The Devil Bat (1940)

Devil Bat

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949), Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)]

Having seen this low-level classic around four times now, I have to say that, while definitely hokey, The Devil Bat is a lot of fun, much of it coming from the somewhat ludicrous plot and Bela Lugosi’s great performance.

Of course, Bela Lugosi, even by this point, was an old hand with the genre (before this film, he appeared in at least 15 other horror films), and it’s clear to see why. I utterly love his mad scientist routine here – his facial expressions and exuberance crack me up.

There’s a running gag here, in which after the doctor gives some shaving lotion to an intended victim (the lotion in question, due to it’s properties, will attract an over-grown bat to attack the wearer) in which the to-be victim says “Good night, doctor.”

And Lugosi’s reply, every single time? “Goodbye.” The first time, it was funny. The fourth time, I was laughing my ass off, as his tone was just perfectly somber (and almost no one caught on). So I love Lugosi in this film, and if you’re a Bela fan, I’d recommend seeing this for his presence alone.

Everyone else does pretty admirably also, though. Dave O’Brien (who, on IMDb, racks up an impressive 243 acting credits) did great as the lead protagonist (despite not appearing until around 18 minutes into the movie), and given that he had flaws (such as concocting that stupid fake bat picture), came across as a multi-layered character, which I appreciated. Donald Kerr (who has an even more impressive 511 credits) gave some good comic relief, and Suzanne Kaaren did just as good as you could expect, given actresses’ often-limited roles in these movies.

The revenge plot of Lugosi’s is so absurdly fun that it makes up for the failure of the special effects (close up, there’s a real bat squeaking, but from far-off, it’s one of the fakest-looking animals you’ll ever see), but honestly, when it comes to movies from around this time, I think most of the questionable special effects can be brushed off, especially if you’re getting a kick out of the movie regardless.

Director Jean Yarbrough did fantastic for only his third full-length feature, and actually did a lot for horror, as he later directed, among others, films such as King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), and Master Minds (1949). I’ve only seen a handful of these (King of the Zombies and House of Horrors), but generally, I know many of these, while not overly well-known, are enjoyed by other fans of the genre.

There’s not necessarily a lot to this movie (though at an hour and eight minutes long, it’s a bit lengthier than some other flicks from this time), but what we do get is pretty good. The Devil Bat has long been a favorite of mine, and while overall, I think the 1940’s is probably one of the worst decades for the horror genre, this will always be one of those classics I go back to.

8.5/10

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

Town that dreaded

Directed by Charles B. Pierce [Other horror films: The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972), The Evictors (1979), The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek, Part II (1984)]

My opinion on this crime/horror hybrid hasn’t much changed since I last saw it. It’s a great little 70’s flick based off a real-life series of murders, and the dry documentary-style the movie partakes in (complete with the great narration of Vern Stierman) really does the story justice.

I think what I enjoy most about this is how focused it is on the procedure the police officers go through in order to capture the killer. Of course, we see many of the kills the police aren’t privy to at the time, but for most of the movie, we’re following Ben Johnson’s Captain J.D. Morales. The spotlight on the attempted detective work (truth be told, evidence was pretty much non-existent) was also helped out by the aforementioned documentary-style of the film. It really felt at times like I was watching an episode of Dragnet (which certainly isn’t meant in a negative way).

I suspect that my main complaint with the film is somewhat similar to many others’ views, and that’s that The Town That Dreaded Sundown is, at times, tonally inconsistent. Charles B. Pierce (the director of the film, as a matter of fact) played a character Patrolman Benson, or Sparkplug, who was almost entirely utilized as comic relief. In a 70’s documentary about savage crimes that have shrouded a community in fear, I thought that Pierce’s character was just too inconsistent. He just felt so out of place. Luckily, that’s one of the few flaws, as both Ben Johnson and Andrew Prine did quite well.

While this next comment isn’t necessarily a fair criticism, I have to say the kills, for a movie often considered a proto-slasher, were somewhat lacking. Much of it was death by gunshot, and the only really unique kill was with the trombone. Now, given this is based off true events, I understand how those comments could come across as tasteless, but there you go. The design of the killer, though, with the awesome hood, certainly stood out as a positive.

Many people have called this film somewhat dry, but I think that’s somewhat the point. The killer of the original crimes in the 1940’s was never caught (many people believe it to have been suspect Youell Swinney, but that’s certainly nowhere near proven or conclusive), which means that the movie doesn’t answer all the questions someone may want. It does, however, lead to the ending, which was just great.

Personally, as a fan of 70’s horror films and their often drier auras, I really like this one. I did when I first saw it, and that’s not changed. I think it’s a rather interesting movie, and while the tone is admittedly inconsistent at times, I definitely think this is a fine film, and probably made for a great drive-in experience.

