1932’s third film in what is commonly thought of as the Universal classic monster films (the talking pictures, anyway), 1932’s The Mummy is the more lush and sophisticated when compared to 1931’s Dracula and 1931’s Frankenstein. The film also employs actors from the previous two – for instance, Edward Van Sloan plays the expert doctor in all three, and David Manners the rather ineffective male love interest in both Dracula and The Mummy. Most contemporary viewers have seen modern versions of the mummy legend, but this is rather the granddaddy of most. The film also came on the tail end and is perhaps the most well-known of early Hollywood’s fascination with Egyptian storylines; early cinema had already produced over forty films on such material.

In the film, we open in 1921 when an archeological expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) finds a tomb, corpse, and mysterious scroll in a dig. The mummy they’ve unearthed is Imhotep (Boris Karloff), and as they pore over the runes on his sarcophagus they discover he was tortured and executed for some gross sacrilege. They also discover that by messing with the scroll they’ve unearthed (the mysterious Scroll of Thoth) they risk the wrath of the gods (or so the hieroglyphs say). At this point, Whemple’s colleague Dr. Muller (Edward Van Sloan), an expert in Eastern occult, pulls Whemple aside to urge the scientist to abandon the scroll, and destroy it if possible. While they are quibbling, Sir Joseph’s assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) furtively opens the scroll, and sweatily whispers the incantations. You guessed it: the mummy awakens – to steal the scroll and terrorize Norton. The other two scientists burst into the room and find Norton laughing madly, and both the scroll and the body missing.

Ten years later, Whemple has left Egypt for good. His son Frank (Manners) works alongside a Professor Pearson (Leonard Mudie), pillaging Egypt’s tombs. They complain about the lack of a significant find; as they bicker, a mysterious Egyptian darkens the doorstep and introduces himself as Ardath Bey (Karloff, again). Bey tells the two men he will lead them to a significant find: the tomb of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon. Ignoring any misgivings at this strange, creepy stranger, the two archeologists eagerly agree. Both Bey and the younger archeologists’ movements soon introduce us to Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), a young woman Egyptian on her mother’s side, and fathered by a colonial governor in the Sudan. Bey is smitten, and is immediately sure she is from the lineage of Princess Ankh-es-en-Amon, if not the Princess herself reincarnated.

Flashbacks ensue, and Helen begins to experience the confusion of being both herself – and someone else, someone drawn to this mysterious stranger. The gentlemen scientists are soon on to Bey’s game though, and try to resist his designs on Helen. Employing powers of telepathy, as well as blood-lineage sway over the household servant – dismayingly referred to as “The Nubian”, and played in blackface by actor and history-making producer Noble Johnson – Bey (who is indeed the revived Imhotep), manages to secure Helen/Ankh-es-en-Amon in the temple. Will our bumbling heroes arrive in time to save her?


I love The Mummy. The pacing is good – if, yes, it does employ a lot of stuffy fellows talking in drawing rooms – and of course, Karloff is riveting. Zita as Helen/Ankh-es-en-Amon is also compelling, even if her affection for the milquetoast Frank seems difficult to believe. She is courageous and gorgeous; her costumes and gowns rank alongside Karloff’s mummy makeup in terms of glamour. The score is a bit uneven; the credits open with “Swan Lake”, and there are periods of both tension-laced orchestral bits – and utter silence (the latter most notably when the mummy awakes). The film is if not racist, at least racially insensitive and steeped in Western Imperialism with its portrayal of the Egyptian people and history, and its digs at the “modern” (Islamic) Egypt versus the “Classic” one of 3500 years ago.

Well-executed and beautiful, The Mummy is an absolutely essential film for any horror fan, and especially any monster movie completist.

Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982) - poster

Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982) - poster

 

After the box office success of Conan The Barbarian (1982), a number of American and oversea film enterprises quickly worked to make cheap fantasy sword-and-sorcery copies of the film. One of the fastest to hit the presses was Ator, The Fighting Eagle (Italian release: Ator l’invincibile), co-written and directed by Joe D’Amato, whose career mostly consisted of soft- and hardcore pornography. Very little pornographic values are seen in this film, except for perhaps bad wigs and clumsy dialogue.

