Film Review: The Threat (1949)

Also known as: Terror
Release Date: December 1st, 1949
Directed by: Felix E. Feist
Written by: Dick Irving Hyland, Hugh King
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Michael O’Shea, Virginia Grey, Charles McGraw

RKO Radio Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“Remember, I have to live with my conscience.” – Detective Ray Williams

The Threat isn’t a well known film-noir but anything made by RKO in the noir style is always worth a look.

It’s a quick 66 minute film that moves at a rapid pace and is fairly high octane for the era. It really doesn’t relent, due to it’s scant running time and it felt like it was over in the blink of an eye.

The story is about a homicidal maniac who breaks out of prison and starts kidnapping those he deemed responsible for his imprisonment: a cop, a district attorney and a nightclub singer who is believed to be the rat.

The film has a lot of angles and the narrative plays out nicely even if it felt somewhat underwhelming by the end.

As far as the production, it is fairly pedestrian. The acting, directing and cinematography are all pretty average. And even though the setup was really good and got me hooked, that first act of the film is really the high point.

Now I did enjoy Paul Sawtell’s score. But he always provided good music for the films he worked on.

The Threat isn’t very memorable but it isn’t a bad way to spend 66 minutes.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: any crime thriller film-noir from RKO that feels more like a B-movie than a big studio production. That’s not a diss, as some of these films are great.

Trailer located here, as it’s only available on TCM and I can’t embed those videos here. You should fix that, TCM.

Film Review: Follow Me Quietly (1949)

Release Date: July 7th, 1949 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written by: Lillie Hayward, Anthony Mann, Francis Rosenwald
Music by: Leonid Raab, Paul Sawtell
Cast: William Lundigan, Dorothy Patrick, Jeff Corey, Nestor Paiva

RKO Radio Pictures, 60 Minutes

Review:

“I always wanted to throw something out of that window. Ha, I didn’t know it would be me. ” – J.C. McGill

Follow Me Quietly was put out by RKO Radio Pictures, a major studio in its heyday, but it feels more like a noir from one of the Poverty Row studios.

I think part of the reason is that this was definitely a B-movie, it had a very scant running time and didn’t have any big marquee players. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, however, and he was certainly a top director but maybe more so after this picture.

It’s an okay movie but there is nothing about it that sets it apart from the slew of late ’40s film-noir pictures. It’s pretty pedestrian, if I’m being honest, but it still has some interesting stuff within its slim 60 minute running time.

But I guess what captivated me most wasn’t the story or the characters but it was nuances within the film. While it’s a pretty standard police procedural for most of the film, the scenes where people try to identify suspects in the police lineup were really neat. Some of the characters posed with blank faces very similar to the character called The Blank from the 1990 Dick Tracy movie. Maybe that character was inspired by these moments in this film.

I enjoyed the police procedural shtick in this but it also felt ridiculous in how they came to conclusions in a few key spots.

In the end, this was an okay way to spend an hour but other than the strange police lineup proceedings, there’s not much to write home about.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures of the ’40s from RKO Radio Pictures or some of the stuff from Poverty Row studios.

Film Review: This Island Earth (1955)

Also known as: Bloodlust In Outer Space (reissue title)
Release Date: June 10th, 1955 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Joseph M. Newman, Jack Arnold
Written by: Franklin Coen, Edward G. O’Callaghan
Based on: This Island Earth by Raymond F. Jones
Music by: Henry Mancini, Hans J. Salter, Herman Stein (all uncredited)
Cast: Jeff Morrow, Faith Domergue, Rex Reason

Universal Pictures, Universal International, 86 Minutes

Review:

“It is indeed typical that you Earth people refuse to believe in the superiority of any world but your own. Children looking into a magnifying glass, imagining the image you see is the image of your true size.” – The Monitor

Sometimes Universal lumps this film into their Universal Monsters franchise. This is mainly due to the alien monster the Metaluna Mutant, who is one of their most iconic creations. However, as much as I like the monster and this film, it doesn’t fit within the general Universal Monsters style. Plus, this is more sci-fi than horror. Really, it isn’t horror at all, unless for some bizarre reason you are actually scared of the big brained rubber suit alien. Also, unlike the other Universal Monsters movies, this one is in color.

