Monday, January 31, 2011

'Devil Bat's Daughter': An ode to forgetfulness

Devil Bat's Daughter (1946)
Starring: Rosemary La Planche, Michael Hale, Nolan Leary, Monica Mars, Molly Lamont, and John James
Director: Frank Wisbar
Rating: Four of Five Stars

Nina (La Planche) driven to a mental breakdown when she learns her dead father was not only a murderer but may have also been a vampire, is placed in the care of manipulative psychiatrist Dr. Morris (Hale). When his wife (Lamont) is murdered, everyone--including Nina herself--believes she did it in a fit of madness... everyone except handsome Ted Masters, the dead woman's son who has fallen in love with Nina. He sets out to prove Nina's innocence and that his step-father is the killer.

Taken on its own, "Devil Bat's Daughter" is an okay little horror flick that suffers from stiff acting, clunky dialogue, and strange story continuity lapses (such as a continuing back-and-forth about whether the "Devil Bat" of the title--a local mad scientist who either came to a bad end at the fangs of his own monstrous creations but only after they killed half a dozen others, or who was put on trial for murder and presumably executed). The majority of the story elements are familiar elements of horror movies and thrillers of this vintage--a woman shocked into amnesia, a corrupt psychiatrist who may or may not be abusing his patients, and a bland hero whose only defining quality is that he is in love-at-first-sight with the imperiled heroine--there are a number of other factors that make this an unusual film and worth checking out.

The primary of these is the sympathetic portrayal of the "other woman" with whom the slimy psychiatrist is two-timing the wife he obviously only married for money. Rather than being a coldhearted and scheming bitch who is every bit the villain that he is, she is another victim of his manipulations, and she ultimately comes across as remorseful. Almost as important is the titular character, who, although little more than a conduit for melodrama, is also the pivot-point for enough plot substance that there are genuine questions in the minds of viewers that she might indeed be an unhinged, murdering somnambulist. This is all too rare in pictures of this production level and period, where plot misdirection and obfuscation usually feel halfhearted and are often painfully transparent. Screenwriter Griffin Jay and director Frank Wisbar truly rose above the standard for this kind of movie in this case.

Unfortunately, the film is less successful as a sequel to the original "Devil Bat" picture. While I admittedly might be a bit more of a stickler for continuity than many movie viewers, I still think anyone who saw "The Devil Bat" would wonder how/why the small town that was home to Paul Carruthers moved from the American Midwest to the East Coast, or why everyone from the town gossipers to the courts seem to have forgotten that Carruthers confessed to committing several premeditated murders using a trained bat before being killed by said bat in front of witnesses, or how Carruthers somehow transformed in everyone's mind from a well-respected local chemist and pillar of the community who secretly dabbling in bizarre experiments with growth acceleration through electrical glandular manipulation to a researcher who relocated to the town to work in peace and quiet on his mad science projects. The only details about Carruthers and his "devil bat" that remains consistent from the original film to this one is that he was the final victim of his own monster.

Why the creators of "Devil Bat's Daughter" chose to virtually ignore the story of the original film in favor of making Paul Carruthers the center of vampire legends and recasting him as a misunderstood genius instead of a raving madman is a mystery to me. Perhaps they were trying to convey that the entire town was shocked into a state of amnesia and dissasociation like Nina was over the revelations surrounding Paul Carruthers: Everyone in the small town of Heathville forgot who they were, where their town was located, and everything that really happened, and they filled in the blanks with details that seemed more logical to them than what had actually happened.

The film would have been much stronger if they'd remained consistent with the original, as Nina's madness and apparent homicidal mania could have been inherited from her crazy father; the writers could even have kept their goofy "ah-yup, dem townies shurly do believe that ole Doc Carruthers wuz a vampire, yup dey sure do" stuff as the trigger for her mental breakdown. Instead, they created a film that is undermined every time it invokes the original movie with distortions and revisions of that films most basic plot points and background elements.

And that's a shame, because their sloppy and arbitrary story telling manages to ruin what might otherwise have been a decent little thriller.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Sunday, January 23, 2011

'Bad Blonde' is an okay crime drama

Bad Blonde (aka "The Flanagan Boy") (1953)
Starring: Tony Wright, Barbara Payton, Frederick Valk, Sid James, and John Slater
Director: Reginald Le Borg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A boxing promoter's trophy wife (Payton) seduces and manipulates a young prize fighter (Wright) into murdering her husband.

