Being an amateur magician, it's only natural I'd take a strong liking to Houdini and his exploits. Among his many accomplishments as a showman was his interest in early cinema. Unfortunately, while he excelled in the exciting escapes, he did have a problem with showing romance and kissing on camera. So as a leading man he fell short in that department. Here's a reproduction of the pressbook for Houdini in The Man From Beyond. Of particular interest is the testimonial by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on page 7 and the music cues on page 19. Since this was a silent picture, music accompaniment would have been essential.
Movies with spiders always creep me out. Originally titled Earth vs. the Spider, after The Fly successfully buzzed theaters, AIP honchos decided to shorten the title to The Spider. Now that would have made a nice midnight double bill showing, don't you think? The poster art shows more verve than the movie, but it's still enjoyable: big spiders and small towns always work well together.
Superman and the Mole Men is tagged as "the first full-length feature" for Superman. But let's not forget Kirk Alyn's 1948 and 1950 movie serials. Those seem like full-length features to me. George Reeves was the cat's meow in the 1950s and 60s to every kid (boys mostly) growing up and watching The Adventures of Superman on television. I'd fly around the block with a pillow case pinned to my jacket like a cape and swoosh down on evil-doers, but only after school let out, of course.
Otherwise known as Angkor (1935), you would't guess from the Savoy movie herald that it's a travelogue, and with additional studio footage to boot. Topless women abound. I bet the Savoy Theatre in Clarksdale did well with this one.
Once you get past the stereotypes these actors were locked into by the script writers, they're still damn good actors. Here's the pressbook for Charlie Chan and the Feathered Serpent. Mantan Moreland expertly provided the comic relief for many movies, including King of the Zombies. Playing the servant role at a time when Hollywood accepted such limitations for audience consumption, he transcended his chauffeur and butler characters to make otherwise lacklustre movies worth seeing just for him alone. He became a key draw for the Charlie Chan series from Monogram. At one point, Moe and Shemp Howard seriously considered him for a role as one of the Three Stooges. He was that good.
Zombos Says: Good (But an extreme gore effect is jarringly unexpected)
Movies about dwelling places holding dark secrets, hidden passageways, and maniacal intentions are the no-brainers of the horror genre. Just think of Crawlspace (1986), or The People Under the Stairs (1991), or Thir13en Ghosts (2001). Such places take on an horrific character all their own, and a good movie or book presents that character foremost in as many scenes or chapters as possible.
Of course, visually speaking, for a movie it's relatively easy. Just spend as much time as you can in the endless hallways, the old apartments, and that stifling basement you don't want to find yourself in. That will do the trick. Havenhurst has all of that, and old fixtures, the quiet rooms, the spooky closets, and the permanent and transitory residents one would need for the terrors to begin. And a very, very, slow elevator when your dying for speediness. And a dungeon-like basement waiting for you if you misbehave.
Jackie (Julie Benz) takes up residence at the stuffy and musty Havenhurst apartment building after her rehabilitation from her addiction to alcohol. She has been a neglectful and self-destructive mother (we learn that from her fitful nightmares), but she is aiming for a fresh start with the help of her detective friend, Tim (Josh Stamberg), and her counselor who referred her to Havenhurst (wink, wink; hard to say if he is on the up and up here, but I sense a sequel may address that).
She takes up residence in her missing friend's spacious, but oddly suffocatingly close, apartment. Her friend, Danielle (Danielle Harris in a brief appearance before she disappears), has left all her photographs and antique cameras behind. Jackie suspects foul play. Jackie soon realizes Havenhurst is full of foul play. Cue the terror. Director and writer Andrew C. Erin, along with Daniel Farrands co-writing, are not too sure in how they play that foul terror, though. Not so much a mystery, not so much a slasher, not so much a gorehound delight, but a little bit of each moves the story along. Some of the movie posters show Jed (Douglas Tait), a mushroomy-skinned denizen of the hidden passageways, trapdoors, and sudden long drops to the basement, so not much mystery there. Hint! He is dressed a bit like a Hostel hosing-it-downman doing superintendent work in his spare time. So we know Jed's role in all of this right off the bat.
