Police pick up a shell-shocked little girl in the New Mexico desert. They also spot an abandoned car and trailer, and when they check them out they find a war zone sprinkled with sugar. What on earth could have happened?
As more similar crime scenes appear, Police Sergeant Ben Peterson (Whitmore) investigates with the help of his trooper, who quickly becomes another victim of the unseen threat. FBI Agent Robert Graham (Arness) replaces the dead trooper, and with their only clues being strange tracks, sugar, and huge amounts of formic acid in the victims’ bodies, the investigators call in some experts. Dr Harold Medford (Gwenn) arrives, accompanied by his daughter, Dr Patricia Medford (Weldon). The two of them have some crazy theories.
The culprits are giant ants, mutations made by radiation from nuclear bomb tests in New Mexico (see “Godzilla: Bombs are Bad“). The team manage to destroy the nest, but realise that three queens have managed to escape. Now they must track them down and destroy them before they destroy all of humanity.
As mentioned, we watched this as a double feature with Godzilla, and they really are a perfect match. Atomic monsters threatening major cities who must be destroyed by scientists and the military working together, with a sprinkle of romance and humour. We loved them both, although Them! seems the slightly sillier version of the same general idea.
A cult classic which is surprisingly tense given the premise, Them! is a great film if you’re a fan of creepy creature features with slightly dated effects but otherwise great performances and lots of eerie sounds. We loved both Doctors Medford, and had a great time watching this.
Godzilla – King of the Monsters! Hydrogen bombs off the coast of Japan have awoken the mighty beast from its oceanic slumber and it is coming for Tokyo. Send in the army, sacrifice your daughters, and RUN!
As Godzilla, a dinosaury creature of local legend, wreaks havoc on the shores of Japan, scientists and military personnel work to pacify and/or kill the monster. Some, such as Dr. Yamane (Shimura), are convinced they should let the rare specimen live.
Others, particularly the military, but later also Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Kôchi) and her two boyfriends (it’s complicated) Hideto and Serizawa (Takarada and Hirata, respectively), begin to realise that their only course of action is to destroy it before it destroys all of Japan and possibly the world.
Godzilla is a legendary creature feature which has spawned countless sequels, remakes, and reboots. However, none of them have quite managed to capture the magic of the original. Sure, there have been more advanced special effects in some other Godzilla-films, but the original man (technically men; Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka) in the monster suit is strangely effective.
It’s atmospheric and intense, with a dramatic score, great performances and real threats. We watched this as a part of 1000filmblog’s Atomic Double Creature Feature Night™ together with Gordon Douglas’ Them! (#124) from the same year, and it was a fantastic combination. As we’re going through the fifties and sixties, we’re looking forward to more atomic/space-agey horror and sci-fi – we love us a good monster movie and a good atomic scare!
House of Wax is an old favourite of Sister the Oldest, stemming from her love of Vincent Price in her teenage Goth days (we’ve all been there). A remake of Michael Curtiz’ Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933), it stars Price as Professor Henry Jarrod, an eccentric sculptor who works with wax figures.
When Jarrod’s business partner Matthew Burke (Roberts) is in need of some quick cash, he proposes to the artist that they burn down the museum to collect the insurance. Jarrod, who has a close, personal relationship with all his creations, is not exactly on board, so Burke tries to kill him. The museum burns down and Jarrod disappears and is thought to have perished in the fire.
Fast forward a few months, and Burke dies under mysterious circumstances, his body disappears from the morgue, and his delightful (possible) fiancée Cathy (Jones – a.k.a. She of the Tiny Waist) meets the same fate. Simultaneously, Professor Jarrod reappears with plans to open a new wax museum, this time with a Chamber of Horrors included, showing historical crimes as well as recent, local ones. Coincidence?
Sue Allen (Kirk), Cathy’s roommate and only witness to her killer, grows suspicious when visiting the museum and finding that Joan of Arc is the spitting image of her dead friend, though her suspicions are mostly written off as the silly ideas of a hysterical woman. Her own likeness to Jarrod’s Marie Antoinette put her on the artist’s radar, and tensions mount.
House of Wax holds up incredibly well and is an excellent and creepy feature. We love the image of the melting wax figures, everything about Cathy (our favourite), Vincent Price’s iconic voice, and the grotesque plot.
Originally made in 3D, it is easy to see how that would have added to the experience, and some scenes are clearly inserted mainly for the 3D effect. Unfortunately, we’ve only ever seen it in 2D, but perhaps one day we’ll have the chance to watch it in the same way as its original audience. One can only dream…
What we learned: Don’t kill people’s creative works for money. Or, money and art do not always work well together. Something to that effect.
