The Frozen Ghost (1945)

After an audience member dies during a hypnotist’s act, the guilt-ridden mesmerist  moves into a wax museum to “relax.” What could possibly go wrong?

Alex Gregor (aka Gregor the Great) has a mentalist act that he performs with his fiancée partner Maura Daniel. During one of their performances, a drunk heckler interrupts and Alex invites the man onstage to prove Maura’s clairvoyance isn’t a trick; he’ll do the same with him. The man stumbles onstage, remaining obnoxious. Alex mutters that he could kill him, then starts to hypnotize him. Unfortunately, the man inconveniently drops dead.FG1

Later, backstage, Alex and Maura are talking to investigating detective Inspector Brant. Alex’s manager, George, walks in and woe-is-me Gregor insists he killed the audience member with his mind. He did it, he killed him! He wished him dead! The cop gets word that the heckler was a long-time drunk with a bad ticker; he had a heart attack, it wasn’t the mentalist’s fault. Alex isn’t convinced and rushes out to wander the streets all night, moping and blaming himself.

The next morning, Alex returns home and tells George and Maura he’s calling it quits; not just the act, but the engagement, too. George then asks a friend of his for help. Valerie Monet owns and operates a wax museum, can Alex stay there until he gets his head straight? Valerie extends the invitation, which includes a job giving the lectures on the tableaux to the patrons (which we never see). Alex accepts. Once there, she introduces him to her young niece, Nina, and former plastic surgeon, Rudi Polden, the eccentric man who crafts the wax figures (he talks to his creations).

 

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Well, Rudi is shifty, and stirs up trouble by playing off Valerie’s romantic interest in Alex by telling her Alex has eyes for Nina. Valerie gets into a bitch-fest with Alex about both Maura and making a play for Nina. In his anger, he hypnotizes her (what?) and she faints. He goes into a fugue state and starts walking around town again, clutching Valerie’s scarf.FG4

When Alex returns next morning, Valerie is gone and Nina has called the police. The same cop from earlier is there to take the report. Not long afterwards, Nina goes missing, and Alex enlists the aid of former partner Maura to find out what happened to the two.FG6

This is one of six short, (60 minute) low-budget Inner Sanctum movies Universal churned out in the 1940’s, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. In this one, he plays Alex Gregor and it’s a rather bland performance. The rest of the cast, including Evelyn Ankers and Milburn Stone, put in decent enough performances, given the material they have to work with. The detective, played by Douglass Dumbrille, is also a bit of an eccentric. Martin Kosleck, as Rudi Polden, is always enjoyable to watch and can make a simple line like “Little Nina” sound simultaneously affectionate and sinister.

There are problems with the script. For instance, the mentalist act. It seems Alex is only a hypnotist, but Maura is the psychic. If she’s doing all the heavy lifting, shouldn’t she be the headliner? Also, why is the cop, who identifies himself as being with the homicide squad, later investigating a missing person? Why are three different women swooning over mopey, hang-dog Alex? There’s a key plot point discussed later on that’s questionable, but mentioning it would be a spoiler.

This is far from a great movie, I’d give it a 5 out of 10 (*), but I’m a sucker for a creaky old wax museum flick and Martin Kosleck causing trouble. This is a rainy weekend time-waster if you turn off your brain and just enjoy. (* I’ve raised my rating to 7.5 after a subsequent viewing. Very re-watchable, at least for me. Your viewing mileage may vary.)

 

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Because distraction can be good for the writer’s soul, I recently indulged my latest obsession (veteran character actor Martin Kosleck) and watched the low-budget 1964 horror flick, The Flesh Eaters. I was wary; too many times I had bought a movie, unseen, or wasted two hours watching on tv, a movie with an actor I liked, only to discover they only had a two-minute cameo at either the very beginning or two-thirds of the way through what was otherwise a crap fest. I am pleased to say that wasn’t the case here.

The Flesh Eaters begins with personal assistant Jan Letterman chartering a plane for her employer, actress Laura Winters, from down-on-his-luck pilot Grant Murdoch. Laura needs to make the curtain for the play she’s starring in out-of-state. The real question is whether she’ll sober up in time, because she’s three sheets to the wind with a portable liquor store in an overnight bag. There’s also a little problem of a tropical storm heading their way; Murdoch says it’s too dangerous to fly. Jan offers him triple his fee and since he needs the cash, he takes the risk.

