Frankenstein (1910)

(1910 – Edison Co. – silent) dir: J. Searle Dawley; w/ Charles Ogle, Augustus Phillips, Mary Fuller. One reel.

Almost certainly the first film adaptation of the story, and while it does try to use some of the themes from the book, conveying such a story in less than 13 minutes is a fool’s task. Still, that doesn’t excuse the trip-hammer ending so ridiculous that you can almost hear the cameraman shout, “We’re almost out of film! Write an ending, quick!” Aside from that, the film is well made (within expectations of the era). Notable is that the monster-making process is alchemical and accomplished with an interesting bit of trickery (a burning mannequin filmed in reverse). The surviving copy is a little rough in spots, but well worth a view for film historians and horror aficionados.

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Cult of the Cobra

(1955) dir: Francis D. Lyon; w/ Faith Domergue, Richard Long, Marshall Thompson, Kathleen Hughes. No skin, no gore, no pulse.

The slinky Cobra Priestess stalks the GI’s who crashed her cult’s party. Does she really turn into a snake? Will her murderous quest be undone by the charms of an American hunk? This is the usual sort of Universal B-flick, sprinkled with light humor and even lighter suspense; well crafted but carefully devoid of anything that might alarm even the most alarmable. Like most such B’s from the majors, it was made with the expectation that no one would actually pay much attention to it. So there is nothing here for anyone who is actually paying attention.

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Chamber of Horrors (1966)

(1966) prod & dir: Hy Averback; w/ Patrick O’Neal, Cesare Danova, Wilfrid Hyde-White, (Wayne Rogers in an early role, Tony Curtis in a brief cameo). No skin; no gore.

A one-handed madman stalks those responsible for sending him up the river; meanwhile, his gruesome exploits are immortalized in the very wax museum run by his next targets. This one hauls out the old “Fear Flasher” gimmick, warning the audience of a ghastly moment to come (said moments, of course, never occur — but if you close your eyes, you can pretend). Really, it is just a polished, inoffensive, and utterly un-scary flick that feels a lot like a TV pilot for a new P.I. show. Its only real merit is the fine cast, who do help to at least make the film modestly entertaining.

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Mega-Python VS Gatoroid

(2011) dir: Mary Lambert; w/ Debbie Gibson, Tiffany, A. Martinez, (Micky Dolenz cameo). No skin; mild gore.
Thanks to a crazy environmentalist, the python problem in the Everglades gets supersized. Thanks to a crazy sheriff, the gators get super-dupersized. Then it’s just gargantuan reptiles versus everybody and only two crabby women and some dynamite can save us now. Apparently, the rehashed critters were not quite enough, so they threw in a cat-fight and a Monkee to try and hold our interest. It doesn’t work. Even by the standards of SyFy channel regurgitated drivel, this one is awfully weak– lukewarm script, bargain bin FX, and half-hearted attempts at humor. Give it a miss unless you just have to see Gibson & Tiffany in a cat-fight.

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Dungeon of Harrow

(1962) writ & dir: Pat Boyette; w/ Russ Harvey, Helen Hogan, William McNulty. No skin; no gore.
Some castaways wind up on the island of Count De Sade. Oops. The Count is almost as batty as the screenwriter — depravities ensue. Of course, this thing banks entirely on the exploitation elements, but what’s there (a little bondage, a little torture) is brief and rather tepid. What makes the flick worth watching are the dime-store SFX, the wooden acting, the ridiculously hammy acting, inappropriate canned music, and dialogue so stiff it could stop a bullet. It might make a good party movie, but you’ll have to work at it a bit.

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Black Dynamite

(2009) dir: Scott Sanders; w/ Michael Jai White (also script), Tommy Davidson, Salli Richardson-Whitfield. A tidbit o’ skin; no gore.

Mr. Black Dynamite (apparently his real name) must get drugs off the streets, fight an evil plot to hit black men where it will hurt the most, battle the evil master, etc., etc., etc. Usually billed as a “tribute” to the old blaxploitation flicks, what this really looks like is an attempt at a modern remake of the Dolemite flicks. (Okay, White’s Kung Fu is better, but he still ain’t got nothing on Rudy.) It is one of those goofy movies that just tries too hard to be goofy. Still, they throw enough crazy shit at the screen that some of it is bound to work. It almost certainly plays best to those who have watched the real blaxploitation films far too often.

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Blue Demon

(2004) writ, prod & dir: Dan Grodnik; w/ Dedee Pfeiffer, Randall Batinkoff, Danny Woodburn, Jeff Fahey. No skin; almost no gore.

Here we are again at that secret government project involving genetically engineered super-sharks. Of course, the sharks prove too much to handle, but this time the west coast is only vaguely threatened by a few cheap CG sharks. This flick can only be summed up as Dorky – like that kid in school who was actually convinced he was funny. They do straight-up formula and try to make up for their weak budget and anemic script by forcing in a little campy humor. That only multiplies the dorkiness. This is the sort of movie that doesn’t even look good through beer-goggles. I’ll give a tip of the hat to the cast; they do struggle gamely to entertain the audience, but I’m afraid they just don’t have the chops to rescue this twaddle.

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Living Doll

(1990) dir: Peter Litten & George Dugdale; w/ Mark Jax, Gary Martin, Katie Orgill, (Eartha Kitt bit). Some skin; a little gore.
Ah, yes… the unhinged med student who clings to the decaying corpse of his dead dream-girl — well, even in such a small sub-genre, there are bound to be a few misses. Despite decent production values and quite a good cast, this one falls flat due to an overdose of padding and a paucity of plot — very little actually happens and much of what does is entirely predictable. The flick does have its moments, to be sure, but they sink beneath the dullness of the rest of the movie.

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Sharknado

(2013 ) dir: Anthony C. Ferrante; w/ Ian Ziering, Tara Reid, Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons. No skin; a little gore.
Freak weather scoops up sharks (apparently of every species around the planet) and dumps them on California. They mix together the lamest clichés of the Disaster-movie with the lamest clichés of the Critter-flick, the sound recording sucks, and the special effects are weak. They approximate action with really tight edits and shaky camera work. They approximate plot with really tight edits and shaky camera work. The flick’s only saving grace is its sheer enthusiasm. It just gets dumber by the second, but at least it never slows down. There are hurricanes and tornadoes and floods and exploding cars. There are biting sharks and flying sharks and exploding sharks. They fight sharks with shotguns and chainsaws and helicopters and bombs and… more exploding cars. Regrettably, the filmmakers survived it all. There is some fun to be had here (at their expense), but a little brain lubrication would certainly help.

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The Sorrow and the Pity

(1969 – France) dir: Marcel Ophuls. Documentary
A somewhat inflammatory documentary about the real experience of France under the Nazi occupation, centering on the town of Clermont. It consists almost entirely of interviews with the participants — soldiers of both sides, resistance fighters, politicians, and even collaborators. At four hours long, it is a little punishing, but not for its length. The picture it paints is an ugly one… the extraordinary degree of collaboration, divisions among the various factions of the resistance, the complicity of the Vichy government in the persecution of Jews, and more. Small wonder that it was controversial in France; broadcasters there refused to show it. But it is an important record of what can happen to ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. It ain’t pretty.

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