The story opens in typical S&S fashion: a dark lord (the “High Priest of the Spider”) finds out something or other about a prophecy and orders a marked infant killed for safe measure. The target infant, however, is carried off to safety by the bewigged and mysterious Griba (British actor Edmund Purdom). The boy, now named Ator and played by Tarzan actor Miles O’Keeffe, grows into strapping manhood unaware of his lineage. He falls in love with his sister (?!), and upon confessing this to their father, is relieved to hear he was adopted and can therefore marry her (?!). Inexplicably, at this point he is spotted and recognized (?!) by the dark lord’s minions and, on his wedding day, the village is raided. His parents are killed and his sister/bride (Ritza Brown) is carried off by the horde. Ator collects his best loincloth and sets on a quest, battling giant spiders, blind seers, a seductive witch, and a small undead army.

Unless you love the hokeyness of these kinds of epics (and I do!) you’re not likely to find much compelling fare in this film. Ator is played in this film (as well as the two sequels) by O’Keeffe, whose main strengths seem to be a gorgeous head of leonine locks and an impressively fit physique. D’Amato quickly produced a sequel (wonderfully lampooned in Season 3 of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”), absented himself for the third film, and returned to direct the fourth. A small role goes to Laura Gemser, the Indonesian-Dutch actress who made D’Amato’s career with the Emmanuelle series. The cast is rounded out by Italian actress Sabrina Siani, Peruvian actor and wrestler Dakar (credited as “Dakkar” in the film), and spaghetti Western actor Nello Pazzafini.

A great film for any fans of the epic fantasy or sword and sorcery genres.

Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982) - still 1

Ator, The Fighting Eagle (1982) - still 2

 

 

Meteor Man (1993) - DVD cover

Meteor Man (1993) - DVD cover

Produced, written, directed and starring Robert Townsend as mild-mannered-citizen-turned-superhero, this lost-in-the-90s comedy is an extremely well-intentioned effort that likely should have been more successful than it was. Townsend plays Jefferson Reed, a milquetoast science teacher trying to evade adult responsibilities, including the bad behaviors of the young boys at his school and the drug- and gang-plagued skirmishes of his neighborhood. He spends most of his time with his parents (Marla Gibbs and Robert Guillaume) and his goofy friends (Eddie Griffin and James Earl Jones). A freak accident transforms him into a superhero with oddly specific, strange powers (Marvel created a comic series after the film), and he somewhat reluctantly gets involved trying to help his community. Job one: dismantling the local gang improbably named “The Golden Lords”, the membership of which consists of an astonishing number of grown men and children sporting peroxide-blonde hair (and occasionally wigs).

Meteor Man (1993) - still 2

Despite some mayhem – The Golden Lords sport guns and freely fire them at people, and at one point a dog is killed – the film is definitely on the comedic, occasionally-slapstick side. The movie is also a “message film” of sorts – holding that inner city drug and gang problems need to be solved by the collective good works of the inner-city citizens rather than societal overhaul – but for all that it is fairly light on its toes on the topic. The production design is clever and cute – looking very much like a Disney television show.

If Meteor Man has any stand-out feature, it’s an astonishing cast of black talent and cameos, covering the world of stage, television, and film, and including musical artists spanning the genres of motown, hip hop, soul, and R&B genres. Amongst the cast: Don CheadleLuther VandrossTommy ‘Tiny’ ListerNancy WilsonMarilyn ColemanRoy Fegan, and John Witherspoon. The film also features a few cute cameos, including Naughty by NatureCypress HillAnother Bad Creation, and Biz MarkieSinbadBig Daddy Kane, and Bill Cosby play minor roles. White character actors Frank Gorshin and Wallace Shawn round out the cast of miscreants. Despite a whole lot of charm, the film had a tough job keeping my interest for its 100-minute runtime.

The Meteor Man is a must-see for any 90s television and music fan; and of course, any superhero completist.

Meteor Man (1993) - still 1

Venom (1981) - poster

Venom (1981) - poster

A rather unpleasant thriller, Venom combines the bleakness of a kidnapping drama with a bit of eco-horror in this film, which at times reads like a made-for-television effort. Apparently besieged with creative and personnel difficulties – director Tobe Hooper quit or was fired from the project before Piers Haggard took over, and leads Klaus Kinski and Oliver Reed fought on set – the film nevertheless plods along fairly well.