Ed Wood is commonly known as the worst director of all time, which may or may not be true (there must be someone worse out there, although it’s possible they’ve never released anything major), due in large part to the cult classic Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). Slightly less well known, though still fairly (in)famous, and (hopefully) slightly more autobiographical is Glen or Glenda from 1953.
Transvestite Patrick/Patricia has committed suicide, and the investigator, Inspector Warren (Talbot) wants to learn more about their motive. He talks to Dr Alton (Farrell) who tells him two stories about different forms of gender identity, starting with the story of Glen/Glenda (Wood).
Glen is a fairly normal heterosexual man who is engaged to marry Barbara (Fuller), and who likes to dress in women’s clothing and to feel like a woman. He describes it as a sort of split personality and he cannot quite make up his mind whether he wants to continue doing this or whether he wants to stop. He also has a hard time deciding how to tell his fiancée about his alter ego. This is the most clearly autobiographical narrative in the film, since the director himself went through a similar process (as we’ll see in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood when we reach 1994).
Dr Alton also tells Warren the story of pseudohermaphrodite Alan, who after a long period of confusion, goes through a sex change to transition to female. In between these two narratives, Bela Lugosi pops up in a lab straight out of a Frankenstein film and talks about human nature while doing experiments that have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film. There’s also a (drug-fueled?) dream sequence heavy with symbolism (we think).
A film as indecisive about its nature as its eponymous character, Glen or Glenda cannot seem to make its mind up about in which genre it wants to belong. The scenes with Bela Lugosi fall firmly into the horror realm, while other parts of the film fluctuate between documentary, drama, romance, pantomime, silent movie, and symbolism heavy art feature. It is a very interesting film to watch though, and its cult status is understandable. The artistic merits of the film do not, however, quite match the level of the progressive and important subject matter, and it’s a strange experience watching it. Well worth it though!
We continue our journey through film history with this classic Hitchcock thriller, filmed in glorious technicolor. Brandon (Dall) and Philip (Granger), old school friends, decide to kill a third friend and throw a dinner party for his family with the body hidden in the room. This is what an Ivy League education will do to your sense of morality, apparently.
They also invite their old housemaster (whatever that is. Some sort of teacher?) Rupert (Stewart), who Brandon idolizes (and quite possibly is in love with on some level). The idea behind the party is to stroke their egos (particularly Brandon’s) by convincing themselves they have committed the perfect murder. For Brandon the party is exhilarating, while for Philip it’s excruciating.
As the (very tense) party progresses, we learn that the murderous philosophies so taken to heart by Brandon originate in Rupert’s fascination with Nietzsche and similar thinkers. They both think that there are differences between people and that some have more right to live than others. In fact, they go so far as to claim that it is the superior people’s right to take the lives of others. For Rupert these are simply thought experiments – not anything to be put into action. However, Brandon takes everything his hero says quite literally and drags his rather more weak-willed friend down with him.
Rope is tense and exciting – a sitting room thriller with great long shots and a truly chilling character in Brandon (although, to be honest, there are many movie murderers who surpass him in creepiness). The long shots help build the tension quite well – especially when Mrs Wilson is tidying the chest containing the body after dinner. Philip gradually melts down until his Tell-Tale Heart-moment which reveals Rupert’s true feelings about the philosophies he spouts.
We love Rope – it’s a classic we’ve watched several times before, and we thoroughly recommend it to anyone who loves a good suspenseful melodrama. And a good murder. Which we do. There are also clear parallels to the real case of Leopold and Loeb, but we find fictional murders infinitely more satisfying than real life as we’re not total psychopaths…
Extra fun fact for you: “Farley” (as in actor Farley Granger) pretty much means “dangerous” in Norwegian. So, from a purely Norwegian linguistic point of view, he should have been the one to play Brandon. For some reason, Hitchcock did not take this into consideration when casting the film.
What we learned: Thinking oneself superior is a dangerous thing.
Belle (Day), the beautiful young daughter of a merchant, is being Cinderella’d by her rooty tooty snooty sisters after their family’s fortune was lost at sea. As her father gets word of one of his ships having reached port safely, he travels to the city to regain some of his fortune, only to find it has all been seized in payment of his debts. Returning home through a scary forest in a storm, he seeks shelter in a castle which seems abandoned yet has a marvelous feast set out for him.
He spends the night in the castle and, when leaving the next morning, picks a rose for his daughter as that was her only request for a present. Big mistake. A frightful Beast (Marais) sets upon him and tells him he must die for this offence. The merchant manages to make a deal to go home home to see his family if he promises to return promptly or send a family member in his place. Belle, being the good daughter, offers to go to the castle instead of her ailing father.
