TV Review: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975)

Original Run: September 13th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975
Created by: Jeff Rice
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: various
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt 

Francy Productions Inc., Universal Television, ABC, 20 Episodes, 50-51 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve wanted to work my way through all the classic Kolchak material for quite some time. After reviewing the two television movies, I knew it was time to watch the television series, which only ran for a single season of twenty episodes.

Overall, I prefer the two films but the show is where the character and his world really come to life and start to develop its own mythos.

The show is a mixed bag of some great and some mediocre episodes. None of them are bad but some are a bit slow and felt like they were interesting concepts or ideas that didn’t live up to the level of the franchise at its best.

The episodes I dug most I truly loved, though.

Darren McGavin was born to play the role of Carl Kolchak and it’s hard to envision anyone else in the part, even though it was rebooted thirty or so years later with Stuart Townsend. I’ve never seen that version but I may track it down in order to review it. That show failed pretty quickly though and has less episodes than the original.

I think that the quality of the episodes being a bit shaky didn’t have so much to do with the monsters featured but had more to do with the creative teams that worked on them. Some stories felt rushed, some felt slow and the craftsmanship was sometimes lacking. For instance, in one episode the cinematography could look superb for 1970s television while in the following episode, it could look really pedestrian and half assed.

That’s not to say that the show didn’t have a consistent look and feel, it did. It’s just to say that it really stood out when a director would go the extra mile or when a writer took time crafting a solid, more fleshed out script. You could gauge which episodes were made with actual passion and love for the material.

Faults aside, I dig the hell out of this show and the two main characters within it. I love McGavin and Simon Oakland brought an extra level of gravitas. Plus, the two men have incredible chemistry.

While this is a franchise that seems almost forgotten in the early part of the 2020s, it is still historically significant. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten other great, similar shows like The X-Files.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Kolchak movies before the show, as well as the reboot and The X-Files.

Film Review: Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)

Release Date: June 23rd, 1955
Directed by: Charles Lamont
Written by: John Grant, Lee Loeb
Music by: Joseph Gershenson (supervisor)
Cast: Bud Abbott, Lou Costello, Marie Windsor, Michael Ansara, Peggy King, Richard Deacon, Mel Welles

Universal International Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“There is no curse that a gun or a knife can’t cure.” – Madame Rontru

This installment in the Abbott & Costello/Universal Monsters mashups is one of the best.

While I still like their Frankenstein movie the most, this one is really close to it.

Being that this one lacks the star power and all the famous monsters of the Frankenstein picture, actually makes it a bit more impressive, as it was able to almost live up to that one with far less at the comedians and writers’ disposal.

In fact, I like this movie so much, it is my favorite Universal Mummy movie ever made after the original 1932 Boris Karloff one. The main reason is that this just hits the right notes in regards to the Mummy franchise while also being loaded with great gags and clever comedy writing.

Abbott and Costello are always hilarious and perfect as a pair but they really upped the ante in this one. I also liked seeing multiple mummies on the screen, even if all the dudes wrapped in bandages at the end, weren’t actual mummies.

This did a great job with the sets and making the world feel authentic and real. Well, as much as it could with the limitations of the time.

I also really enjoyed the addition of Mary Windsor, here, and it’s one of my favorite roles she’s played as she got to ham it up with the comedy legends and was convincing in her villainous role, which probably comes from spending so much time acting in classic film-noir pictures before this one.

Ultimately, this is a fun movie that lives up to both of the brands it brought together. Frankly, it’s probably the best way that Abbott and Costello could’ve ended their series of Universal Monster films.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Abbot and Costello monster movies.

Film Review: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Release Date: October 14th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Written by: Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Music by: Tristram Cary
Cast: Valerie Leon, Andrew Keir, Mark Edwards, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, Aubrey Morris

EMI Films, Hammer Films, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“The meek shall not inherit the earth. They can’t be trusted with it.” – Corbeck

Out of the four Mummy movies made by Hammer Films, this one is the most original and least derivative of the two Mummy sequels before it.

While this was an adaptation of The Jewel of Seven Stars, a classic Bram Stoker novel, it was set in contemporary times, giving it a fresh, modern feel. Well, at least in 1971.

This was also probably done to make the film’s production cheaper and I’m sure that it succeeded, as Hammer would follow this up by making two modern Dracula films, as well as a few other flicks set in the 1970s.