In the plot, three criminals – experienced German terrorist Müller (Kinski), a hot-headed chauffeur associate Averconnnelly (Reed), and Averconnelly’s girlfriend Andrews (Susan George) – plan the kidnapping of a wealthy and asthmatic 10 year old boy (blonde moppet Lance Holcomb). The boy, I might add, is a budding naturalist and keeps a variety of critters in his home. On heist-day one thing quickly leads to another – including a case of mistaken-snake identity – and the group of kidnappers and hostages are soon trapped inside a townhouse with – plot twist! a deadly black mamba. The police eventually get involved and what we have for the remainder of the 92-minute runtime is a hostage standoff complicated by the presence and occasional McRib chomp by our slithery companion.

Venom (1981) - still 1

Black mambas really are as deadly as the movie indicates; without antivenin the mortality rate from a bite is close to 100%, and things don’t look so good even with treatment, really. The film makes about as good a use of snake-terror as it can, especially given you and I both know snakes don’t really attack so much as, respond defensively to people disturbing them.

Those who like the darkness of seventies dramas will like this film, which feels a bit older than it’s 1981 vintage. Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski play the exact type of creeps we’re used to seeing them play. The movie is strong in acting talent: American noir- and Western-standby Sterling Hayden and the very talented British actor Nicol Williamson provide decent chops to their roles (“I’m the boy’s grandfather” Hayden reminds us a half dozen times in the film). In addition Sarah Miles, a brief bit by Michael Gough, and Susan George add gravitas to what otherwise might have been a very silly film. The women in this film are treated horribly, portrayed either as dithering, hysterical, and ineffective, and of course George is treated most exploitively of all.

A must-see for any eco-horror completist, those who favor seventies-era dark dramas, or any fan of the abovementioned actors.

Venom (1981) - still 2

Tormented (1960) - poster

Tormented (1960) - poster

A surprisingly effective supernatural drama by prolific B-movie director Burt I. Gordon, Tormented starts off with a bang and keeps a nice little pace for its 75-minute runtime. In the first moments of the film, jazz musician Tom Stewart (Richard Carlson) meets in an abandoned lighthouse with his lover: blonde, busty jazz singer Vi (Juli Reding). In their terse exchange we learn that Vi has surprised Tom on the island he is vacationing on, but she is unwelcome. He gruffly tries to break the relationship off, in hopes of marrying the young heiress Meg (Lugene Sanders), and forgetting Vi altogether. Vi is stung and disgusted and angrily threatens to expose the affair. They struggle at the lighthouse railing and she slips, dangling over the rocks far below. Tom makes the decision to let her fall to her death rather than save her.

Next morning Tom immediately begins to have supernatural visions. We learn his marriage is pending in just a few days. As he works with his bride-to-be on the wedding details he struggles with increasingly invasive ghostly manifestations (are they real or the product of his guilt?) – not to mention a sinister fourth party (a beatnick ferryman) who shows up on the island and starts to sniff around the family.

My first exposure to Tormented was through season four of “Mystery Science Theater 3000”; it’s one of my eldest child’s favorite episodes. That said, I’ve seen the film a handful of times at this point and I must begrudgingly admit the story is a pretty good one. The special effects are nothing exciting and beg for a contemporary update; but the story is spooky enough. There are a few effective, nasty scenes involving the innocent people getting tangled up in the drama: neighbor Mrs. Ellis (Lillian Adams), and Meg’s little sister Sandy (played by Susan Gordon, the director’s daughter). It isn’t until the final few moments of the film we really know which directions things are going to go, and the ending is nicely creepy and well-done – if a bit grim.

The film also has a handful of fun goodies – the performance of then-10-years-old Susan Gordon (who was given bad lines but still gave a great performance) and character actor Joe Turkel; Turkel is recognizable to sci-fi and horror fans for small but charismatic roles in Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining (as the ghostly bartender) and Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner (as Eldon Tyrell).

A fun little domestic drama for those of us who enjoy ghost stories!

Tormented (1960) - still