Tuesday, October 6, 2015

AMoCH: The Screaming Skull

Title: The Screaming Skull
Year: 1958
Starring: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway
Summary: A newlywed couple returns from their honeymoon to the estate of the man’s late wife. The bride, a wealthy but extremely neurotic woman, uneasily settles into the home, walking the gardens of the estate that are meticulously kept by a strange gardener following the wishes of the deceased woman. The new lady of the house is tormented by the sudden appearance of skulls throughout the house and grounds. Is it the deceased woman coming back to drive her away or are there more sinister motives behind the skulls?

A few thoughts just from reading the synopsis: What could be more sinister than your husband’s dead wife trying to scare you to death? And what is it with the prevalence of newly married couples in horror movies? Is it related to the prevalence of female characters who have sex and then die? Also, this is basically Rebecca, yeah? I haven’t actually seen or read it, but it sounds awfully familiar.

It opens with a narration that says you might die of fright during this movie, but not to worry. The producers have reserved a coffin for you. Even from the opening music, this movie is trying hard to be scary. I’m guessing the effect would have been better in 1958. I don’t have a lot to say about this movie. It’s the latest so far, but besides a skull bouncing down the steps, it’s ultimately forgettable.

AMoCH: One Body Too Many

Even though I missed Sunday, I actually did watch this yesterday but didn't have the time to post it before I left for work.

Title: One Body Too Many
Year: 1944
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Jack Haley, Jean Parker

Summary: A timid insurance salesman decides to place a call upon an eccentric recluse at his mansion only to find that he has just passed away. What he also finds is a home full of relatives who are, according to the will, all bound to remain in the mansion until the authorities arrive to claim the body. Seeing that the man’s niece may be in harm’s way, the salesman decides to remain at the mansion to protect her from harm while they discover who killed her uncle.

This movie starts off with two of my favorite tropes: the reading of the will, complete with squabbling relatives, and the clause in the will that binds people to stay in the deceased’s home for a certain amount of time. These characters are wacky, and I love it. Jack Haley easily steals the spotlight here. First of all, he played the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz. My sister used to watch that movie every day when we were much younger, and my first word that wasn't 'Mom' or 'Dad' was 'Tin Man.' That's how much she used to watch it. So I feel like I have a unique rapport with Jack Haley. He's an insurance salesman who also happens to be a grammar nerd, and I love it. Here's a conversation he has with one of the other characters (I'm bad with character names, sorry):

Tin Man: "I’d do it?"
Other Guy: "Him?"
TM: "He"
OG: "What?"
TM: "He, not him. It’s a common mistake. You see, ‘him’ is objective—"

I know that the suspense in these movies isn't going to keep me on the edge of my seat like some newer movies do, but I just didn't expect One Body Too Many to be this funny or cute. Jack Haley's character gets his bath towel stuck in the door. He gets hiccups while he’s inside the uncle's coffin and ends up getting thrown into the pool. He's reading from a mystery novel where a bad guy’s sneaking up on a good guy while someone is sneaking up on him as he’s sitting in the library reading it. Then he tosses the book aside, exclaiming: “Ah, things like that don’t happen!”

In addition, there were numerous one-liners that made me chuckle. After Jack Haley's character gets knocked out, he explains how it happened: "The lights went out then somebody hit me. Then the lights went out.” It's silly, but it's entertaining.

At one point, a character says this about the uncle: “He wanted to be interred in a glass-top vault so the stars will shine down upon him.” Sign me up for this! I never expected to find funeral ideas in a '40s horror film.

Favorite line: “I can’t sell a dead man insurance!”

Saturday, October 3, 2015

AMoCH: Invisible Ghost

Title: Invisible Ghost
Bela Lugosi, Polly Ann Young, John McGuire

Bela Lugosi stars in this Monogram thriller as Charles Kessler, a man living with his daughter while hoping for the return of his wife. Upon seeing her peeking through a window, he falls into a trance and murders the maid. The maid’s boyfriend is framed for the murder and dies in the hands of the police. The man’s twin brother and Kessler’s daughter team up to clear the brother’s name and discover the true identity of the killer.

I love everything about that synopsis. Dude, this movie starts off with a bang—well, a character one. Bela Lugosi’s daughter informs us that his wife left him for his best friend, so he celebrates their wedding anniversary by pretending to have dinner with her. Every year. This is within the first few minutes, which means it took a few minutes for me to love this character. Why does he do it? Out of spite? Out of anger? Out of madness?

However, Mrs. Kessler hasn’t actually gone of her own volition. It seems she’s been kidnapped* and is living ala Mrs. Rochester. Where is she, though? It seems like she’s in the house next door, but does Kessler know? No, he doesn’t, because when she wanders through the shrubbery to appear at the window, he thinks she’s a ghost.

