The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)

The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake.jpg

My head’s been shrunk! Oh the horror! The horror! Anthropologist Jonathan Drake (Eduard Franz) believes that the men of his family have been cursed for generations by the native South American tribe he studies. Shortly after his brother, Kenneth (Paul Cavanagh), discovers one of the tribe’s shrunken heads in his house, he’s found murdered and his head goes missing. In pursuit of the tribesman Zutai (Paul Wexler) and a rival scientist (Henry Daniell) who has become a part of the tribe, Drake attempts to end the curse once and for all…  With career best performances by Franz and Daniell, this is a tremendously atmospheric exercise in genre which belies its impoverished production values. Charles Gemora created award-winning shrunken heads in addition to his duties as make-up artist in this parable concerning race relations and the impact of white men on the New World. Written by Orville H. Hampton and directed by the underrated and enigmatic yet prolific B director Edward L. Cahn, this rivals his early collaborations with screenwriter Tom Reed and may well be the best film ever made.

Advertisements

Scared Stiff (1953)

Scared Stiff theatrical.jpg

– This thing’s dead. – It’s in the right place. Vaudevillian Larry Todd (Dean Martin) thinks he’s killed a mobster in NYC and wants his sidekick Myron Mertz (Jerry Lewis) to get him out of the country on board a ship. Mary Carroll (Lizabeth Scott) inherits her family’s ancestral home on a small island off Cuba and despite warnings and death threats, decides to sail there and take possession of the supposedly haunted castle. Larry sees in a newspaper that he isn’t the killer after all but it’s too late – the ship has sailed. Once on the island the three enter the eerie castle and after seeing the ghost of one of Mary’s ancestors and fighting off a menacing zombie, find the key to the castle’s treasure… The Lewis-Martin shtick may not be to everyone’s taste and in fact they didn’t even want to remake George Marshall’s 1940 Bob Hope hit comedy The Ghost Breakers – because it was just about perfect. But Paramount had their way and it was turned into this (unfortunately monochrome) musical version of the 1909 play by Paul Dickey and Charles W. Goddard and adapted by Herbert Baker and Walter DeLeon. Norman Lear got his first screenwriting credit here for some rewriting work and Marshall was on directing duties again. Martin and Lewis purvey their spry act and the scene when Myron has to lip sync to Carmen Miranda’s song Mamae Eu Quero as the record sticks on the turntable is a highlight – her own performances aren’t too bad here either! But things really get going in the haunted house. Silly fun with an unexpected cameo (or pair of them.)

George A. Romero 02/04/1940-07/16/2017

GAR Night of the Living Dead.jpgGAR Vanillla.gifGAR Season of the Witch.jpgGAR The Crazies.jpgGAR Martin.jpgGAR Dawn of the Dead.jpgGAR Day of the Dead.jpgGAR Knightriders.jpgGAR Creepshow.jpgGAR Monkey Shines.jpgGAR Two Evil Eyes.jpgGAR The Dark Half.jpgGAR Bruiser.jpgGAR Land of the Dead.jpgGAR Diary of the Dead.jpgGAR Survival of the Dead.jpg

The death has taken place of George A. Romero, a true horror auteur whose Night of the Living Dead  (1968) extended the boundaries of the horror movie in some style – political and racial. And it gave zombies a voice!  He began his career as a gofer on the set of North By Northwest – not too shabby an introduction to the world of cinema. It would be another decade until he set the world alight – and he continued to make zombie films in a loosely affiliated series that he was going to continue as late as July 13th last when he released poster art for the forthcoming Road of the Dead, the first of the series he wasn’t going to direct. He had a lot of friends in the horror world, literary and cinematic, because they respected the tone of his films, his originality, his sensibility and his tenacity. He gave Stephen King his first screenwriting job in the anthology Creepshow, a Valentine to all those 50s comics that so influenced American writers and directors. Pittsburgh was of course home to most of his best known works and The Crazies and Martin remain minor classics. He was such an original and such a smart, conscientious filmmaker that it’s hard to qualify his contribution. Legend. Icon. Rest in peace.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943)

I Walked With a Zombie.jpg

‘There’s no beauty here – only death and decay. Everything dies here – even the stars.’ RKO were on the skids with the commercial failure of Orson Welles’ films so producer Val Lewton was entrusted with churning out low budgeters ($150,000 limit) with audience appeal. One of these famous cult productions is this Jane Eyre adaptation by Curt Siodmak and Ardel Wray from a magazine article by Inez Wallace, set in Haiti or an island very like it, with Frances Dee as a nurse hired to care for Christine Gordon who has a mysterious illness. Dee falls for the husband, sugar plantation owner Tom Conway and begins to get drawn into the island’s strange colonial past and the voodoo culture… Zombies, colonial guilt, voodoo ceremonies, calypso, sibling rivalry, supernatural ambiguity and the ineffable blend beautifully in a film that positively drips with atmosphere and scares under the careful direction of Jacques Tourneur, all on the studio lot. Better experienced than read about.

Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things (1972)

Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things poster.jpg

Nasty actors get theirs when they go into a graveyard and raise the dead for an improv project. Quite funny-bad in the way that Bob Clark’s movies tended to be – he collaborated again with actor-writer Alan Ormsby for Nam zombie flick Dead of Night but it’s the brilliant sorority serial killer movie Black Christmas that I love.

Zombie Flesh-Eaters (1979)

Zombie Flesh Eaters poster.jpg

This is it – THE legendary Lucio Fulci gorefest. It’s suitably well made with nice effects, if entirely lacking in suspense. In a nice touch however when the zombies get off the tropical island replete with witchdoctor (bien sur) they look just like everybody else in NYC.  What is perhaps most shocking is that the star is Mia Farrow’s sister Tisa. Gosh.