"Bad Blonde" is a crime drama mixed with a sports movie and a dash of film noir. Despite the American title, the film's main focus is actually the up-and-coming boxing star Johnny Flanagan, to whom the original British title referred, and how he is undone and ultimately destroyed by the sociopathic Lorna Vecchi.

It's a tragic story, because we watch Lorna destroy two decent men--and ruin the lives of two others--as the film unfolds. Boxing promoter Giuseppe Vecchi (played by Frederick Valch) is a kindhearted man who works very hard to treat everyone he interacts with fairly and to make all his friends happy, so as Lorna keeps pushing Johnny to murder him with her lies and sexual wiles, we keep hoping that he will come to his senses and tell his manager about what is really going on between him and Lorna. The fact that Johnny is also a good person makes us root even harder for him, especially when Lorna preys on Johnny's naivete by claiming to be threatening suicide and claiming to be pregnant to push him over the edge.

Because her victims are so likable, it is very satisfying to watch Lorna get her just rewards at the end of the movie. It would be even more satisfying if it made a little more sense than it does, or if one didn't have the feeling that she might easily be able to lie her way out of full punishment, but there are few characters in films that viewers want to see dragged off in chains than Lorna Vecchi.

The ending might also have been more satisfying if Barbara Payton had been a slightly better actress. She excels at putting sexiness--or, more accurately, horniness--on the screen, and she's quite good at delivering lines that are supposed to come across as haughty or bitchy, but when required to act angry or scared, her performance falls flat.

Fortunately, the rest of the cast is strong enough to carry the movie, with the supporting actors providing enough emotion and the tension to bring life and strength to the flawed ending. Likewise, the character of Giuseppe Vecchi could easily have come across as an annoying buffoon if he had been portrayed by a lesser actor than Valk. Much credit also goes to director Reginald Le Borg for keeping the film moving at a fast pace and further negating the lack of range in Payton's performance.

"Bad Blonde" is one of a dozen or so film-noirish crime drama's that Hammer Films co-produced with American B-movie mogul Robert L. Lippert. It's worth checking out if you want to see a neglected side of the greatest British B-movie studio. It's not the best film that came out of the partnership, but it's still very entertaining.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

'The Flying Serpent' was better as 'The Devil Bat'

The Flying Serpent (1946)
Starring: George Zucco, Hope Kramer, Ralph Lewis, and James Metcalf
Director: Sam Newfield
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

A demented archeologist (Zucco) uses a strange flying serpent that may or may not be the god Quetzalcoatl to protect an Aztec treasure and kill anyone who annoys him.

"The Flying Serpent" is, essentially, a remake of one of PRC's greatest horror flicks, "The Devil Bat", only with even less story logic. Once again, a mad scientist (here Zucco's archeologist instead of Lugosi's chemist) uses a flying monster to take out anyone who crosses him, up to and including the dashing romantic hero of the film. Instead of Lugosi's giant bat which is trained to attack anyone who is wearing a certain type of cologne, the creature in this film attacks anyone who is carrying one of its feathers.

Unfortunately, the one thing that doesn't have a parallel between the two pictures is the interesting performances, amusing script, and moody atmosphere from "The Devil Bat". The only non-bland aspect to this film is George Zucco's overblown performance as a melodramatic madman. It's almost a shame he didn't have a mustache, because he should have been twirling it. Even the creature--aside from the slightly silly, pseudo-supernatural ability it has to find its plucked feathers--is bland and uninteresting. Worse, the film has a slap-dash feel to it, as if only a minimum of effort was put into the script and the filming process... and nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the film's climax (which I won't detail due to my policy of trying to avoid spoiling a film).

If you want to a PRC film featuring a horror movie icon sending a flying monster to rip the throats out of anyone he doesn't like, go with "The Devil Bat". You'll be glad you did. (Although if you're a fan of this film, I'd love to hear your take on it, especially the ending.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mohammed Monday: Mo and the Mountain

That Gary Larson cartoon--which features both the all-holy image and name of the Prophet Mohammed (may pyrite be upon him)--was syndicated around the world in 1994, yet there were no mobs in the streets, no attacks on embassies, nor cowardice and hysterical pants-wetting from the editorial staffs of the newspapers across the United States of America.