Also, this film has the distinction of being the only film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed on the big screen, as it was the one featured in the MST3K movie. That film stars Mike Nelson and it came out between seasons 6 and 7, so it was devoid of TV’s Frank and hadn’t yet given us Pearl. But I’m not here to talk about that, I’m here to talk specifically about This Island Earth. And to be completely honest, it is the film least deserving of getting roasted in the entire history of MST3K.

It’s not a bad movie for its time. It has hokey effects and doesn’t look as refined as some of the bigger sci-fi films of the time but it’s still imaginative and the effects work does its job for 1955.

The real highlight for me is the Metaluna Mutant but sadly, the monster doesn’t get much screen time. The bulk of the film deals with coming into contact with an alien society and then going into space to meet them. There is a sinister plot underneath it all but that doesn’t mean that every alien our Earthlings encounter is evil.

This used some pretty great matte paintings in several scenes and while it’s obvious, the art direction was really impressive and you do get immersed in this world.

I thought that the use of Technicolor was well done and it made this film flourish in a visual way that couldn’t have been achieved in standard black and white. The Metaluna Mutant certainly wouldn’t have looked as cool and its doubtful he would have become as iconic as he did without color. He probably would have just been filed away into the depths of old movie history with a slew of other black and white rubber aliens.

If you are into classic sci-fi from this great era, you’ll probably find this pretty enjoyable. It’s not the best film of its type but it is much better than average.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s alien threat movies: When Worlds CollideWar of the WorldsThe Day the Earth Stood StillIt Came From Outer Space and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers.

Film Review: Daddy-O (1958)

Also known as: Out On Probation (working title), Downbeat
Release Date: March, 1958
Directed by: Lou Place
Written by: David Moessinger
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Dick Contino, Sandra Giles, Bruno Vesota, John McClure

American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Couldn’t help ya if I wanted to, fella. Gym policy.” – Bruce Green

Daddy-O is really only notable for two things.

One, it was the first motion picture scored by movie music maestro John Williams.

Two, it was featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Other than those two things, this would probably have been lost to time, an ancient relic forgotten and swallowed up by the massive trash heap of terrible movies that’s buried somewhere deep, underneath Hollywood.

The film stars accordion maestro Dick Contino and a lot of bad ’50s styled pop tunes. It features youth trying too hard to be counterculture, a badly filmed car race and dancing that looks more like mental patients having a party in the seizure ward.

The humor is dry and terrible, the dialogue is atrocious, the direction is ineffective and the cinematography is so basic that it has an app that sends push notifications when it’s pumpkin spice latte season.

Daddy-O, for all its faults, isn’t the worst movie ever featured on MST3K but it is still tough to get through on its own. Like most MST3K movies, it’s best watched within the framework of that show because there’s too much material to riff on and you’d be bored senseless otherwise.

However, I did actually like the music that John Williams contributed to the film. But when the opening credits of booming Williams tunes to the sight of a car wheel spinning is the highlight of a film, you’re left with a long strip of celluloid that would have been more useful cut into 4 inch strips for bookmarks.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other terrible excuses for old school youth movies: The BeatniksUntamed Youth, Catalina Caper and The Choppers.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: The Witch (2015)

Also known as: La Bruja (Spanish language title)
Release Date: January 23rd, 2015 (Sundance)
Directed by: Robert Eggers
Written by: Robert Eggers
Music by: Mark Korven
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Kate Dickie, Harvey Scrimshaw, Ellie Grainger, Lucas Dawson

Parts and Labor, RT Features, Rooks Nest Entertainment, Maiden Voyage Pictures, Mott Street Pictures, Code Red Productions, Scythia Films, Pulse Films, Special Projects, A24, 93 Minutes

Review:

“We will conquer this wilderness. It will not consume us.” – William

I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it. All I knew is it was about a witch and it starred Anya Taylor-Joy, who I first discovered in Split, but who I’ve grown to like a lot with each film I see her in. And part of me is really excited to see her play Magik in The New Mutants movie, whenever the hell that actually comes out. Magik is one of my favorite X-Men related characters of all-time and Taylor-Joy seems like really good casting.

Anyway, this film is dark and brooding on a level that most films just can’t get to. This is real horror and was able to capture true despair on celluloid.