Instead of finding a primitive beast ready to devour her, Belle meets a gentlemanly one who proclaims her mistress of the castle and himself her humble servant. She stays with him for months, and though every night she refuses his marriage proposal, they develop a friendship and companionship which is quite mutual, despite him looking like he’s always on the verge of reciting Shakespearean soliloquies. Case in point:
After a while, Belle finds out that her father is grievously ill and asks to go home to see him. The Beast agrees on the condition that she returns one week later, and gives her a magic mirror to see him, his glove which will return her to the castle whenever she’d like and, for some reason, the key to his fortune.
Of course, Belle’s cunty sisters, her idiot brother and his friend Gaston, uh, we mean, Avenant (also played by Marais), persuade her to stay on a bit longer, steal her key and decide to go kill the Beast and steal his fortune. However, Belle sees the Beast half dead from grief in her magic mirror and uses the magic glove to return to him at the same time her brother and Avenant arrive to dispose of him. There are declarations of love, the Beast transforms to his true princely form and all live happily ever after. Except for the intruders, one of whom is himself transformed (to take the Beast’s place as guardian of the castle? Of the afterlife? Of purgatory? Who knows?), but that’s their own fault.
Cocteau’s version is a very faithful adaptation of the traditional French fairy tale despite him, naturally, having taken some artistic licenses. Visually, this film is wonderful with amazing details, especially in the enchanted castle which is like Barbie’s Gothic Dream House – creepy but luxurious. The disembodied arms which act like servants and the half-living statues that adorn the halls and rooms are fantastic (in all senses of the word) and add an extra layer of surrealism and magic to the film. The costumes are extravagant, if not necessarily always flattering, and the beast is superbly made up.
Dead of Night is the first of the horror anthology films on the list, and a good start to this scary and brilliant subgenre.
Architect Walter Craig (Johns) comes to look at a house he has been approached to alter or expand, and experiences a very strong case of déjà vu. It turns out he has had recurring dreams about the house and all the people who are currently there, but he cannot recall the ending of the dream, just that it is not a happy one.
As Craig is trying to remember the details of his dream, the other guests take turns telling of their own experiences with the supernatural or uncanny. You know, to lighten the mood. The stories vary in length and seriousness, but some of them are very unsettling indeed.
Among the guests’ tales we find a creepy ghost story involving children and murder (always a good combination) as well as a game of Sardines; a race car driver who’s saved from certain (?) death several times by the appearance of a strange man; a scary haunted mirror (a subject which we always find unnerving – childhood literature trauma might be to blame); a silly, silly ghost story involving two very competitive (and self-centered) golfers and the girl they’re both in love with (who by the way has no personality of her own and somehow agrees to marry whoever wins a golf game… Have some self respect, lady!); as well as the aforementioned ventriloquist tale starring Michael Redgrave of The Lady Vanishes-fame.
Four different directors helmed the various segments, and they vary a lot in tone and style, with Cavalcanti’s two segments our personal favourites. We’re both partial to horror anthologies, and we cannot wait for the upcoming ones, such as #230 Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), #359 Asylum (1972), #367 Tales From the Crypt (1972), #553 Creepshow (1982) and #582 Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) to name but a few (numbers are liable to change as Mr Wright tends to alter his list now and then..). If you’re one of us (one of us!) we heartily recommend Dead of Night. Its circular plot is interesting, there are great performances, some good comic relief and it is genuinely scary at times. And we do eventually find out the ending of Craig’s nightmare… A new favourite for sure.
The second Lewton/Tourneur collaboration on the list after Cat People, and every bit as good as its predecessor. I Walked with a Zombie follows Canadian nurse Betsy Connell (Dee) who takes a job nursing Jessica (Gordon), the wife of Paul Holland (Conway), a plantation owner on Saint Sebastian in the Caribbean. Jessica never recovered from a fever and spends her days in a daze, unable to say anything or do anything of her own free will.
Betsy’s patient lives on the plantation with her husband and his slightly alcoholic half brother Wesley Rand (Ellison), as well as several black people who are descendents of the slaves Holland’s forefathers brought to the island. Betsy soon learns, through song format no less – the best way to learn anything, that Jessica had an affair with Wesley before she fell ill, and that the two of them even planned on running away together.
After talks with the local doctor (Bell), Holland’s mother (Barrett), and maid Alma (Harris), Betsy starts to suspect that perhaps Jessica’s illness isn’t natural at all, but that Voodoo may be at the heart of the problem, especially after the good doctor introduces her to the term “zombie.” She also finds that she has fallen in love with Paul (for some reason) and she finds that the best way to make him happy is to restore Jessica to him. How selfless. The nurse gets instruction from Alma on how to get to the houmfort (where they do all the voodoo-stuff for those not familiar with the term) and decides to give it a try.