At what point did the idol-worshiping heathens who seek to kill any non-believer who DARES show the image of their god, "The Prophet Mohammed (may peat be upon him)", become the dominant and governing force in the so-called Muslim World? When did the followers of the self-described "Religion of Peace" in the Western World turn into a bunch of dimwitted barbarians who spent their time making mountains out of Mo' hills?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Picture Perfect Special:
Princesses of Mars, Part Two

This is the second installment in a series of posts featuring images of beautiful Martian maidens, such as John Carter's beloved Dejah Thoris, from a range of talented artists.

Click on the artist's name under each illustration to see more of that artist's work at their official website (if they have one.)

By Gil Kane
By William Stout
By Josh Howard
By Andy Kuhn

Thursday, January 13, 2011

'Ghost Rider' reprint book ablaze with quality

Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 2 (Marvel Comics, 2007)
Writers: Michael Fleisher, Roger MacKenzie, Don Glut, Jim Shooter, and Gerry Conway
Atists: Don Perlin, Carmine Infantino, Tom Sutton,
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

The adventures of Johnny Blaze, a stunt motorcyclist cursed by Satan to be the vessel of a mysterious vengeance demon continue. At the start of this collection, Johnny's (relatively) peaceful life as a stuntman at Zelazny Studios is destroyed as he once again finds himself losing control of his transformation from human to fiery demon. As time progresses, the demonic spirit within him grows wilder and wilder, and Johnny finds himself constantly on the move, with no opportunity to ever settle down.

"Essential Ghost Rider, Vol. 2" reprints issues 21-50 of the original "Ghost Rider" comics from the late 1970s and early 1980s. As I mentioned in my review of "Essential Ghost Rider, Vol 1", this is a series that followed a curve opposite of what most comic books do... it got better as time wore on.

While this volume doesn't contain the best of "Ghost Rider"--that doesn't come until the tales that originally appeared starting with the issues in the mid-60s and running through the series end with #81--the stories steadily improve, moving from an almost straight superhero phase, into a pulp-action horror phase, and then drifting back in the direction of superhero-flavored horror, as the Ghost Rider crosses paths with Dr. Strange, Hawkeye, and other Marvel heroes.

A great contributing factor to the "Ghost Rider" stories getting better is that the creative teams stabilized--with Don Perlin serving as the artist on most of the tales collected here, and Michael Fleisher writing more than half of them. Another is that a pair of editors who turned everything they touched to gold took turns at the book's helm--Archie Goodwin and Denny O'Neil.

To move the title in the right direction, the creators tore down the world that had been built up around Johnny Blaze--having a confrontation with Dr. Druid (the goofiest of Marvel's mystical characters) force him to unleash his demon in front of everyone, and then have his on-again, off-again true love Roxy Simpson be brainwashed into forgetting him by a shadowy figure (in a subplot that isn't resolved in this volume), stripping him of his Stunt Cycling World Championship title, and ultimately starting to morph his curse again, preventing him from ever feeling secure enough to settle down.

While the constant changing of Johnny Blaze's curse and his relationship with the demon inside him was a detriment to the first 20 or so issues of "Ghost Rider", here the shift takes place over many issues and it becomes an asset to the title. Rather than seeming like the product of editors and creators who has no clue what to do with a character, here it seems like the subplot is moving along toward a planned point. (And, as we discover a little later in the title--beyond what is reprinted here--it was.)

The art throughout the book is serviceable--with the two-part tale where a mad wizard separates Johnny and the demon he is host to pencilled by Carmine Infantino being the strongest--and competent, but it is nothing to rave about. The stories are another matter--the writing is top-notch and the tales are mostly timeless action/horror stories that carry very little of the painful "hipness" that caused so many of the tales in the first volume to be embarrassingly stuck in the decade that produced them.

