Film Review: House On Haunted Hill (1959)

Release Date: January 14th, 1959 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Richard Kayne, Richard Loring, Von Dexter
Cast: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Elisha Cook Jr., Carolyn Craig, Alan Marshal, Julie Mitchum, Richard Long

William Castle Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“If I were gonna haunt somebody, this would certainly be the house I’d do it in.” – Lance Schroeder

House On Haunted Hill is one of Vincent Price’s most highly regarded films. Granted, it’s not my favorite and barely cracks my top twenty (see here) but it’s still an entertaining affair that’s full of the great gimmickry that director William Castle was known for.

I also love the fact that the exterior of the mansion was actually the Ennis House, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and was also used in Blade Runner, The Karate Kid Part III, Black Rain and a slew of other films due to it’s odd and iconic look.

The majority of the film takes place indoors and was shot on a sound stage made to look like an opulent mansion but it didn’t feel like it had a cohesive look with the exterior shots, even though the set designers sprinkled in replicas of the Ennis House’s famous building blocks.

The story is kind of hokey, even for 1959 and so are the frights. Still, this movie is kind of cool because of its hokiness and charm.

Overall, the acting is pretty over the top in a lot of scenes but Vincent Price and character actor Elisha Cook Jr. keep things fairly grounded for the most part.

It’s probably a controversial take but even though I enjoy this and love Price in it, I actually prefer the 1999 remake, as it took this concept and gave us something far more frightening and more complex.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as the 1953 version of House of Wax.

Film Review: Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959)

Also known as: Grave Robbers From Outer Space, The Vampire’s Tomb (working titles)
Release Date: July 22nd, 1959
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: stock recordings compiled by Gordon Zahler
Cast: Criswell, Bela Lugosi, Gregory Walcott, Vampira, Lyle Talbot, Tor Johnson, Mona McKinnon, Duke Moore, Tom Keene, Paul Marco, John “Bunny” Breckinridge, Conrad Brooks, Ed Wood (cameo)

Reynolds Pictures, 79 Minutes

Review:

“But one thing’s sure. Inspector Clay is dead, murdered, and somebody’s responsible.” – Lieutenant John Harper

I’ve reviewed several films by Ed Wood but I put off his most famous picture for quite awhile. I wanted to wait for a rainy day to revisit it. But then a friend and I got drunk and decided to watch the Rifftrax Live version of the film.

For those that don’t know, Ed Wood is widely considered to be the worst director of all-time. Frankly, that’s bullshit, as there are many directors who are much worse than Wood. He just got famous for being bad. And yes, his films aren’t good but Wood was able to get his enthusiasm and love across, even if his movies were cheap, terribly acted, terribly directed and had scenarios that were hardly believable even for 1950s science fiction.

There is a charm to Wood’s pictures and Plan 9 From Outer Space wears that charm on its sleeve. It’s a jumbled mess of a lot of ideas, crashing together and competing with one another but Wood’s ambition here is hard to deny.

I always felt like Wood was someone that just needed a good creative partner to help steer his projects and refine them. Ed Wood was the ultimate fanboy and everything he made was a sort of mashup of all the things he was a hardcore fan of. It all just lacks refinement and a budget… and sometimes common sense and continuity.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is Wood’s magnum opus and it has the best cast that he was ever able to assemble. Okay, maybe they weren’t talented from an acting standpoint but he got known icons in the movie like Tor Johnson, Criswell, Vampira and Bela Lugosi, who died before this was actually made but shot footage with Wood for a future project.

As bad of a film as Plan 9 is, it isn’t unwatchable. Okay, it may be unwatchable for a modern audience that doesn’t understand the context of what this is, how it came to be and the legend of the man behind it. But with that being said, you don’t try to push Tommy Wiseau’s The Room on an audience that happily paid to see Transformers 5. For those that understand and appreciate things like this, it’s a worthwhile motion picture to experience.

