Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1936) - George King

I am hitting a streak of really good old movies here. Sweeney Todd from 1936 is a really fantastic little film. My only experience with Sweeney Todd is Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl and Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd with Johnny Depp. I didn't really care for the Tim Burton version though. This movie is about a barber in England who kills his clients by launching them into his dungeon-like basement. I guess they break their necks or something like that. It is hinted that his victims end up in pies that are baked by his neighboring business partner, but never explicitly displayed. The two seem to be getting away with it until jealousy rears its ugly head and the relationship starts to strain. The movie doesn't do a really good job of establishing a connection between the pie maker lady and ol' Todd, however, you get the point.

The thing that I liked most about this movie would be the way that Tod Slaughter (what a name right?) portrays a really imposing figure as the titular character; he is like the Leatherface of jolly old England. You don't get to see what he does to his victims but throughout the film you get the idea that he slit's his victims throats. He is always talking about how beautiful his straight razor looks against the victim's neck, its really creepy. Other great performances come from little Johnny Singer and Stella Rho both of whom play their parts to a T.

If you are looking for a musical or fun dance-ish version of Sweeney Todd you are going to have to look elsewhere. This is a straight forward horror movie with no frills and the intro and outro are amazing. The movie has little hangups but in short it ranks right up there with Bride of Frankenstein as being one of the greatest horror movies of the 1930's.

"May I polish you off sir?"

  •    There are some issues with the set design. The "stone" floor in Sweeney's basement is made of wood.
  •    Filmed in England
  •    This is widely considered to be Tod Slaughter's best role.
Enjoy the full movie!

The Rogues Tavern (1936) - Robert F. Hill

The Rogues Tavern follows the same tried and true path that its predecessors had taken. Another Old Dark House type movie that pits suspicion against wits. This one has a small twists and turns but ultimately ends up just like all of the rest. You get some pretty unenthusiastic shots of German Shepherds running up and down stairs and jumping in through a window. Other than that the movie is pretty boring. 

A group of people are stuck in an old hotel while a murderous dog roams the halls looking for it's next victim. This would be a cool premise if the movie wasn't so damn boring. What is with these movies? Why are they so dry and boring? The writing is horrible and the content is forgettable. I don't know why you would want to watch this but... whatever. Check out The Rogues Tavern for a taste of the Old Dark House-style. This movie is ripe with it. 

I don't want to keep regurgitating the usual gripe. I am just tired of the equation. It's the same thing every time. Group of people. Check. A creepy night, perhaps a storm. Check. An old dark building. Check. Uggh... I can't wait to get some variety in here. Give me the giant monsters and slasher killers! Hurry! 

I'm full of romance, must be this tavern, the fireplace. I feel so poetic, I could make love to a snowman.

  • When Mrs. Jamison (Clara Kimball Young) has her speech at the end of the film, a photograph of the younger Clara Kimball Young is visible behind her.
  • Australia has a uncut 70 minute version.
  • The tagline Weird Happenings In a Sinister Roadside Inn! 

The Walking Dead (1936) - Michael Curtiz

Boris Karloff stars in this dramatic piece about a man that gets framed and put to death. However, his heart is revived by a Mad Scientist of sorts and he comes back to avenge his erroneous death! In a way... 

Boris Karloff gives a pretty decent performance that's very close to his Frankenstein one. What can I say. The guy is a decent actor but he lacks range. I think his most stand out performances thus far, aside from Frankenstein, have been in The Black Cat and The Black Room. Marguerite Churchill wasn't bad. Her character got pushed into the background quite frequently. Ricardo Cortez was a great villain though. He was pretty sinister. 

Karloff starts picking off his enemies one by one. However, he doesn't actually place a hand on any of them. It's pretty interesting and kind of reminded me of Final Destination. That was about the most interesting thing that the movie had going for it. The climax and general lead-up to the meat of the movie couldn't hold water. It felt too much like Frankenstein at times.  

The movie had some really great shots. Hal Mohr had some fun with the camera and let a little German Expressionism leak through. The death row scene is haunting. The infamous piano scene is terrifying. It had a lot to do with the music as well. Great soundtrack, great shots, boring performances.

The Lord thy God is a jealous God!

  • The Walking Dead premiered on February 29, 1936.
  • Karloff didn't like his initial character. He voiced his concerns to director Michael Curtiz who brought in three more writers to add more dialogue to Karloff's character. 
  • The "glass heart" machine used to revive Karloff's dead character was said to be "nearly a perfect replica" of an actual perfusion pump--a device designed to keep organs alive outside an organism's body--which had been built by Charles Lindbergh, when the legendary pilot and engineer was working with a Nobel-winning scientist at New York's Rockefeller Institute research labs in the mid-1930s.

Devil-Doll (1936) - Tod Browning

The 1936's Devil-Doll is a crazy mix of Frankenstein, The Littles, and Mrs. Doubtfire. Sounds strange enough right? This movie marks the steep decline in quality and in popularity of Tod Brownings work. He really picked up steam by directing classics like Dracula and Freaks, however he wasn't able to maintain that level of quality. Instead he retired from directing in 1939 and fell out of society; completely cutting himself off from everyone, including his family, until his death in 1962.