The only complaint I have with the writing in this book is that when the creators are pushing Ghost Rider hard in the direction of ever-increasing quality, they don't take time to look back--the book is almost entirely continuity free for the final ten or so reprinted tales, except for the growing strength of Johnny's demon. The book closes out with Johnny once again become embroiled with Native American mysticism and curses... I would have loved to see a return of the Witch Woman (hot-pants and all) for those tales.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Picture Perfect Wednesday:

Yesterday, it was 45 years ago that the "Batman" TV show debuted on ABC, with Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin. Yvonne Craig later joined the heroic line-up as Batgirl. Legendary iconic television performances as recurring villains were provided by Cesar Romero (as The Joker), Frank Gorshin (as The Riddler), Burgess Meredith (as The Penguin) and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt (as Catwoman, at various points).

The new Batgirl (secretly Commissioner Gordon's daugther, Barbara) was created by DC Comics editor Julie Schwartz and artist Carmine Infantino at the request of the show's producer, William Dozier, for its third season. Dozier envisioned Batgirl in her own spin-off series, a plan that never came to be.

The failure of the spin-off series to materialize doesn't change the fact that version of Batgirl remains the coolest version. Within the next month or so, I'll be reviewing the book reprinting her comic book adventures from the 1960s and 1970s, but in the meantime, here are some recent portrayals of her.

For more pictures from the classic Batman television show, check out this post at Cinema Steve.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Film from PRC to be dug up at Carfax Abby

Film writer extra-ordinaire Matthew Coniam will be spending the rest of January at his Carfax Abby blog surveying the horror offerings of Poverty Row movie factory PRC.

Matthew's articles are always worth checking out, but lovers of the classic (and not so classic) films that I've skimmed the surface of here definitely need to check out his writings this month, as he explores George Zucco's performances in all their over-the-top melodramatic glory and faces the horror of dimwitted werewolves and vengeance-seeking perfumiers-turned-animal-trainers.

The event promises to feature George Zucco chewing on scenery like it has rarely been chewed on before, Click here to visit Carfax Abbey for a fresh take on some old movies.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Only remarkable because of two Hammer firsts

Man Bait (aka "The Last Page") (1952)
Starring: George Brent, Diana Dors, Marguerite Chapman, Peter Reynolds, Raymond Huntley, and Meridith Edwards
Director: Terence Fisher
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

When a lazy bookstore employee (Dors) and a psychopathic career criminal (Reynolds) set out to blackmail her married manager, his refusal to submit leads to murder.

"Man-Bait" is a rambling crime drama that is probably more true to life than most films of this type--the criminal element are dumb as rocks and their "brilliant" scheme of first blackmail and then murder is so badly conceived that the movie only lasts as long as it does because of characters who either panic because they think they are going to be the ones blamed for murder, or who play detective and put themselves in major peril. If the mostly law-abiding citizens had turned the police when it had been the smart thing to do, the film would have been over in 20 minutes.

Although the film's story is incredibly forced and populated by dunderheads, the actors give it their all, as does director Terence Fisher, in what was the first film in what would be a 20+-year association with the company. Although George Brent is still pretty bland, he is more lively here than I've ever seen him before, while the scenes involving Peter Reynolds as he sets out to do violence to the beautiful Diana Dors and Marguerite Chapman are excellent and suspenseful high points for the film that are as good as anything Fisher did in later and far better films.

While this was Fisher's first film for Hammer, it was also the first of a dozen co-productions between Hammer Films and American B-movie producer Robert Lippert; before Hammer hit it big with Peter Cushing and Technicolor horror, they were creating quite a little niche for themselves with low-budget mysteries and film noir dramas. This first collaboration is one of the weaker films that would result from the union, but it's a far sight better than some of Lippert's other films, such as sci-fi misfires "Lost Continent" and "Unknown World". Also, while all the Lippert/Hammer productions are very British in nature, this is perhaps the one that is most strongly so, with the flavor of the bookstore where much of the action takes place, the characters both inside and outside the store where they work, and the setting of a London still recovering from WW2 blitzes all bringing a strong atmosphere to this picture that I've not often seen in this genre.

Still, this is a film that is really primarily of interest to the hardest of the hardcore Anglophiles or fans of film noir, as well as those with a strong interest in the works of Terence Fisher, one or more of the features performers, or the history of Hammer Films. It's not a bad movie, but it's also not as good as many of those that would follow.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...