8.5/10

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 cloverfield

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg [Other horror films: N/A]

Talk about a rather masterfully-done film. A spiritual successor to the 2008 Cloverfield, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a damn good movie with a very competent cast and spectacular suspense.

Much of this lies in the ambiguity of the situation Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character finds herself in. Waking up in a doomsday bunker after being abducted by Howard (John Goodman), and told that there’s been some type of invasion, and she’s safer there, it’s a tense, tense movie with a lot of twists and turns.

John Goodman is an actor I’ve always appreciated. He was great in Roseanne, and pretty much everything else. He does look healthier here than he did in Red State (2011), which I’m grateful for. Here, his performance is superb, and he comes across both as genial and other times rather threatening and absolutely batshit. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is an actress I know from limited exposure (Final Destination 3, Live Free or Die Hard, and the short-lived series BrainDead), but she does great here, and totally feels right in the role. John Gallagher Jr. (from The Newsroom) is pretty solid also, and brings a little humor to the film.

The tense, suspenseful plot of this film is one that I can’t imagine easily being rivaled, and when you have such a great cast, everything comes nicely together. Toward the end, when some of the hard-asked questions finally have a light shined upon them, the movie loses a bit of it’s magic, but I rather like the final scene, so I think that some of the loss of suspense can be forgiven.

Given my somewhat lukewarm reaction toward Cloverfield, I am happy to say that you can definitely watch this as a stand-alone, and I’d highly recommend doing so, as this really is a damn good film with a lot going for it, such as Goodman’s great performance and the fantastically-crafted, tense story.

9/10

The Face at the Window (1939)

Face at the Window

Directed by George King [Other horror films: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936), The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (1936), Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938), Crimes at the Dark House (1940)]

While certainly not a well-known classic of the genre, The Face at the Window is a rather enjoyable romp from a time when there weren’t many releases in the genre, allowing it to stand out all the more.

The story here is more engaging than the usual old dark house movie (though make no mistake, I love those also), what with a serial killer known as the Wolf murdering people around Paris. After a bank robbery, things get even more involved, and everything ties in nicely at the end, which may not be surprising, given the time this came out.

For a lower-budget movie, The Face at the Window boasts a strong cast. Tod Slaughter (who starred in, among other things, the 1936 adaptation of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and 1948’s The Greed of William Hart) does pretty damn well here, with his over-the-top, hammy performance. He was masterful in every scene, and really stood out above all others. John Warwick (who never really appeared in a horror film before or after) did great as the main character, appropriately sympathetic and a solid individual to root for.

Marjorie Taylor was solid, too, in her role, though, as one can guess from the time period, she wasn’t given a whole lot to really do. Robert Adair (who appeared in classics such as The Invisible Man and 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, uncredited in both) was good as the police chief, and really helped bring things together during the conclusion.

And what a fun conclusion it is. The ham-fisted way they threw in the mystery behind *cue dramatic voice * the Wolf was no doubt ridiculous, but was it fun? Very much so. And the laughable experiment with electricity, in which a dead body would incriminate his murderer, along with a twist, was rather enjoyable also.

The Face at the Window isn’t aiming to be in the leagues of such classics as Frankenstein, Doctor X, or Mystery of the Wax Museum, but for a cheap addition of late 30’s horror (one of the driest periods of the genre), I think this one is both deeply amusing and pretty fun. I love the whole terrifying face appearing at the window, followed by one getting stabbed in the back. Quality beginning. This movie, in my view, had style, and Slaughter’s performance was fantastic.

8/10

Graveyard Shift (1990)

Graveyard Shift

Directed by Ralph S. Singleton [Other horror films: N/A]

Though this is far from one of the better Stephen King adaptations, I think that Graveyard Shift carries with it some charm, much of it from a combination of the schlocky nature of the story and Stephen Macht’s overly enjoyable performance.

While it’s based off a short story from King’s first collection, Night Shift, not too much in this hour-and-a-half long film seems too unnecessary. Certainly, showcasing Warwick’s despicable nature more overtly here was a nice addition, which makes sense since they were trying to find some additional padding for the story, which was somewhat thread-bare in the original short story.

Without a doubt, Stephen Macht gave the best performance here. I don’t know what his accent was (sounds like a strong Louisiana twang), but he commanded attention in every single scene he was in. I really enjoyed Macht’s portrayal of Warwick, though it did get a bit much toward the end (more on that shortly). The main character, played by the milquetoast David Andrews, left naught a single impression whatsoever. Kelly Wolf had some gumption, but her character didn’t much amount to much, aside from hint at Andrews’ untold back-story.

Brad Dourif also appeared somewhat extensively in the film, but I thought his character was far, far too over-the-top. This isn’t to say that Macht’s character wasn’t, but Dourif took it to a new level, and I admit that while I usually enjoy his performances, this one turned me off somewhat.

