Tonight and Tomorrow on TCM: A Horror Grab Bag
Tonight on TCM, and into the wee hours of tomorrow, a continuation of their tidal wave of classic horror films for the Halloween season.
8:00pm (EST): Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
This is easily the least of the three major classic Hollywood adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s influential horror tale. Far better are the silent one with John Barrymore and the 1932 Frederic March version. Still, this one remains worth watching at least once, and may be seen as a kind of indispensable experiment. This is the Spencer Tracy “realistic” version, directed by Victor Fleming. The make-up is much more subdued, as is Tracy’s performance as Hyde. There is a sort of quiet menace about the character, but it doesn’t really possess the scenery chewing one wants and expects. Tracy is best in the early scenes, when we get to know and like Jekyll. The dinner table scene where he defends his work always stands out in my mind. After the opening scenes, the screenplay clings VERY closely to the 1932 version, at times, almost like they were filming the same script, scene by scene. An unrecognizable Lana Turner plays Jekyll’s nondescript fiancé. Donald Crisp is her father (one of the film’s better elements). Ingrid Bergman is horrible as a dance hall girl, with her combination Swedish-Cockney accent. And silent film comedian Billy Bevan is a lovable cop!
10:00pm (EST): Eyes Without a Face (1960)
A French/Italian co-production about a mad plastic surgeon who steals the faces of kidnapped women in order to graft them onto the face of his daughter, whose face was destroyed in an accident. The titular faceless faces are masks, which the women wear to hide the atrocities beneath. That’s the cool part but it wears thin quickly. It sounds more exciting than it plays out.
11:45pm (EST): The Body Snatcher (1945)
One of the better (perhaps the best) of the Val Lewton horror pictures for RKO, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale (which was in turn based on the real life story of Burke and Hare.) Set in Edinburgh in the 1830s. Boris Karloff plays a grave robber who helps a famous surgeon (Henry Daniell) obtain the corpses he needs to do his research. Like Burke and Hare, Karloff’s character has taken to killing people to get the corpses he needs. As a subplot the surgeon’s assistant really wants to help a little crippled girl walk. The situation both drives the need for new corpses (for research) but also provides tension. Is she in danger? Will the ghoul come for her? In the end the surgeon kills the grave robber, then accidentally takes his corpse one night. As they ride on a road one night, the surgeon hears the grave robber’s voice, cracks the wagon up and has a fatal accident. Karloff’s performance in the film is great. Bela Lugosi plays a creepy servant.
1:15am (EST): Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954)
A Technicolor 3-D remake of The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932) done very much in the style of House of Wax (1953), with Karl Malden as the villain. It’s all highly silly — the mechanism that controls the ape is a ringing bell on a bracelet…and the sound designer feels compelled to include that noise in every scene in which the bracelet is present, which is most of the scenes in the movie.
2:45am (EST): Macabre (1958)
William Castle’s first outing as a horror impresario. An inkling of how he gets off on a characteristic foot: nothing depicted on that poster above actually happens in the movie. But rest assured there’s a gimmick – – Castle claimed to have insured the picture to pay out in case any audience members died of fright. And the plot too was a typical gimmick. A doctor’s little daughter has been kidnapped and buried alive. She’ll suffocate unless he finds her in five hours. And then he proceeds to waste a LOT of time looking up blind alleys. To give you some idea of the tone of the film: JIM BACKUS plays a menacing sheriff. In years to come Castle’s films would become more enjoyable as he truly went off the deep end of gimmickry. This one falls more in the “suspense” genre — but it’s still a good time.
4:00am (EST): The Corpse Vanishes (1942)
In this Monogram cheapie, Bela Lugosi is a mad scientist who sends poisoned orchids to brides on their wedding day so he can steal their mysterious virgin essence of youth and beauty, and transplant it to his wife! I’d say that this one marks a new low for him, but then he’d already made The Devil Bat! On the other hand, at least The Devil Bat has a Devil Bat! And fortunately that one’s playing as well! (see below)
5:15am (EST): The Brain that Wouldn’t Die (1962)
Hilarious low budget film about a scientist who performs gruesome Frankensteinian experiments. One day he is riding with his girlfriend in the car and they get into an accident. She dies but he carries her head home in a bag and keeps it alive with tubes. Then he goes looking for a woman to kill so he can put his girlfriend’s head on it. Several great scenes with burlesque dancers, beauty pageants, and finally an art model makes the “cut”. Meanwhile his girlfriend is not at all grateful about having been kept alive. She sits there in a muffin pan and rolls her eyes and conspires with Whatever’s Behind That Locked Door (apparently an earlier failed experiment). I’ll tell ya what’s behind that locked door! It’s Eddie Carmel, the Jewish Giant!
6:45am (EST): The Killer Shrews (1959)
Surprisingly, this one is not an AIP/ Roger Corman production. It would make for a perfect double feature with Night of the Lepus, but for the fact that no one would sit still for two movies like this. The plot: a supply boat puts in on an island where a scientist has been experimenting with a serum that would shrink humans (in order to solve world hunger). Instead, he winds up growing shrews, and the shrews get out of hand. Played by puppets and dogs in costumes, the giant shrews look silly indeed.
8:00am (EST): The Devil Bat (1940)
This movie is unspeakably awesome…down in the Ed Wood category of Grade Z films. Bela Lugosi is a mad scientist who has not only artificially grown a bunch of super-sized bats (through radiation of course) but has also trained them to attack whoever wears a certain cologne. (His ostensible job is inventing colognes). One of my favorite exchanges in cinema: Innocent victim: “Goodnight, doctor!” Lugosi: “GoodBYE, Jimmy”. The bat of course is shown is separate shots which give no idea of scale (a real bat), or presented as a big plastic swooping kite-like prop on a wire. I have seen this film perhaps ten times.
9:15am (EST) The Seventh Victim (1943)
A teenager looks for her missing sister/ guardian and her detective work leads to a Satanic cult in the heart of Greenwich Village. Features Kim Hunter and a pre-Beaver Hugh Beaumont. The film doesn’t go as far into superstition as it ought to to make it interesting and so does not scare us. Feels more like a noir, a melodrama or a spy thriller than horror. The Satanists seem more like Nazis, just some kind of a secret group of callous, plotting people. At the climax they try to coerce the missing sister into committing suicide but she won’t. Later she does, but then only because she wants to — not because she is being forced to. On the other hand, check out the sister’s rad, Bohemian haircut, a sort of Betty Paige/ Morticia Addams mash-up.