it, a local vampire raids the inn they are staying at and snatches the first pretty girl he finds, Sarah Shagal (Sharon Tate), who is the daughter of the inn keeper (Alfie Bass).

After some convoluted shenanigans they end up at the vampire’s castle, run around like a couple of idiots, come face to face with about two dozen vampires and fail to dispatch even one of them. They do escape, believing they have at least rescued Sarah from a vampiric fate, but it turns out that she’s already one of the undead and in the closing moments of the film, the narrator informs us that this leads to the spread of vampirism throughout the world.

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This movie isn’t all bad or unfunny. The scene where Alfred, in an attempt to escape from a vampire, runs in a complete circle to end up right back in front of the blood-sucker is pretty damn funny. There are a few one-liners that are humorous and once they get to the castle, the pace picks up and it at least becomes watchable.

However, my problems with the movie outweigh its appealing aspects greatly. The humor is uneven and often just doesn’t work, the female characters are treated as nothing but sex objects and there’s even a gay vampire who is feared more for his sexuality than the fact that he’s a blood-sucking fiend.

I could go on about what doesn’t work about this movie but I honestly don’t want to expound the effort on a film I will never watch again – except for maybe a YouTube clip of Alfred’s run around the castle, as you can see below (starting at 3:50).

I am aware that many people love this film and find it hilarious. Like I said before, humor is subjective and if you can get past the blatant sexism and mild homophobia, be my guest and check it out.

The Mummy (1959)

Hammer's 'The Mummy' (1959)We start out our Halloween Horror Movie Marathon appropriately enough with the classic team-up of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in Hammer studio’s The Mummy (1959). Cushing plays the good guy this time, while Lee is the titular monster.

The Plot: You’ve heard this story before, and you’ll most likely hear it again. Back in the days of ancient Egypt, 4000 years ago, lived a Princess Ananka (Yvonne Furneaux) who had a personal bodyguard named Kharis (Christopher Lee). When she died, Kharis tried to bring her back using the Scroll of Life. He was caught and to atone for his sins against Ananka’s god, he was bound in bandages so he could become Ananka’s bodyguard for all eternity in the form of an undead Mummy.

All is well until some determined archaeologists, Steven Banning (Felix Aylmer) and his son John Banning (Peter Cushing), find the final burying place of Ananka and dare to open it up for exploration.

Years later, a worshiper of Ananka’s god brings the Mummy to England to exact his revenge on the family who dared move Ananka’s body. Poor Papa Banning goes first, then assistant Joseph (Raymond Huntley).

John Banning is almost done for when his wife walks in – and wouldn’t you know it, she looks just like old Ananka, giving the Mummy a start. Confused and believing his princess is actually still alive, he leaves John alone and returns to his master.

John’s pretty ticked off now so he goes down the street to confront the Mummy’s master and they have an oh-so-polite insult-fest and then John leaves to return home.

The Mummy attacks again, this time kidnapping Mrs. Banning but before he can take her down into the bog, she is able to get away, pretending to be Ananka. The Mummy is shot many, many times and he sinks down into the muddy bog, never to be heard from again (?).

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This wasn’t one of my favorite Hammer horror films. Without Cushing or Lee I don’t think I could have sat through to the end. It was a little slow, a little repetitive, and Cushing’s character was a bit of a milksop up until he decides to confront the man setting the Mummy on his family. That scene is the highlight of the film and quite effective.

I did like the fact that Cushing’s wife was not a screechy, fearful woman. Yes, she fainted once, but if you walked in on an undead Mummy strangling your husband, I think you might faint as well. After that, she was clear-headed, intelligent and didn’t panic when it was time for her to pretend to be Ananka to save herself.

So, this is one of those ‘glad I saw it’ movies but one I doubt I’ll sit through again.

Captain Kirk School of Defense

Pertwee Awesomeness

Jon Pertwee is still my favorite Doctor (although I love all of them for their varied strengths and flaws) and here are a few examples of his awesomeness.

First – he taught us that reversing the polarity will fix anything. ANYTHING.Pertwee_reversepolarity

Second – he taught us that it was all about the journey, not the destination.

Pertwee_straightlineAnd third – his Doctor didn’t take crap from anyone. No matter how well-armed. I think our newer Doctors need a bit more of this, if you ask me.

Pertwee_sheerawesomeness

Let’s Celebrate Cagney!

These YouTube videos were made several years ago by Melanie and I still love watching them when I need a concentrated dose of Cagney greatness.

Enjoy!

Part 1 of 5

Part 2 of 5

Part 3 of 5

Part 4 of 5

Part 5 of 5

State of Entertainment

We’ve been rewatching “Babylon 5” for the past few weeks. It’s the first time we’ve watched it on our big screen, high-def television and even with its sometimes really low resolution (you can always tell when an effect shot is coming up) we can see things we’ve never noticed before. The attention to detail on that show was pretty amazing.

I’m reading a few different things. I’m finally making headway on Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. I struggled with it for a while because a) the protagonist was a whiny-baby who never ceased to complain about his lot in life and b) Verne gives several geology lessons in the book, especially in the beginning. But, that has passed. The main character has finally (somewhat) gotten into the spirit of the adventure and now we’re on to paleontology lessons, which I find more interesting.

I’m also reading I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich.com. Despite his non-sympathy with introverted people it’s a very good book. It’s even an interesting read. Financial books are normally very dry and dull but this one is not.

Last night we picked up a new “Doctor Who” story – The Face of Evil. it’s Leela’s first appearance and so far it’s very good. It really grabs your interest from the start and keeps moving right along.