Additionally, it differs from the other three films in that the mummy in this picture is a woman. A very, very beautiful and alluring woman, mind you. Valerie Leon, in fact, and if you’ve never seen her in Zeta One, you haven’t truly lived.

Anyway, I like this film simply because it isn’t just a copy of a copy of a copy. It tried something new and I feel like it succeeded in spite of its limitations and faults.

It’s definitely entertaining if you’re a fan of classic Hammer horror and beautiful babes. 

I also dig that they adapted a Bram Stoker story that wasn’t Dracula, which is really the only book that Stoker is known for by modern audiences. While The Jewel of Seven Stars isn’t as iconic as Dracula, it’s still a cool story and it helped pave the way for mummy horror before feature length movies were even made.

The acting is pretty average and I’d say it’s what you would expect from a Hammer picture. This one doesn’t have any of the iconic Hammer actors in it but the cast still holds their own.

I thought that this did pretty well with the flashback sequences, tying our female lead back to her previous life as an Egyptian queen. Also, the look of Egypt in this film was otherworldly and kind of cool. I know that the look of outdoor Egypt in this was a byproduct of a low budget but the director made the most out of it and I thought the look worked quite well.

In the end, the Hammer Mummy movies aren’t as beloved as the Dracula and Frankenstein ones but they’re still a lot of fun and still feel like genuine, stylish Hammer pictures.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

Film Review: The Mummy’s Shroud (1967)

Release Date: March 15th, 1967
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: John Gilling, Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Andre Morell, John Phillips, David Buck, Maggie Kimberly, Elizabeth Sellars, Michael Ripper

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He says that death awaits all who disturb the resting place of Kah-to-Bey.” – Sir Basil Walden

Being that this was the third Mummy film by Hammer, the momentum started to slow and what we got was a formulaic mummy movie that feels pretty thin when compared to the two before it.

However, I did like the whole gimmick regarding the shroud and how whoever had possession of it had control over the undead mummy in the story.

Michael Ripper returns in a supporting role, although he is playing a different character than he did in the previous film.

One benefit this picture did have over the second one, though, is that it had one of Hammer’s top stars in Andre Morell. I always liked him and he’s my third favorite Hammer lead after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It was cool seeing him get to star in a Mummy picture, as he has a certain panache and a commanding presence.

Overall, though, this is just more of the same even if it does have a few things working for it.

I know that I’ve seen this one before and probably multiple times, as I own the DVD. However, everything about it slipped down the memory hole because it’s pretty much derivative of every other better known Mummy movie before it. 

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

Film Review: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964)

Release Date: October 18th, 1964 (UK)
Directed by: Michael Carreras
Written by: Michael Carreras, Alvin Rakoff
Music by: Carlo Martelli
Cast: Terence Morgan, Fred Clark, Ronald Howard, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell, Michael Ripper

Swallow Productions Ltd., Hammer Films, 78 Minutes

Review:

“We’re all doomed to die for this act of desecration.” – Hashmi Bey

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie despite it being a Hammer film based on a classic monster.

For one, it doesn’t star any premier Hammer regulars. Well, except for Michael Ripper but what wasn’t he in from Hammer?

Additionally, other than the first Mummy film from Hammer, I don’t really remember these that well. I think it’s because they didn’t leave an impression and that they may have just been paint-by-numbers rehashes of the first movie and the many mummy monster movies that pre-date them.

Well, I’m not wrong on that, at least with this one. However, seeing it now, I was still pretty entertained by it and even though I’ve seen this, it was like watching it for the first time.

What I really liked about this one was the story and I also thought that the monster was pretty good, even if the man inside wasn’t Christopher Lee. This mummy was still imposing, intimidating and kind of cool, where mummies are typically a bit boring.

I also loved the final sequence in the film, which saw the mummy go into the sewers with the pretty lady. It’s not the most memorable moment of a Hammer picture or even close to that but it was a nice climax to a pretty fun and enjoyable mummy movie.

Although, this film’s original poster is kind of bizarre as it makes the mummy look like a giant and the woman look like she’s toddler size.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

 

Film Review: The Mummy (1959)

Release Date: August 1st, 1959 (Japan)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Franz Reizenstein
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes (original), 86 Minutes

Review:

“He who robs the graves of Egypt dies!” – Mehemet Bey

Since I’ve reviewed the entirety of Hammer’s Dracula and Frankenstein films, I figured that this classic monster reboot series also needed to be revisited.