Oh, my goodness. Kessler is charming. This is Bela Lugosi at his best (even if half the time, he looks like he has eye problems and the other half, he stands like a surprised Dracula). He worries about his servant getting an infection from a cut, so he wraps his hand himself and then thanks him for dinner. When his cook wants to leave because his house is super-duper creepy, he convinces her to stay, and their conversation ends like this:

Cook: “Wait till you taste my apple pie.”
Kessler: “Apple pie? My, that will be a treat!”

I dare you to dislike him. This was easily the best film so far (I know it’s only day three). The sound quality was much better than the previous two, and the plot and characters kept me interested.

*Or has she?

Friday, October 2, 2015

AMoCH: Black Dragons

Title: Black Dragons
Year: 1942
Starring: Bela Lugosi, Clayton Moore, Joan Barclay

Summary: Just prior to the start of World War II, Dr. Melcher (Bela Lugosi), a world-famous plastic surgeon, is brought in by Japan’s Black Dragon Society as part of a secret plan. Dr. Melcher operates on six Black Dragon Society operatives and transforms them into exact duplicates of six high-ranking American businessmen who are replaced by these look-alikes. With their operatives in place, the Black Dragon Society’s plan to sabotage the American war effort appears to be set, but the FBI Chief and an agent begin to piece together the clues that hopefully will uncover this sinister plot.

Despite this movie being twenty years older than yesterday’s, the audio quality is actually better. I let this one play in the background while doing work for my sister’s baby shower, so I don’t have a ton to say about it besides the premise is satisfyingly creepy. I’m not down with people getting surgically transformed into other people. Bela Lugosi is always a treat, and some of the action even takes place in Pittsburgh, which is cool. I always get a kick out of Pittsburgh mentions.

FRIDAY FIVE: Favorite Banned/Challenged Books

In honor of ALA’s Banned Book Week, today’s Friday Five is five of my favorite banned or challenged books. I can’t say my top five, because oh, my goodness, there are a lot of challenged books that I’ve read and enjoyed!

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury.
The ultimate bibliophile’s book, a love letter to words. I’m probably due for a reread. Fun fact: I still don’t know how to spell “Fahrenheit.”

Speak, Laurie Halse Anderson.
I read this when I was much younger, maybe in eighth grade, but it’s stuck with me. One of the wonders of literature is being able to explore important issues, and YA lit is especially necessary for giving them the language to talk about such issues, for being available when they don’t want to talk about them, and for teaching them to think critically.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee.
Another book I read for the first time in eighth grade. Can’t go wrong with this classic. And this reminds me that I still need to read Go Set a Watchman.

A Light in the Attic, Shel Silverstein.
Sometimes, you just need to read funny and whimsical kids’ poems. This will probably be one of the first books I buy my nephew. I’m going to buy him lots of books.

Bridge to Terabithia, Katherine Paterson.
I actually didn’t read this until I was twenty-three or twenty-four, but it still had an impact on me. I grew up in a rural area, so it was my sister, the neighbor boy who was my age, and me. We spent our summers running around outside having adventures, and this book, even with its sad ending, reminds me a lot of my childhood. And yes, I cried.

See the full lists on ALA’s website HERE.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Month of Classic Horror: Carnival of Souls

I bought this 50 pack of classic horror movies a few years ago because I love Halloween, but I hate slasher films. I prefer creepy over gory. In the interest of getting through most of this set, I’m going to try watching one film a day. I don’t know if I’ll make it because life and all that, but I’m going to try. First up:

Starring: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sydney Berger
Year: 1962

Summary: A young woman apparently survives a drag race accident that had the car she was in toppling off a bridge and into the river below. Unfazed by this experience, the woman heads off across country to her new job as a church organist. Experiencing strange things along her trip and also when she arrives at her new home, the woman begins to suspect that her survival of the accident was not as it appears.

The first thing I noticed is that the audio quality is not great. It starts out with two groups of people in two cars, and the dialogue is barely audible over the engines. The insert says this was made in 1962, but I find that hard to believe unless it just wasn’t well preserved. (Looking at the reviews on Amazon, I see that the quality of all the films in this set is hit-or-miss.)

However, despite some of my difficulty in hearing some of the dialogue (there’s no closed captioning available), the strength of this movie is its settings. Apparently, it was shot on a fairly small budget of $30,000, all raised by local businesses in Lawrence, Kansas. All the staples are there--a church, a carnival, a department store—and they’re all appropriately creepy. The main character is an organist, and we all know organ music is perfect for horror movies. Or maybe I’ve just watched Phantom of the Opera too many times.

The scariest element of this movie is the guy who peeps on the main character while she’s changing and then continues to ask her out and bother her even though she’s not interested. He even asks her if she’s “afraid of men” and tells her that she’s “cold.” Ugh. Seems things haven’t changed in 50 years.

All in all, Carnival of Souls is mildly creepy and has a great title, but I don’t think I’d watch it again.