Like Cat People, the resolution to I Walked with a Zombie is ambiguous. The audience cannot be certain whether Jessica is really a zombie or not, and that’s part of what makes the film work so well. However, it’s not the only thing by far. The atmosphere is utterly creepy throughout, helped by the drums and chanting often heard in the background. Jessica’s introduction (and pretty much all subsequent appearances) is chilling and there’s a sinister vibe to Betsy’s entire experience, from the boat trip to the end.
The island’s history of slavery is an important plot point as well, as is Betsy’s complete lack of understanding of the problems brought on by this (her reply to her driver’s story of how his people was brought to the island is “well, they were brought to a beautiful place”).
There’s beautiful use of light and shadow for those of you who are visual fanatics. As well as wonderful costumes for those of you who are more fashion oriented. And creepy voodoo rituals and sort of incestuous undertones for the more horror minded. In short, there’s something here for everyone!
What we learned: if a vital question in your job interview is whether or not you believe in witchcraft, consider the position carefully.
Starring: Simone Simon, Kent Smith, Tom Conway, Jane Randolph
Runtime: 1h 13min
Note: Cat People was watched only by Sister the Oldest, as Sister the Youngest had once again fucked off to Oslo, this time to do exams. How very selfish of her, trying to get an education when there are films to be watched.
Irina Dubrovna (Simon) is a Serbian fashion sketch artist working on ideas in a New York zoo when she strikes up a conversation with Oliver Reed (Smith – not actor Oliver Reed). They fall in love and get married despite Irina’s conviction that she is a descendant of a coven of devil worshipping witches who turn into cats when aroused or angry.
Now, in Irina’s defence, this is not a condition she wants, but she believes the superstitions of her Serbian village and does not want to risk hurting herself or her husband. She agrees to go to therapy to help save her marriage, but it does not do much to help her, especially since her therapist’s idea of a cure is kissing his patient. Very unhippocratic.
To complicate their lives further, Reed’s colleague Alice Moore (Randolph) is in love with him, and since things aren’t going too well at home, he falls for her as well. Irina suspects an affair and gives in to her inner desires to stalk and prey on Alice, who does indeed seem to be followed by a large cat.
As the plot thickens, Oliver and Alice keep treating Irina as a child in one instance, a mentally unstable woman in the next, and then as a dangerous threat. It’s no wonder she becomes a bit unhinged and wants revenge on them for shutting her out and starting an affair. There’s nothing inherently bad about her, but she is never taken seriously or treated as an equal by her husband which causes her to snap.
It’s never really clear whether Irina is right or not. She certainly seems to think she turns into a large, predatory cat when angry, upset or turned on, and Alice and Oliver are eventually convinced as well. The ambiguity is one of the main strengths of the film though, and not having clear answers makes it more intriguing than a straight-forward horror film about a shapeshifting woman. What comes across clearly however, is that no one really thinks of Irina as a grown, independent woman – even her therapy sessions consist of her being put in a trance so she has no memory of what she tells her doctor. Despite the fact that she moved to the USA alone and made a career for herself before meeting her husband, everyone seems to think she’s too fragile to be treated like an adult. Probably due to the fact that (they think) she believes in fairy tales, but still.
Now, I might be reading a bit much into this (I blame my literature background), but it’s hard not to get analytical about this film. What I’m trying to say is that I loved Cat People and I am looking forward to more Tourneur. Which is coming up very soon in I Walked with a Zombie. Yay!
What we learned: don’t have an affair with a man whose wife might be a murderous shapeshifter. Also, don’t treat your wife as a child.
We cannot do this film justice in a text post, so we recommend you watch it (if you haven’t already). It’s a Disney classic (and the first Disney animated feature on the list) for very good reasons – it’s a love letter to the magic of music and an (a?) homage to human creativity and artistry.
Various animators and directors have visualized works of classical music by Bach, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Ponchielli, Mussorgsky and Schubert (hopefully we didn’t forget anyone… Either way, they’re dead so no harm done!) in various styles and the results are mesmerizing, beautiful, therapeutic, educational, and at times funny, sad or scary.
The different segments are introduced by Deems Taylor and the music is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra and conducted by Leopold Stokowsky (our classical musician friends have informed us that it is vitally important to credit the conductor). Some of the sequences tell a story while others are more abstract interpretations of the music, but they are all lovely and entertaining to watch.