There are aliens, vampires, ghouls, UFOs and an airplane cockpit that looks like it’s from the set of an elementary school play. There are a lot of things to love about this picture, if you’re into cheesy ’50s sci-fi and horror.

Plan 9 From Outer Space is something special. It has stood the test of time because of its flaws and how its director has become a legend of sorts. But maybe its still talked about because it has a bit of magic in it too.

I would suggest watching the biopic Ed Wood to understand the context of the film and its backstory. Plus, Ed Wood is one of my favorite movies of all-time and is still Tim Burton’s best.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ed Wood films from the era: Bride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls and Glen or Glenda? Also, the biopic Ed Wood, which was directed by Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp as Wood.

Film Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2010)

Release Date: February 27th, 2010 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: James Nguyen
Written by: James Nguyen
Music by: Andrew Seger
Cast: Alan Bagh, Whitney Moore, Janae Caster, Colton Osborne, Adam Sessa, Tippi Hedren (archive footage)

Moviehead Pictures, Severin Films, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Squaaah! Squaaah! Squaaah!” – every bird in the movie

Birdemic: Shock and Terror is one of those movies that is famous for being absolutely terrible. In a way it is similar to The Room in that regard but it is actually a much worse film than that Tommy Wiseau accidental masterpiece. In fact, Birdemic is like a remake of The Birds directed by Wiseau but if he had half the talent. Yeah, it’s that bad.

The worst thing about this film isn’t the awful effects and atrocious acting, it is the over the top preachy bits about global warming and environmentalism. While it makes sense to tap into that to some degree, it is displayed and handled so terribly that the message loses its impact.

But then again, nothing in this film is really done in an effective manner and the only impact this movie made was in its extreme level of awfulness.

While some movies are so damn bad that they become enjoyable, this one really isn’t. I had to watch the version with RiffTrax riffing, as Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett at least made it tolerable enough to get through. I can’t imagine sitting through this without the riffing, as the opening credits sequence alone made me turn off the original version of the film when I tried to power through it.

This film has the worst visual effects I have ever seen. I’d rather the filmmaker use taxidermied eagles on fishing line than to ever attempt his brand of CGI effects again. But I guess he made a sequel to this, which I will probably eventually watch with great reluctance.

Man, this film is friggin’ godawful.

And yes, this turd is getting tossed into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Rating: 0.75/10

Film Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Also known as: Corridors of Evil (reissue)
Release Date: June 1st, 1962 (San Diego)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Written by: Herk Harvey, John Clifford
Music by: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison

Herts-Lion International Corp., 80 Minutes (theatrical), 84 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I don’t belong in the world.” – Mary Henry

Carnival of Souls was a film that I had heard others talk about for a long time but I never got to check it out until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. I had heard that it was a great inspiration to George A. Romero and David Lynch and after seeing it, it is hard not to see how it influenced them, as well as other directors.

It is sort of considered a zombie picture, even though it really isn’t. Ghoulish people do haunt Mary, the main character, throughout the film and a big horde of them chases her in the finale but they aren’t traditional zombies or what they would become a few years later with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These undead ghouls, however, certainly made a fine template to what Romero would give us.

Additionally, the look of realism, due to the use of guerrilla filmmaking tactics, would go on to inspire the look of Night of the Living Dead.

Carnival of Souls, despite its surrealism and fantastical elements, has a very real feeling to it. The camera is more fluid, there is a lot of movement and each shot isn’t over produced or the product of meticulous tweaking.

You can also see how the more surreal aspects of the film would inspire Lynch. At one point, in particular, when Mary is driving, a ghostly image is superimposed onto the passenger side window. There are also other surreal moments, many of which would feel at home in Lynch’s work.

The story follows Mary, the sole survivor of a car crash. Strange things happen to Mary as she moves on from the incident and tries to restart her life in a new location. There is a defunct carnival in the distance from her new home that calls to her. As the film moves on, we see strange characters appear to her. It all comes to a head when she can no longer outrun the strange happenings.