In mid-flight, heading ever closer to the storm, they experience engine trouble and Murdoch makes an emergency landing on a small island off the coast. They quickly discover the island isn’t uninhabited as they meet Dr. Peter Bartell, marine biologist conducting crustacean experiments (his pleasant, German accented voice and steely eyes are no cause for concern. None at all). After finding a human skeleton washed ashore, the doctor brushes it off to a shark attack, then offers the trio safe haven in his tent further inland.

The next morning, glimmering fish skeletons are littering the beach. Something is amiss. A little later, a beatnik named Omar makes it to the island on his shabby raft (how in the hell did that survive a hurricane?). Things go from bad to worse when the stranded travelers realize they’re trapped on the island, the waters infested with some sort of flesh-eating amoeba.

This is considered to be one of the first gore movies, released a year after Blood Feast. Unlike its predecessor, The Flesh Eaters is a pretty decent low-budget B movie. The acting isn’t bad, the B&W cinematography is great, and it has some fairly good practical effects, the flesh-eaters themselves most notably.

I’m happy to say Martin Kosleck has a sizable role in this as Dr. Bartell. He’s the villain, of course, and, as usual, delivers. All the actors do a decent to good job playing their trope roles, even Ray Tudor as Omar, the insufferable proto-hippie (watching him makes you understand why Eric Cartman hates them).

One of my favorite scenes is tied to an earlier one. The set-up: Shortly after the three make it to the island, Dr. Bartell takes a moment to talk to Laura. Noting she has a thing for macho Murdoch, he tells her it’s brains, not brawn, that makes a man attractive. Apparently, although he may be studying hermit crabs, he himself is not one when the opportunity to get it on with a still desirable actress is presented (how she retains her looks despite being a big-time lush is beyond me). Needless to say, she shoots the doctor down. The payoff: Later in the movie, however, she makes a play for him. He suggests they duck behind a secluded dune. I immediately say there is no way he’s getting any, because he’s Martin Kosleck, and his characters never get any! What happens next had me laughing out loud, in a good way.

I was skeptical about this movie, but it ended up being a lot of fun. A shifty scientist with a German accent, a busty blonde who strips to her bra to fashion a bandage for the injured hero, a Maynard G. Krebbs type, and some cool flesh eating creatures. Gather your friends, and in keeping with the spirit of the movie and Dr. Bartell, get some shrimp and crab legs and make a night of it. Just keep an eye on your drink!

(The Flesh Eaters is available to stream on Amazon or can be watched for free on YouTube)

The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

The Phantom of the Opera, from 1989, is a horror/slasher entry in Phantom adaptations, directed by Dwight H. Little. It’s the antithesis (and to some, antidote) to the treacly, overly romanticized Lloyd-Webber musical. It also piggybacks on the success of said musical, as well as its star Robert Englund’s most famous role, Freddy Krueger.

The movie starts in present day New York. Julliard student Christine Day is auditioning for a part in a new show, singing a piece from a forgotten opera written by an obscure composer. She’s barely finished the first verse when an errant sandbag knocks her unconscious. What occurs next is generally referred to as the time travel element, but I read it more as Christine recalling, or even somehow psychically revisiting, a past life. Regardless of which theory is correct, it allows the movie to move into the past, 1880’s London to be exact (switched from Paris). From this point on, the movie hits the basic Leroux story plot points. A promising young singer Continue reading

Daughters of Darkness

(Originally posted to LiveJournal April 2016)

I finally got around to watching Daughters of Darkness, a cult movie from 1971, and what a strange film it is. A newlywed couple, Stefan and Valerie, make a stop in Ostend, Belgium at a deserted resort hotel. They’re the only guests, until the Countess Bathory and her nubile assistant, Ilona, arrive. There’s something a little off in the honeymooning pair’s relationship, made evident when the two make a day trip to Bruges and pass by a murder scene. Back at the hotel, the countess sets her sights on the couple, Stefan eyes Ilona, and a retired detective takes an interest in the countess – who hasn’t aged since the last time she visited the hotel, forty years ago.

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