A tidy little horror thriller helmed by Howard Hawks’ production company (rumors maintain he directed most of the film, uncredited), The Thing from Another World is generally known in sci-fi circles as the original movie that inspired John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). Both films are based on the novella Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell (writing under the pseudonym of Don A. Stuart), a sci-fi thriller particularly lauded for its suspense.
Briefly: a team of North Pole scientists calls for visitation from a small military group based in Anchorage. The scientists want help exploring an anomalous craft recently crashed in the Arctic ice. Their concern: the metal vessel is so large it is likely not to be of terrestrial origin. The group makes their way to the craft. Three minutes after declaring it’s no metal they’ve ever seen before, the men plant thermite explosives, steps a few feet away, and blows ‘er up. While this plan ends up backfiring (you don’t say?) they do manage to secure one of the ship’s frozen crew: an 8 foot tall bipedal being. They haul the frozen alien to their outpost and – oops! – unthaw him – at the same time they lose contact to the mainland.
Despite some silliness like the thermite and a few other incredulously careless decisions, the next hour of the film is a relatively engaging “cat and mouse” game between the team of scientists and soldiers against the malignant alien. This isn’t as exciting as it sounds: we don’t see even a tiny bit of action until at least forty minutes in. Even after the alien starts bashing things up, most of the film regards the relationship between the men – military and academic – confronting their problem and working together (or sometimes, working against one another).
The film is interesting; today, there could be no thought of this large a cast assembled without a significantly higher body count and greater degree of gore (the Carpenter remake handles both of these very well). The plot ends up being more about professionalism (or lack thereof) and leadership under duress, rather than a true horror story. Which is a shame, as several elements of the film edge us to the truly creepy (again, Carpenter capitalized on this beautifully). The film also retains the era’s rather imperialist, gladhanded review of military operations and in particular the leadership of a handsome, charismatic boy scout (Kenneth Tobey as Captain Hendry). But any tension we might experience is significantly diluted as the cast themselves seems to not be very scared, despite circumstances that would terrify anyone.
The film’s strength is primarily in the competency of the ensemble cast and the conversational writing, involving several character actors and steadfast Western and noir players: Dewey Martin (a World War II POW), John Dierkes, Robert Nichols, Robert Cornthwaite, William Self (who went on to a production and directing career), Eduard Franz, Paul Frees (known primarily as a voice actor), Douglas Spencer, and George Fenneman (who mostly did radio and television). James Arness, amusingly, plays a role we’ve not seen him in before – or since. Only two women get any screen-time: romantic interest Margaret Sheridan and scientist’s-wife Sally Creighton, both of whom had short film careers.
A must-see for any fan of the remakes, including 1979’s Alien which parallels the story premise.
Henry Jarrod (Vincent Price) is an accomplished if a bit goofy wax figure sculptor in turn of the century New York, looking for investment partners. After a betrayal and assault at the hands of business associate Burke (Roy Roberts), his lab and figures are destroyed in a protracted and creepy scene in the first fifteen minutes of the film. Jerrod is missing and presumed dead, and Burke makes off with the insurance funds.
A few months later, bodies have gone missing – including that of a few noted local murders. Burke is murdered by strangulation by a man with a severe facial disfigurement, who then stages the killing to look like a suicide. Shortly after this, Burke’s fiancee Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones) is strangled as well, and her body goes missing at the morgue. Her girlfriend and housemate Sue Allen (Phyllis Kirk) has a run-in with the same cloaked, creepy man who murdered Burke. She seeks solace at the house of a friend, and reunites with a sculptor suitor (Paul Picerni).
Meanwhile, Jerrod – seemingly well, except for hands that can no longer sculpt – re-emerges in the public eye. He is rebuilding his wax empire with the help of two well creepy assistants – Igor (Charles Bronson) who does not speak, and Averill (Nedrick Young). Jarrod’s works now include a “Chamber of Horrors” that showcase historical crimes as well as local ones, such as Burke’s death. When Sue visits in a small group, Jarrod is immediately obsessed, begging her to come pose so he can use her as a model for his Marie Antoinette. Meanwhile, Sue notices the wax Joan of Arc figure that is a dead-ringer for her recently-deceased housemate and begins to voice misgivings about Jerrod, which are ignored by the police.
The film is a good little horror movie, despite a few silly 3D affectations. It has earned a place in Hollywood history for several reasons: House of Wax was the first 3D color release, as a remake of the 1933 pre-code Mystery of the Wax Museum. It is also the film that launched the horror leg of Price’s career. We need to remember that at the time this film came out, we did not “know” Price as a creepy leading man the way we do today. His effectiveness as the suave and saucy Jerrod is compelling today (after many similar performances) – so imagine what the experience felt like when he was fresh to viewer’s eyes. The film also features several other notable and prolific actors: Bronson, Kirk (Nora Jones from “The Thin Man” television program from ’57 to ’59), Jones (also known as Morticia and Ophelia Addams in “The Adams Family” television program from ’64 to ’66), and Paul Cavanagh (a British actor playing the gentleman investor).