Coming off of the heels of The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula, Hammer got the same creative team back together and took a shot at resurrecting The Mummy in their own, original way.

It also helped that they brought back both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee for this one, making it feel like the third part in a trilogy of films where Hammer was showing tribute to the Universal Monsters franchise that kicked off in the 1930s.

I actually love that this is its own thing and it’s not trying to remake 1932’s The Mummy with Boris Karloff. It just takes the concept and gives the audience a fresh, new story. Sure, there are obvious similarities but this picture has a unique visual aesthetic and frankly, it’s one of the best looking Hammer movies of all-time. I also say that as someone that already loves the visual style of the studio’s classic films.

While I would rank this below the first Dracula and Frankenstein films, it’s still pretty damn good and it’s certainly the best of the Hammer Mummy series.

I enjoyed the characters and I especially liked the look of Christopher Lee’s mummy. The makeup was impressive for 1959 and Lee is such a good physical actor that his mummy is one of my favorites of all-time. While I don’t feel that he gets the same level of admiration as Karloff’s version of the monster, I’d say that his is on the same level and possibly a bit better due to his size and how imposing he is. Lee’s mummy just looks and feels stronger than Karloff’s and there is just something more sinister about him.

Ultimately, this is a solid Hammer horror flick. For fans of the studio and classic monsters, it is definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other films in Hammer’s Mummy series, as well as other Hammer films of the time.

Video Game Review: Castlevania: Bloodlines (Sega Genesis)

Who doesn’t love Castlevania games?

I’ve played almost all of them up until the late ’00s. Yet, I never got around to playing Bloodlines, which is actually kind of strange, as I owned a Sega Genesis and rented games for it all the damn time.

This was cool to check out now, though.

This plays just like all the other Castlevania games before it, well… excluding Simon’s Quest, as that one was a breed all its own.

Anyway, this plays a lot like the first and third games for the original Nintendo. You work your way through levels, you fight all sorts of monstrosities and you usually get the shit kicked out of you because Castlevania games tend to be hard as shit, even for those of us who have played them pretty steadily over the course of our lives.

For the most part, this Castlevania game is a lot of fun. I like that you have two characters to choose from but if I’m being honest, just pick the dude with the whip because playing a Castlevania game without a whip is like playing a different game entirely. Unless, you’re Alucard and you can transform into cool shit and have a lightning fast rapier. But this game doesn’t have Alucard as a playable character, so just take the whip dude.

This game is also set further into the future and the characters have a lineage to characters of the past. Hence, the name Bloodlines.

Still, the world looks about the same and it doesn’t really matter which century this take place in.

Now I didn’t beat this game. I think I got pretty far but man, this game will crush your ass. I especially had a lot of frustration on the level with the rising water and then having to kill that level’s boss without drowning. That’s the one spot where I really got hung up, lost a lot of lives and blew through too many continues.

Despite my difficulty, this is still a solid game and it was more fun than frustrating.

It has fluid gameplay, looks superb and boasts a great soundtrack.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: The original Castlevania trilogy for NES, Super Castlevania IV for SNES, the Gameboy Castlevania games, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (also known as Dracula X) and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night for the original PlayStation.

Book Review: Famous Monsters – Ack-ives, Vol. 2: The House of Hammer

I’ve been a Hammer Films aficionado since I was a wee little lad. Growing up, my granmum always had AMC and other old movie stations on. As the sun went down, often times there’d be some solid old school horror, whether it was the Universal Monsters stuff, Vincent Price movies or the Hammer films, which almost always starred Christopher Lee or Peter Cushing and usually the two of them together.

I used to videotape every Hammer film that came on television and I had a solid collection. As I got older, I ended up getting just about everything I could on DVD, completing the Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy film series. Not to mention everything in-between.

So I had to pick this up when I saw it in my local comic book shop.

This reads like a book but is in a magazine format. But it’s pretty thick and has a slew of good articles about the history of Hammer studios and all the great movies they put out.

It delves into their big franchises, which were the UK’s darker and more serious takes on the franchises originally created by Universal, most of which came from famous works of literature like Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Hammer didn’t just stop there, though. They did other vampire movies, mummy movies, zombie movies, werewolf movies and just about everything else under the sun that could be tailored into a good horror story.

Famous Monsters did a fine job of painting the picture of who the creators behind Hammer were and why their work was so essential to the evolution of horror.