A few things, such as the back-story of Andrews’ character, made Graveyard Shift feel somewhat incomplete. We’re literally never given any idea of what makes Andrews’ character tick – he was a blank slate, and we about never learn a thing about him. Another problem I had was that the conclusion felt as though it was escalating too quickly. It’s a shame, as otherwise, things were mostly plodding along fine.

One of the absolute best things about the film, though, was the setting. From an expansive cavern filled with bones to a flooded out, marshy graveyard, which stands next to an old, ominous mill, Graveyard Shift really knew how to use their settings, and it stood out as easily one of the most memorable parts of the film.

Ultimately, I enjoyed the clinical style of the short story more, but I appreciate how they attempted to flesh out Warwick’s character here, and I can’t say it enough: Stephen Macht’s performance is fantastic. I’d say that this is somewhat below average, but I will admit to enjoying it a hell of a lot more this time around as opposed to when I first saw it some years back, and while some aspects weren’t that great (including much of the conclusion), I suspect this has decent rewatchability.

6.5/10

Silver Bullet (1985)

Silver Bullet

Directed by Daniel Attias [Other horror films: N/A]

Having seen this one a couple of times, now, I think that Silver Bullet is a decent werewolf flick with a somewhat nostalgic feel, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as many others seem to feel it is.

The story (based off the Stephen King novel Cycle of the Werewolf) is pretty fun, although I don’t really think it was necessary to have it be narrated by Megan Follows’ character. I enjoyed the mystery elements, however little they were used, in which the identity of the werewolf was trying to be ferreted out. The special effects, not to mention death scenes, were generally good (the decapitation near the beginning being a highlight for me), though the werewolf transformation was a bit lacking.

Silver Bullet did have a solid cast, though. I’ve never been overly fond of Gary Busey, but he does pretty good here, and his character is certainly memorable. Corey Haim does great with his role, and while Megan Follows (playing Haim’s sister) didn’t seem that relevant to the plot until the end, I really liked her also (though again, her narration of the events seemed somewhat pointless). Terry O’Quinn was rather fun as the sheriff, and it’s nice seeing him a few years prior to The Stepfather. I wasn’t completely won over by Everett McGill, though – he just seemed a bit much at times, and occasionally felt somewhat ridiculous.

I’ve not read the source material for this one yet, so I can look at this from a slightly less critical point-of-view. The first time I saw it, I wasn’t overly impressed, but with a fresh viewing, I feel I understand the appeal of the movie a bit more. The 1980’s was one of the most important decades for werewolf movies, and while Silver Bullet’s no An American Werewolf in London, I definitely enjoy it more than The Howling.

I wish that they had done a little more with the whole mysterious identity of the werewolf before the reveal, and a few other things felt like they needed some expanding, but I still found this a somewhat enjoyable movie, one of the better werewolf flicks, and overall, I’d rate it somewhere around average, with the performances (especially those of Haim and Follows) being the highlights.

7/10

Day of the Dead (2008)

Day of the Dead

Directed by Steve Miner [Other horror films: Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981), Friday the 13th Part III (1982), House (1985), Warlock (1989), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), Lake Placid (1999)]

Oh joy. Another zombie movie. As a slasher fan, I don’t have an issue with some derivative plots, but zombie films take it to another level. There’s virtually nothing about this film that’s unique or worth seeing, and I just wasn’t feeling it.

None of which is to say the movie’s particularly atrocious, it’s just overly generic. The movie’s done in a serious manner, which is a bit of a relief, but at the same time, as the story doesn’t add anything all that special, it doesn’t really amount to much.

Only a handful of cast members really stood out to me, such as Mena Suvari (who played Heather in the American Pie movies) and Ving Rhames (though he wasn’t in the film for that long). Nick Cannon did okay, and probably had some of the better lines, while Ian McNeice (who appeared a bit in Doctor Who) was fun also. Most everyone else ranged from generic to bad, such as Matt Rippy, AnnaLynne McCord (who later starred in Excision), Michael Welch, and Stark Sands.

The special effects ranged from bad to awful. At worst, they were completely forgettable. There was, of course, some gore, but despite just having finished the movie, I can’t think of any particularly sequence that stood out at all. I guess zombies bit someone – that’s some solid gore, right?

In all honesty, this is just one of those generic zombie movies in which it’s hard to isolate all that much worth saying. It pales in comparison to the original Day of the Dead, which I didn’t even personally love. I didn’t care for what they did with the Bud zombie here, and overall, while the story is fine, with a twist (although if it surprised anyone, I’ll eat my shorts) thrown in, it’s utterly forgettable.

Also, a zombie popped up in the final millisecond and growled at the camera. I always love it when there’s a jump scare for the audience which has zero impact on the story being told. Great stuff. A+. Just kidding. This movie isn’t the worst zombie movie out there, but there’s literally no point to it, which is a damn shame, as it’s directed by Steve Miner, who directed classics such as Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3, House and Lake Placid. There’s no magic here, though.

5/10