An absolute must-see for any horror fans!
On a recent communal viewing of 80s shlocker Witchboard, it’s not so much that I knew an awful lot of miscellany on the life of leading lady and Whitesnake-divorcee Tawny Kitaen, it’s that I assumed everyone else in our movie group would know it too. The film is ostensibly about a Ouija board used by college professor Brandon for his class (um, why?) that subsequently finds its way into demonic possession. Brandon (played by Stephen Nichols from “Days of our Lives”) is friends with student Linda (Kitaen) and her jerky blue collar boyfriend Jim (Todd Allen). The couple live in an implausibly fabulous house (used in a couple favorites of mine from 1988: Waxwork and Elvira: Mistress of the Dark) and bicker, because Jim is an abusive jerk.
There appears to be some kind of bromance-gone-wrong angle between Brandon and Jim, who’d previously been childhood friends; Linda is caught in the middle of their difficulties – while, almost forgot to mention, she encounters an evil spirit that starts murdering people with a variety of blades and blunt force trauma. The demon’s name is Malfeitor (played by J.P. Luebsen in practically his only role), and he’s pretty damned scary, even by today’s jaded standards.
Although Jim and Brandon’s friendship-gone-awry is pretty good subtext, it is Kitaen’s Linda who carries the proceedings with her charisma and beauty, and some acting (a little). She does most of her own stunts, including a knock-down drag-out fight with Jim in the film’s finale; more impressive still at one point, fully naked, she scrambles out of a broken shower door!
But this is all icing on the cake. Because what Witchboard is really about, is Tawny’s many choice outfits.
At first I thought I’d order this list in order of best ensemble o least-best (there is no “worst”, here), but I figured that this might confuse the audience in terms of plot development – so I’m just going to go in chronological order.
Tawny starts it off bold with an Edwardian-styled tea-length peasant frock in a mini-polka dot challis, with split sleeves and a cameo brooch – paired with a Gibson girl updo and white pumps. It’s like: she’s setting off her amazing head of hair with one of those “effortless” styles you envy in other women. You know you’re going to see her hair down and fabulous, maybe flipping it around even a bit. But for now, she’s hosting a party with Jim (who gets drunk and acts rude to his guests) and keeping it super elegant.
What would Witchboard be without Tawny in the nude or near-nude? Our first glimpse of our lady in her unmentionables: a gorgeous lace-embellished cami and tap-pants ensemble. I thought, OK, that’s fine – I’ll be seeing this set several times in the film. But oh no. She is not repeating outfits, even bedtime ones, for the 98-minute runtime!
Next: the jewel tone vertical stripe shift dress with button side placket and taffeta hair bow in lavender, paired with pale pink cut-out heels. Keep in mind, this is apparently her, “just hanging around the house chillin’ & messing with ZoZo the Demon” outfit. I didn’t even dress up this much for my own wedding.
Another nightie – a lace maxi in champagne with belt tie and deep u-cut back. Listen. I sleep in a t-shirt and huge men’s baggy PJ pants. I am seriously considering upping my game.
Time for a funeral – so we gotta make it look good! Our lady is somber and sweet in a black trilby, slouchy blazer and skirt set in charcoal pinstripe, and gold disc earrings shown off with a side part.
At this point in the film, the action is heating up and Ms. Kitaen is having a pretty stressful week. She soothes her frazzled nerves in a full-length satin robe with blouson sleeves in peach, paired with pompadour pony (this is way before they were trendy, Millennials!) and a matching hair tie. Additionally, this is one scene in at least a half a dozen where Jim, the lout, “sneaks up” on someone to scare them. He does this even after the murders start, by the way. He is a dumpster fire.
Time for a dream sequence: a Grecian-style organza peignoir in a pretty soft maize colorway. I am almost in #ICantEven territory at this point!
Apparently the peach satin robe is for nighttime-only, because in daylight hours Tawny chills in a casual Japanese-inspired cotton shortie over a simple white tank top and – this is the kicker – tomato red nails. Tawny takes care of her nails gorgeously throughout the proceedings, ghoulish possessions be damned! However it must also be admitted that at one point she sticks her finger down a gross drainpipe. This is probably the nastiest part of the film, and I’m including the skulls getting cloven in twain!
Curiously, Tawny moves to royal blue for the next two pieces in the film. We only get a glimpse of this drop-sleeve oversize blouse – paired with white hi-cut briefs, both wholesome and sexy at the same time – as she’s in general being thrown around by a demon possession. Lights out!
Another brief glimpse: a blue buffalo plaid, for checkout from the hospital after she wakes up (which as it turns out, was a pretty ill-advised move). Now, here’s where I was a bit confused. Linda couldn’t have packed this garment herself, as she was transported while unconscious. This means Jim probably packed it for her. This might be the only worthwhile thing this dude did the whole film!