This is definitely worth checking out and it is plastered with lots of great photos from the film themselves, as well as behind the scenes stuff.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other classic horror magazines.

Film Review: Horror Express (1972)

Also known as: Pánico en el Transiberiano (original Spanish title), The Possessor (US re-issue title), Panic in the Trans-Siberian Train (alternate title)
Release Date: September 30th, 1972 (Sitges – Catalonian International Film Festival)
Directed by: Eugenio Martin
Written by: Arnaud d’Usseau, Julian Zimet
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Telly Savalas, Silvia Tortosa

Granada Films, Benmar Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“The two of you together. That’s fine. But what if one of you is the monster?” – Inspector Mirov

It’s been at least a decade since I’ve watched Horror Express but I really didn’t like it the few times I saw it, even though it is one of the 22 motion pictures that teamed up real life best friends Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. It also features another one of my favorite actors, Telly Savalas.

I’m not sure why I wasn’t a fan of it, as I liked it this time around but maybe I’m older, more mature, have a better palate and thought that this thing was a bit of a fine wine with just the right amount of cheese to accompany it.

I think that one of the reason’s I never liked it was due to the fact that all the prints and releases of this film are in pretty poor quality. I hope it gets a proper remaster, at some point. But I was able to not let that bother me this time, as I got caught up in the story, most of which I hadn’t remembered other than this being a mummy on a train movie.

There’s a weird twist though, this mummy is actually an alien and he has this power where he uses his glowing eyes to peer through his victims’ eyes and murder them with some sort of brain crushing ability. However, the alien mummy has to kill people to regain his form and his strength but he also can control them like an undead army.

This movie feels like a mix between Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express and a classic Hammer horror film. But it looks more like the ’70s visual style of an Amicus production. Strangely, this is neither a Hammer or Amicus film but it was able to lure in the talents of Lee and Cushing.

I liked the setting and how the environment was used so well. A train kind of limits what one can do in a horror movie but it never wrecked the plot here and it actually made you feel just as confined as the characters.

The movie uses miniatures for the exterior train shots but they come off really well. That could be due to the poor quality of the print hiding the imperfections but even the big finale, which sees part of the train go over a cliff was pulled off nicely.

I’m glad that I revisited this. I didn’t expect to actually dig it as much as I did this time but sometimes you can revisit something you weren’t fond of and see something new or worthwhile that you may have missed before.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: Amicus and Hammer Films of the early ’70s, especially those featuring Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee.

Film Review: Being From Another Planet (1982)

Also known as: Time Walker (original title), Pharaoh (working title)
Release Date: November 19th, 1982
Directed by: Tom Kennedy
Written by: Tom Friedman, Karen Levitt, Jason Williams
Music by: Richard Band
Cast: Ben Murphy, Nina Axelrod, Kevin Brophy, James Karen, Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Antoinette Bower, Sam Chew Jr., Shari Belafonte, Greta Blackburn, Jack Olson

Byzantine Productions, Wescom Productions, New World Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“Nothing can stop him, not even time.” – tagline

Someone that reviewed this on IMDb titled their review “Boring From Another Planet”. Well, that’s pretty accurate.

It’s also a perfect film to be torn apart on Mystery Sceince Theater 3000.

But if I’m being honest, this film does have one saving grace: James Karen. I love that guy. I mean he’s great in everything, even with really minor roles. I even enjoyed his Pathmark commercials, which I’d only see when visiting my family in New York City back in the ’80s.

Apart from Karen though, everything else about this picture is dead on arrival. I usually like stuff from New World Pictures too but this is well below their respectable schlock level.

The story revolves around this alien that was mummified and asleep in King Tut’s tomb but he’s now been awaken, centuries later. I guess this is kind of like a slasher picture but it is severely light on the slashing and it only sort of fits that in how the mummy alien just sort of lurks in the shadows and watches young couple struggling to go beyond first base.

The special effects in this are bad between the look of the alien and the post production work on trying to make the magical bits come to life.

Also, the acting is of the ’80s TV movie quality. It’s not atrocious or anything but it makes Airwolf look like Dunkirk, if I’m comparing.

This was a dud on nearly every level. It’s not interesting, it’s executed poorly and it’s only worth a watch if you check out the MST3K version.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other ’80s sci-fi/horror schlock: Forbidden World, Xtro and The Boogens.