The Witch is a fairly short film at just 93 minutes but it feels longer. It moves slow but it builds tension and dread exceptionally well. A lot of emotion fits snugly within this film’s 93 minutes. The time is managed adequately and I’d say that all the scenes matter, flow perfectly and this picture doesn’t end feeling like anything else needed to be added. It’s well written and executed with the skill of a master filmmaker, which is damn impressive as the writer/director Robert Eggers isn’t a well-known or seasoned veteran, this is actually his first feature length motion picture. He does have a film coming out next year called The Lighthouse, which I am now pretty excited to see.

Anya Taylor-Joy also didn’t have much experience before this and this was her first starring role. In fact, she guest starred on a television show and had an uncredited bit part in one other film. Needless to say, she makes a massive impact in this. She proved from the get go that she had the ability to draw people in and to command attention through her performance. While the actor who played the father in this, carried some scenes, it was Taylor-Joy that carried this movie and made it something better than what it could have been in the hands of a less capable actress. Being this good, right out the gate, is pretty unheard of but from everything I’ve seen her do, I’m convinced that she is a rare talent than can probably handle the demands of any role.

This film is also enhanced by it’s enchanting and haunting cinematography. The lack of color and the dry coldness of the environment makes it feel like these characters are already lying in their graves.

It’s also worth mentioning that this isn’t just horror, it is a mystery as things happen throughout the film that keep you guessing at what is actually unfolding. It isn’t as simple as there being a witch that’s messing with this family.

The ending is intense, surprising and having no expectations for this made it have a greater impact. I wasn’t expecting this to get as disturbing as it did but it was a breath or fresh air in a genre that’s been suffering for awhile.

I really liked The Witch. It looks great, is written great and stars someone who I could see becoming one of the best actresses of her generation.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: some of the better modern horror films: The BabdookItIt Follows, etc.

Film Review: The Conjuring (2013)

Also known as: The Warren Files (working title)
Release Date: June 8th, 2013 (Nocturna, Madrid International Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Music by: Joseph Bishara
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

New Line Cinema, The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group, Warner Bros., 112 Minutes

Review:

“When the music stops, you’ll see him in the mirror standing behind you.” – April

Seeing this has been long overdue but at the same time, I was never in a rush. Reason being, modern horror is predominantly CGI jump scares and lame haunted house or generic boogeyman stories. I’m not against haunted house movies but I’ve seen so many that a film needs to find a way to tackle the genre with something fresh or interesting or it’s going to hit my brain like a fistful of Ambien.

Anyway, this was a decent film for what it is but going back to what I just said, it gave me nothing new to sink my teeth into.

There’s a creepy house, ghosts, demons, a killer doll, some general witchcraft stuff, exorcism and nothing new. This is like a bunch of mundane horror tropes thrown into a blender and then splashed out onto the screen: a gooey, sloppy mess.

The biggest positive for me was the acting. I thought all the main players were good and convincing in their roles. Lili Taylor had the biggest challenge out of all the top stars but she did a wonderful job, worked in a pretty wide range of emotions and temperament and sold the possession thing quite well. I also like seeing Ron Livingston in anything because I’ll always remember how much I loved him in Office Space, almost twenty years ago. But his dramatic stuff has always been quite good too.

This isn’t a bad movie and I don’t want to treat it as such. It’s well made and it looks pretty damn good, even the unnecessary CGI bits didn’t become too much of a distraction. But I thought the cinematography was well done and the film’s tone works.

For someone who hasn’t seen dozens of haunted house movies, this is probably really effective. I guess that’s why it resonates with younger fans so well.

My biggest issue is just that the story crams so many different horrors into this tight box. It’s as if they planned spinoffs from the get go.

At some point, I will probably check out some of the other Conjuring related movies. But like I was with this, I don’t feel a real rush in needing to see them.

Also, weren’t the Warrens exposed as frauds decades ago? But I guess this is based on “true events”. But I think that enough time has past that new moviegoers are too young to even know who the Warrens were. But at the same time, I feel like this does capitalize on selling some bullshit. Sorry, I just hate charlatans.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: The other Conjuring films and spinoffs, as well as James Wan’s Insidious series and Dead Silence.