His brother, Ezra (Matt Lasky) is the building's handyman. He is good at cleaning up Jed's bloody messes. Both of them are dutiful sons to Eleanor (Fionnula Flannagan). She runs the building and decides who stays or gets evicted. After Jackie takes a drink too many, there is an understated scene where Eleanor goes to a large antique cabinet, opens it to reveal dozens of pegged apartment keys, and reverses the one to Jackie's apartment. That's when you notice a few other keys had already been flipped over, just like Jackie's. Needless to say, you don't want to be like Jackie, and those others, and have your key reversed in that big old cabinet.
A hidden door in the laundry room (yes, me too! I hate creepy laundry rooms with hidden doors.) is revealed, as are the surprisingly versatile hallways and walls, in the photographs Danielle had left behind. Jackie investigates, get's her detective friend involved, and befriend's Sarah (Belle Shouse), a foster child who has her own secret room to hide from her foster parents. Sarah's parents eventually get evicted too, and that's where the gore kicks in. It seems out of place in this Gothic chiller and the camera stays too long admiring it. But soon the running away from Jed begins and the family that slays together is revealed, giving explanation to the building's unique luxury-to-die-for features.
The ending is a bummer as it clearly is done to set up the franchise for Jed and the building's future apartment dwellers. But there is more to tell about Havenhurst, so hopefully we will see the sequel soon. That deadly family tradition needs further exploration and I'm very curious to know what Jed does in his spare time. When he's not butchering tenants.
A courtesy screening link was provided for this review.
A confounding script mishandled by inexperienced direction.
Frustration is more likely to occur watching Death Passage (originally Lemon Tree Passage, 2014) than chills. James Campbell's direction is a jumbled mixture of mystery, bewildering ghostly occurrences, and insufficient clarity to progress the story where it would have done the most good to build suspense instead of confusion. It's a ghost story loosely built around the Australian Lemon Tree Passage Ghost, but the ghost here has nothing to do with that other ghost, so you may wonder why they even bothered.
Once again, American tourists in Australia get into mischief. Of course, American tourists in horror movies always get into mischief and usually die horribly. In this movie, the mystery is whose death is fostering more death and why. Slasher film dynamics, urged on with a Grudge overlay, begin the victim pile up while the camera can't decide which one to focus on more--the slashing, the mystery, or the jumble of victimizations, familiar dialog, and murky flashbacks through it all. Given a pacing sensibility that would be more at home in the 1970s (or perhaps even a VHS shelf-warmer in the 1980s), there isn't much to engage the eye or the mind here, although the production is more than competent and the actors do provide the necessary energy, even if their characters are so much the worse from horror movie character-template wear and tear. More style, less muddle, now that would have greatly helped the storyline.
The muddling begins when American brother and sister Toby and Amelia (Tim Pocock and Pippa Black), and along-for-the-trip Maya (Jessica Tovey), befriend Aussies Geordie and Oscar (Tim Phillips and Andrew Ryan) at the beach. True to quick-scripting form, Geordie is the soft-spoken, sensitive type and Oscar is the loud, carefree sidekick who builds big dicks out of sand. Which, as we already know, is a great way to break the ice with American tourists. A quick round of cricket and some ghost storytelling by a bonfire ensues. The Lemon Tree Passage Ghost comes up and soon they are driving down that road to see its ghostly light. A flash of light does appear as they speed along the road, but that is all they, and we, see of that roadside ghost. It's the other ghost they pick up that commands the storyline from this point on.
What could have been a refreshing switcheroo is quickly not. Not enough sense or terror is generated as the mystery progresses but does not deepen. Maya starts flipping out from frenzied visions (shown in too much closeup motion) as she becomes possessed. Sam (Nicholas Gunn), Geordie's brother, is bedeviled by an unseen force. Maya's new found friends and fellow travelers start flipping out and eventually dying around her. (What, spoiler? This is a contemporary horror movie silly. Victims die; get over it). Sam's off on his own most of the time, dealing with his own nightmare. What is happening to Sam and to Maya is kept separate until most of the running time is spent, then slammed together for a quick denouement.
When the explanation for all this mayhem finally comes it is a letdown, leaving you with the feeling that too many rewrites had left it mostly stuck in the keyboard. One curious thing: aside from the overuse of fade to black scene shifts, a quick scene switch causes a bewildering how did that happen moment, with someone suddenly tied to a tree.
Now that was spooky.
A screening link was provided for this review, courtesy of Breaking Glass Pictures.