The film was shot in Kansas and in Utah, at the SaltAir Resort, which stood in for the carnival pavilion, the center of the story’s supernatural activity. The film was also made for just $33,000, which explains why the director had to go guerrilla to get some of his shots done. The financial limitations, however, are why this film looks so unique and would go on to show future indie filmmakers how to create a quality motion picture without using traditional means.

Carnival of Souls might not be a fully appreciated classic but it is a mother figure to many beloved directors’ early films and for opening the door to new techniques and a visual style that would be adopted by countless filmmakers after this picture’s release.

This is a film that displays an uncanny level of craftsmanship and raw talent on many levels. It is also better acted than a picture like this typically is. And ultimately, it is pretty damn significant when understanding what it paved the way for.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: RiffTrax: Night of the Shorts IV – SF Sketchfest (2016)

Release Date: January 7th, 2016
Written by: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul F. Tompkins
Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Paul F. Tompkins, John Hodgman, Cole Stratton, Adam Savage, Janet Varney

RiffTrax, 123 Minutes

Review:

This RiffTrax Live event recently dropped on Amazon Video, so I thought I’d check it out, as I really like when these guys make a feature length event where they riff a series of shorts.

Now this wasn’t as great as the most recent short riffing event, Summer Shorts Beach Party, but I still quite enjoyed it. Although, that David & Hazel, two parter was a bit tough to get through.

This did have a variety of shorts on varying topics, however. Most of them were entertaining. Apart from David & Hazel – a film about communication, we got The Trouble with Women – about women in the workplace, Dining Together – about Thanksgiving, One Got Fat – about bicycle safety and starring kids in monkey masks, Improve Your Pronunciation – self-explanatory, and Robin’s Wild Ride, which was the third chapter in the Batman & Robin serial from 1949.

I like that this event featured more than just Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000. The live events where they do shorts usually feature guest riffers, though. This time around, we got the returning Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson. Paul F. Thompkins, who has become a regular at these things, also appears. MythBusters‘ Adam Savage joins in, as do comedians John Hodgman, Janet Varney and Cole Stratton. The final short film featured all ten people on stage together.

Ultimately, these events are always fun and for fans of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is hard not to completely succumb to nostalgia. Again and again, these funny people prove that they’ve still got it and it is always great checking back in with them a few times, each year.

While not my favorite of their events, they have never had a bad one. They are masters of what they do and they never miss a beat. Night of the Shorts IV was just one of many great outings by this great crew and their friends.

Rating: 7/10

*trailer from the previous ‘Night of the Shorts’ event, as there wasn’t a proper trailer for this installment.

Film Review: Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983)

Release Date: November 23rd, 1983
Directed by: Peter Moffatt, John Nathan-Turner, Richard Martin, Pennant Roberts
Written by: Terrance Dicks, Terry Nation, Douglas Adams
Music by: Peter Howell
Cast: Peter Davison, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Richard Hurndall, Tom Baker (cameo), William Hartnell (archive footage), Anthony Ainley, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson, Carole Ann Ford, Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, Lalla Ward (cameo)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), 90 Minutes (television), 102 Minutes (extended edition)

Review:

“A cosmos without the Doctor scarcely bears thinking about.” – The Master

While this was not a theatrical movie, it was a feature length special episode of Doctor Who and treated like a feature length production when it came out. It was created to celebrate the show’s twentieth anniversary and for only the second time in history, it teamed up multiple incarnations of the Doctor. This was also the biggest Doctor team up of all-time.

I want to treat all these feature length special episodes as films as opposed to just episodes mixed into the long running show. There are several of these and I want to review them separately, as their own bodies of work.

I was fortunate enough to see this one on the big screen, courtesy of RiffTrax. Now while it was a riffed version with hilarious commentary from some of the former cast members of the original Mystery Science Theater 3000, it was still an amazing experience seeing classic Doctor Who on a thirty foot screen. Especially a story that featured five Doctors.