Our penultimate ensemble: fully possessed by Malfeitor, Linda butches up. She’s wearing the same trilby and blazer from the funeral (the hat gets knocked off in the fight), coupled with a menswear shirt, grey bias-stripe tie, and coral lipstick. Yes, this look will straight up make you gay because she is foxy AF!
After throwing Jim out the window like he deserves, we get our final ensemble: a wedding dress and veil. Tons of lace, pretty standard boilerplate for the 80s. Tawny looks perfectly lovely here, but it’s all a bit of a let-down after the fashion-forward pieces we’ve been treated to.
Still, I think what we can agree that costume designer Merril Greene went above and beyond on this film. Honorable mention to Tawny’s nails, which are in evidence often (as we might suspect in a film about a haunted Ouija board)…
and the over-the-top ensemble of doomed medium Zarabeth as played by Kathleen Wilhoite (an actress endeared to me as Carrie Ann from Roadhouse). You could write an article alone on Zarabeth’s ensemble, which includes a jean jacket with extensive button and sequin applique and knotted, beaded fringe, along with trainers and lime-green lace leggings.
A rude, driven stage director (is there any other kind in horror films?) locks his production indoors to push them for a better performance. Mind, this is after one of the troupe was murdered five feet outside the doors of the playhouse, with the madman still on the loose.
An Italian-American slasher with giallo roots, Stagefright has a bit of a darling following in horror crowds. If you like these kinds of films, the movie is definitely a must-see as it is better than most of its ilk. There is a lot of artsy-fartsy silliness to the film (and an uneven, dated score) but there are still some genuinely scary moments – for instance, the first public murder in the playhouse and the blackout that immediately follows. David Brandon (known to bad move enthusiasts for his turn as Zor in the second Ator film) stars as the unlikeable director; Italian scream queen Barbara Cupisti as the virginal “final girl”. The film is directed by Dario Argento‘s protege Michele Soavi; direction and pacing are well done and the film only gets boring in the last third. The characters good-looking and, even given boilerplate “bitchy drama players” caricatures, fairly relatable. The film capitalizes quite effectively on the creepiness of costumes, mascot heads, and creepy playhouse backspaces.
And of course, there’s a lot of silliness. As in so many films built on misogynistic murder, the women in the film are written as passive, hysterical, and unintelligent – or all three. As is often the case in these “trapped with a killer” murder-offs, the killer seems incredibly physically strong, clever, and somehow able to do a lot of things at once. In one scene, an unfortunate actor is literally ripped in half – seemingly, by the powers of the killer’s bare strength. (I think they meant this death to be by chainsaw, but if so, it was a silent chainsaw.) The end is embarrassing, and by that I mean the second and “final” ending – although the penultimate face-off between killer and last victim is also rather silly. But I suppose if would-be victims behaved intelligently in horror films, we wouldn’t get to see all the blood and guts.
Stagefright was also released as Aquarius, StageFright: Aquarius, and Bloody Bird.
- The House of Seven Corpses is a zombie drama that’s not that dramatic, co-written and directed by television writer and producer Paul Harrison. Ostensibly about a doomed movie production filming on haunted grounds, it is plainly obvious Harrison was much less interested in horror as he is the workings of film direction itself. The lines he gives his lead, curmudgeon chauvenist director Eric Hartman (John Ireland), show this. Harrison likes some lines so much he gives them to Hartman repeatedly (“That was good for me. Was it good for you?”); and a few are genuinely groan-inducing (“Dying’s easy! Living is hard”). Props to Ireland at least, for enthusiastically grouching about the task.
“I’m not having fun and you won’t be allowed to either!”
- Under Hartman’s care are a crew of bitchy filmmakers, including B-movie perennial John Carradine as Price the superstitious caretaker, “washed-up primadonna” stereotype Gayle (played by Faith Domergue, a successful film actress beloved in genre fandoms for her roles in It Came from Beneath the Sea,This Island Earth and Cult of the Cobra – all from 1955), and youngsters Anne (pianist and television actress Carole Wells) and David (television actor Jerry Strickler). There’s a handful of other characters and – spoiler alert! – no one makes it out alive as eventually an unconvincing zombie starts menacing and apparently murdering them.The film has many detriments: the first, that the personalities within are to a soul uninteresting and unpleasant. Second: the supernatural “action” doesn’t start until an hour into the film. Third: the main premise, that the Tibetan “Book of the Dead” is a creepy corpse-raising text (it’s actually a proto-Buddhist volume), is lazy – and confusingly realized in the denouement. The film resorts to boilerplate horror fodder – animal cruelty and a few attempts at sexual titillation – none of which are particularly gripping. The makeup/effects are such you can’t quite tell when something “movie within a movie” is supposed to be happening versus something genuinely sinister, and thus it’s perplexing how the characters within the movie would have been able to tell the difference either. The last third of the film features people one at a time being slowly attacked by a shuffling zombie, screaming loudly, and succumbing passively to death. Then, another character carefully, quietly, and sloowwwwly creeps around in the dark house to see what the screaming was about. Rinse, and repeat.A fun film to put on while you’re knitting or cooking; not much else to recommend it.