Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween 2012: October 24

The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944)
“The Invisible Man’s Revenge” is Universal's attempt to get the Invisible Man series back to its roots. After the original, none of the sequels are really horror films, not even “The Invisible Man’s Returns.” While most of the series’ protagonist eventually had to deal with the insanity causing side-effects of the invisibility formula, none of them have been truly bad people. Not in “Revenge.” Jon Hall, playing a very different character then in “Invisible Agent,” starts the movie escaping from a madhouse, having murdered three people on the way out. Despite having the last name Griffin, the guy doesn’t seem to know anything about invisibility or science. Instead, he has a family in the mining industry and feels like his relatives have cheated him out of some money. His attempts to sway them to his cause, mostly by threatening them and obsessing over their daughter (Evelyn Ankers, naturally.), prove ineffectual. After befriending a kindly drunk tramp, the guy stumbles into the home of a mad scientist. (John Carradine, naturally.) I’m not sure if science marched on or if a screenwriter just wanted to do something different but it’s this mad scientist who invents the invisibility formula. The serum doesn’t cause people to disappear, it instead refracts light around you, a slightly more realistic cause of invisibility. As you could probably figure out from the title, Robert Griffin uses his newfound ability to take revenge on the mostly imagined wrongs against him.

The movie successfully regains the concept as a horror premise. Robert Griffin is actually a pretty scary guy. He’s found of threatening people with knives, tossing them around. He’s a true sociopath, without scruples, and willing to do just about anything to further his goal. (Or do anything to someone.) Jon Hall’s voice is actually fairly strong and he adds a villainous whisper to all of his lines. The movie also does something novel by having the invisible man regain visibility part way through, before loosing it again. There’s a lot of blood transfers. Was that an exciting new technology in the forties? Seems to come up a lot in these films.

The special effects are both a step forward and a step back from what was seen in “Agent.” The fading away effects are well done. I like how the actor is given a pasty faced, pale make-up before totally disappearing. The headless clothes trick isn’t as seamless as before. You can frequently see the outlines of his face. But then the film will do something impressive, like the Invisible Man wetting his hands and face or patting some pancake batter on. The wire work is seamless and well done... Up until the end, when you can see the wires clearly. There’s some fun early effects with an invisible dog. The wine cellar climax is exciting and well done.

While Hall is excellent, the supporting cast is more mixed. Ankers is given absolutely nothing to do. She’s barely in the movie. Gale Sondergaard gets a few strong moments but, as is sadly typical, she’s wasted. Lester Matthews probably does the best as the family matriarch. Alan Curtis is undeniably bland as what I guess passes for the film’s heroic lead. Hall’s vengeful murderer is the actual protagonist and the movie's real hero is the dog. Halliwell Hobbes’ Cleghorn, the comedic boozer, is funny even if his character leads to a couple divergent scenes, like an extended dart throwing sequence. John Carradine does his typical mad scientist schtick, which I’ve seen so much here of late that it’s barely worth commenting on.

Overall, I actually liked “The Invisible Man’s Revenge” a little more then I expected or remembered. It’s more ambitious then the other sequels and actually builds some decent suspense. [7/10]

The Frozen Ghost (1945)
The Inner Sanctum Mysteries return to their favorite plot mechanism: Hypnotism. Chaney plays a stage hypnotist who, during a live performance, learns he can kill a man with a thought. As per the series standard, he spends the rest of the film feeling intensely guilty. Despite the hypnotism plot set-up, most of the movie has an entirely different gimmick: A wax museum! Now that’s always a cool setting for a horror film. The museum is run by a discredited plastic surgeon who maybe has some mental problems he should work out. The truth which the movie reveals way too early: Chaney’s agent and the sculptor are working together to gaslight Lon, of course, for reasons I don’t remember. (I watched this at two in the morning on three hours sleep. Excuse me.) Also per the series standard, there are three women in love with Lon’s hypnotist: The wax museum’s female owner, her much younger niece, and his female stage assistant, played by Evelyn Ankers, of course. The murders that follow cleave Chaney’s romantic options pretty quickly.

“The Frozen Ghost” returns to some of the atmosphere of “Calling Dr. Death.” The cliched shot of the hypnotist’s staring eyes, swirling circles imprinted over his face is employed a few times. My favorite involves a tracking shot of Chaney’s feet as he wanders around, his guilty conscious monologue going the whole time. Chaney, playing his sobbing paranoid part fantastically as always, is actually a little underused. The movie mostly focuses on the wax museum, with Martin Kosleck as the villainous mad sculptor, a role very similar to his later character in “House of Horrors.” There’s an extend, actually quite suspenseful scene of him stalking “House of Frankestein’s” Elena Verdugo through the museum. Another notable moment comes when he is hiding a dead body among the displays, the Shakespeare-obsessed detective snooping around. The giant blazing fiery cauldron in the basement makes a memorable, repeated image. It’s inevitable from the moment it’s introduced that someone is going to end up in that thing.

And that’s the only real problem with “The Frozen Ghost,” another entertaining if brisk and indistinct entry in the Inner Sanctum series. Not enough mopey Chaney and laying the obvious cards anyone could have guessed down too soon. [6.5/10]

Night of the Living Dead (1990)
I won’t ramble on about this one for too long, since I was drifting in and out of sleep while watching it. I grabbed this off of my local video store’s Halloween display for four bucks, which I couldn’t pass up. I wanted to rewatch it anyway after meeting Patricia Tallman back in September.

My main thoughts?: Barbara is the voice of reason. The original implied that Ben wasn’t really any less reasonable then Harry Cooper. The remake harps on this point almost to the point of aggravation. Tony Todd’s Ben, while maybe handling the situation a little more capably, is no less crazy or overstressed then Cooper. This version acknowledges the irony that Cooper really was right all along, that the basement was the safest place in the house. Anyway, Barbara is the only one with a clear head in-between the two screaming alpha males. As is usually the case, the reasonable woman is ignored and the entire household suffers because of it. So, whadaya know: A feminist zombie movie. Tallman is excellent, and looks badass and beautiful wielding a shotgun in a tank top. It’s a shame that the script is a little high-pitched and all that screaming gets overdone and overwrought. I suppose the situation would put anyone’s nerves on edge…

The zombie make-up is great. I love that they all have a slightly yellow, jaundice pallor to them. As a little bit in “Dawn of the Dead” and most prominently in “Day,” all the zombies also have personality. There’s a one fresh from the cemetery, his zombie-ass hanging out of his half-tux. There’s a guy with a big, overflowing brow. An old woman with a doll, a junkie with a still-fresh needle protruding from a vain, a skeletal starving boy, and on and on. This is early nineties creature make-up at its best. Aside from bad-ass Barbara, it’s probably the movie’s best aspect.

It’s nowhere near as scary as the original, naturally. In particular, the Cooper daughter going undead in this version has nothing on the original’s trowel-murder. Unlike a lot of remakes, this one was clearly made for fans of the original since there are so many shout-outs and in-jokes, from repeated lines, referenced events, and a new cameo from Chilly Billy. Tom Savini’s career as a director has never really took off which is a bit of a shame as he shows a decent handle on the material. As far as the sudden industry of “NotLD” remakes go, this one is obviously still the best, and only good, one. [7/10]

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