While this isn’t particularly great as a film on its own, it fits beautifully within the Doctor Who mythos and is one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all-time. Sure, it really only features three actual Doctors, as the First Doctor is not portrayed by William Hartnell, except in the intro as archive footage, and the Fourth Doctor really just has a brief one scene cameo and is really left out of the story. But all five of the Doctors are represented in some fashion.

The bulk of the acting duties falls on Davison (the Fifth), Pertwee (the Third), Troughton (the Second), Hurndall (as the new version of the First), Ainley (The Master), as well as some of the Doctor’s most famous companions: the Brigadier, Sarah Jane, Susan Foreman, Tegan and Turlough. Lalla Ward’s Romana II also cameos alongside Baker’s Fourth Doctor.

The story is a bit strange but that’s sort of the norm for old school Doctor Who, back in the days before the franchise had any female fans. But any excuse to bring multiple Doctors into an adventure, always works for me. Essentially, there is a big conspiracy and all the Doctors have to work together in order to save themselves. Each Doctor also has a companion from their runs as the character.

The special effects are on par with what was the standard for television show. It is low budget British television science fiction, so one has to sort of look passed the imperfections and hokiness and fill in the blanks with their imagination a bit. But this is always what I loved about classic Who. As a kid, it introduced cool concepts, with cheesy effects and it made my imagination run wild.

This story also features the Cybermen, a Dalek, the Time Lords and the super dangerous Raston Warrior Robot, who is a dude in a silver leotard and helmet that dances around, teleports and shoots spears.

The Five Doctors is far from perfect but it is a hell of a lot of fun for those who are fans of the original Doctor Who series, way before the 2005 revival. This is also my favorite of the multiple Doctor stories.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: RiffTrax Live: Summer Shorts Beach Party (2017)

Release Date: June 15th, 2017
Written by: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins
Cast: Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett, Bridget Nelson, Mary Jo Pehl, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff, Paul F. Tompkins

RiffTrax, 120 Minutes

Review:

While this isn’t a typical movie in a movie format, I did see it theatrically, as it was intended, and I had a damn fine time.

Unlike most of the RiffTrax Live events, this one wasn’t about featuring a single motion picture. This event showcased a series of educational shorts.

For fans of Mystery Science Theater 3000, riffing on educational shorts is a long and celebrated tradition by these guys. Back then, shorts were used to fill up the two-hour time slot if the featured movie wasn’t long enough. MST3K often times used low budget B-movies from yesteryear. Usually those movies have much shorter running times so the space on the show had to be filled. This RiffTrax special honored that part of their legacy.

This show also was a MST3K reunion of sorts, as it didn’t just feature Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett but it included Trace Beaulieu, Frank Contiff, Mary Jo Pehl and Bridget Nelson. Comedian Paul F. Tompkins also showed up for this riffing extravaganza.

The shorts Ricky Raccoon Shows the Way and Rhythmic Ball Skills were riffed by the normal team of Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. Office Etiquette was handled by Beaulieu and Contiff while The Griper was riffed by Pehl and Mrs. Nelson. A Touch of Magic was presented by Paul F. Tompkins, as well as Mr. Nelson, Murphy and Corbett. The final and most bizarre short of the seven featured was The Baggs, which was riffed by the entire cast.

Before the big finale, which was The Baggs, they showed a cool clip reel of the best of the 300-plus other shorts they have riffed over the years.

I really enjoyed this style of RiffTrax event, even more so than them just riffing on a movie. The two hours flew by and I found myself laughing a lot more than I do with typical theatrical comedies. The theater I was at wasn’t packed but the people there were really enjoying themselves and letting loose. It was the best theatergoing experience I have had in years.

Ultimately, I hope they do more events like this. It was a blast and I’m even considering going back to catch the encore in a few days.

Rating: 9/10