The opening of “The Cat and the Canary” is amazing. A layer of dust and cobwebs are wiped away to reveal the opening credits. The mansion is first seen as a tall, distorted silhouette, a series of shadowed spires emerging out of the darkness. The towers of the mansion fade away to a series of glass bottles. Mr. Cyrus West, the ill millionaire watched over by his greedy family, the metaphorical canary, appears in the bottles while cats leer hungrily at him. We cut to a POV shot of someone walking through the shadowy halls of manor, the huge white curtains billowing in the wind. As far as classic gothic horror imagery goes, this is a buffet.
This wasn’t the first ‘old dark house’ movie. D.W. Griffin’s “One Exciting Night” predates it and the genre existed on the stage first. If you’re looking for a compilation of clichés, this one provides. We’ve got greedy relatives gathering in a spooky mansion, awaiting the reading of a will. Some are trust-worthy, while others are duplicitous. The mansion has secret doorways, including one in a bookcase. There’s an escaped homicidal maniac. Someone tries to discredit the sole female benefactor with old fashion gas-lighting. A dead body falls out of a secret compartment. The villain even wears a fedora. This is clichés 101 and how you feel about that depends on how you feel about classic horror in general.
Another hallmark of the ‘old dark house’ genre is incorporating laughs with thrills. The leading man, Paul (Creighton Hale), hides under beds, gets vexed by giant bedsprings, runs around hallways, gets spooked by the creepy maid, and bounces around. It’s not hilarious. Another problem is the large cast. The main characters are developed to basic ideas while the supporting cast doesn’t even get that much. Laura La Plante as the main heroine does nothing but get threatened. She’s the dullest of the damsel in distress type. The movie ships these two cousins without question which is a little weird. Aunt Susan (Flora Finch) reminded me of Una O’Conner in “Bride of Frankenstein.” It’s as funny in ‘27 as it was in ‘35. The movie drags in its latter half. Since the supporting cast is so thinly devised, you can’t guess, nor care, who the killer is.
Diamond Select? One of the fun things about the movie is how it plays with the silent movie titles. Words like ‘Ghosts!’ and “Help!’ are presented in wiggling or growing text, while a series of swears are presented by comic book exclamation.
“The Cat and the Canary” isn’t a great movie but it was, no doubt, influential. Universal made two sound remakes in 1930, one in English, one in Spanish, both of which are lost now. Paramount remade it as a farce starring Bob Hope in ’39, probably the most famous version. A British version was produced in the 1970s, somehow by a studio other then Hammer. This isn’t discussing all the films that took its clichés and ran with them. Despite all of this, the movie isn’t discussed too much today, probably due to the lack of an iconic presence like a Chaney or a Karloff. Some bits are brilliant, even if the overall film doesn’t really come together. [6/10]
The Living Dead Girl (1982)
“The Living Dead Girl” is generally considered one of Rollins’ more accessible efforts and the prime jumping-in place by no less an authority then Fangoria magazine. Initial reaction? I liked it, kind of. It’s not hard to see why the filmmaker has a cult following. He mixes copious female nudity, bright spurting blood, genuine artistic flare and enough campiness to make it interesting. The set-up is silly. Some random French crooks are burying toxic waste beneath a local castle. The barrel is knocked over through sheer incompetence and, for reasons never further elaborated upon, revives the astonishingly well-preserved corpse of a young girl. She goes about jabbing the guys’ eyes out and feasting upon their bodies.
Catherine, the titular Living Dead Girl, is the childhood BFF of the woman living in the castle, Helene. The two were so devoted to one another that they made a blood-pact to stay together forever. So when Helene sees Catherine revived, she’s overjoyed. And what’s a quasi-lesbian lover to do besides supply living flesh for her zombie girlfriend? The movie quickly devolves into set-pieces of Helene tricking woman (always woman) back to the castle, killing them, and feeding them to her personal living dead girl. There’s a subplot involving an American couple vacationing in the country side. The guy is forcing his girlfriend into photography against her wishes. He generally acts like a dick, doing everything to undermine her interests. After capturing Catherine on camera, the lady gets intrigued by the mystery. This story line ends up being unnecessary. Both characters are (hilariously) dispatched before the proper ending. The focus is definitely on the relationship between the two women which is framed as a tragic love story.
As exploitation sleaze, “The Living Dead Girl” provides. There’s three sets of breasts displayed and almost as much full-frontal. Every bit is easy on the eyes, especially Francoise Blanchard, whom Rollin can’t wait to get naked. You’ve got a naked young girl, with an almost perfect ass, covered with spurting blood. I can appreciate that.
“The Living Dead Girl” does drag in its latter half. A mixture of camp, gore, visual flashiness, and blatant T&A is something I should have loved. Yet the film is undermined by a number of limitations, some of them budgetary, some of them creative. [6/10]
Warning: Anime ahead. Just letting readers know what level of nerdery we’re getting into.
“High School of the Dead” was sold to me as “Japanese schoolgirls with super short skirts and massive tits fighting zombies.” Come on, I’m not made of stone. Indeed, the show is built on fan-service. Within the first minutes of the first episode, I counted two panty shots and three pairs of giant bouncing boobies. It’s puerile, in your face, and I don’t share the Japanese’s obsession with ladies’ underwear. The show definitely focuses too much attention on the female’s bodies and, given they are undoubtedly sexualized even while being devoured by the dead, it comes off as skeezy. How annoying or amusing this is as the series progresses, we shall see.
We focus on a group of Japanese high school students, one stoic boy, his cooler-then-thou best friend, and the girl he’s harbored a crush on for years, caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The show dispenses with a few zombie movie clichés in the first episode, such as people not realizing how severe a bite is, the collapse of order, and dealing with a close friend’s death. Hopefully that attitude of “let’s get this out of the way” continues, instead of drawling things out “Walking Dead”-style. The focus, besides from the asses and tits, is on fast paced action. Lots of swirling, rushing shots of people swinging things at the undead. When zombies bite people, it’s followed by a giant fountain of blood. I also like that the zombies are classic, Romero shamblers and not ADD-addled runners. They even occasionally do something different, like twist their heads around Linda Blair-style.