This movie is really intriguing with its use of the early "green screen" work and its other effects. That is really what drives the film. Other than that the movie sort of falls flat and ends very bizarrely.

Lionel Barrymore (Great uncle of Drew Barrymore) and Marcel are on the run after escaping from prison. Marcel is a great scientist and he drags Barrymore to his experiments once they escape. The experiments Marcel performs involve shrinking things down to 1/6th their original size. For the most part he carries out these feats of size reduction on his seemingly endless supply of dogs. The doctor has a heart attack and before he dies tells his vision of the world to Barrymore and his assistant (some lady with a limp). The Lady, determined to finish the doctor's work, decides that Barrymore must help her realize the late doctor's dream. So naturally Barrymore just becomes a doctor in about 5 minuets. He even comments "I couldn't help, I was a Banker". How does this guy just up and become a scientist?It bugs me! The movie goes on from there with Barrymore using the method used to shrink things to clear his name, and then lives out the rest of his years in peace. That is pretty much the entire movie.

There are some freaky parts like when he tortures his victims by paralyzing them with a tiny dagger dipped in paralyzing potion, or when Lionel Barrymore dresses up as an old woman to allude the police. His make-up is pretty uncanny. You wouldn't even know that you were looking at veteran actor of the stage and screen.

I feel like going to be a surgeon now.

  • Also known as "The Witch of Timbuktu"
  • Filmed in Hollywood, CA
  • Filmed on 35mm

Revolt of the Zombies (1936) - Victor Halperin

This little known movie from 1936 is actually pretty decent. The effects are practical and fantastic for it's time. Victor Halperin has already turned in some good movies and this adds to his report. Unlike many movies from this era this is based in Asia. Cambodia to be more precise. This film has adventure, mystery, and even a tiny bit of gore. However, it ends up going on a bit long.

The movie is about a group of scientists sent to Cambodia to research a formula that turns men into Zombies. These Cambodian Zombies are under complete control of someone sinister and they must be stopped from overrunning the scientists compound. Dorthy Stone, Dean Jagger, and Roy D'Arcy turn in some pretty average performances. It isn't their fault the movie has really deep dull spots.

The movie does have some really cool high points to counter-balance. We get to see a cool effect used whenever mind control is being used. Bela Lugosi's eyes flash on screen and are superimposed behind the film itself. It's actually the best part of the whole movie. The acting is dry and the storyline peters out around thirty minutes in. It's a rough old movie that didn't stand up to the test of time. I would suggest the movie to film students.

I don't like sermons.

  • The eyes that are frequently superimposed on the screen are those of Bela Lugosi. They were taken from Victor Halperin's earlier film White Zombie (1932)
  • A tagline for the film said Zombies--- Not dead, not alive!
  • Filmed at Talisman Studios, Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, USA

Dracula's Daughter (1936) - Lambert Hillyer

Trying to ride the popularity train of Tod Browning's 1931 film Dracula, Dracula's Daughter falls flat on its face. This movie is boring, dull and has nothing going for it. The stars of the movie include: Otto Kruger, Gloria Holden, Marguerite Chruchill, and Edward Von Sloan returning from Dracula to portray the character Van Helsing. The only passable actor would have to be Gloria Holden who plays Dracula's Daughter, Countess Marya Zaleska. 

This movie is canon to the original, set only moments after the first film ends. We see Van Helsing dealing with the police for driving a stake through the heart of a man known as Count Dracula. The police have no idea that he was a vampire and they think the entire idea is ludicrous; meanwhile Countess Marya Zaleska comes to London to destroy her fathers body and do what vampires do best. 

There are a ton of things that bother me about this flim. One being that the movie is set in London and none of the actors have British accents, the movie could have easily been set in New York or Chicago. The movie is not scary what-so-ever, virtually all of the vampire "biting" scenes are done off camera. The storyline seems forced, it seems like the screenwriter scribbled this down one lonely night after watching the original Dracula. I am glad Bela Lugosi kept himself away from the film altogether, it would have been a disaster...Well more so than it already was. 

The only thing that I like about this movie is the character Van Helsing and the subsequent investigation of his involvement in the murder Count Dracula. The movie is well shot and the dialog is delivered very well, albeit with no accents. 

Wanna see my jewels?

  • The movie was originally slated for James Whale (The Bride of Frankenstein, Old Dark House) to direct.
  • Bela Lugosi took promotional shots for the movie, however he doesn't appear in the movie at all.
  • This was one of Universals most expensive films of the thirties being made for $278,000.00

Murder by Television (1935) - Clifford Sanforth

With a plot just as muddled as the audio. This forgettable film can stay that way. A mystery movie with horror overtones and starring Bela Lugosi. On paper the movie looks like its going to be fantastic! However, the product is sub par even for it's time. Not that this movie is great but it still deserves it's day in the sun. Swallowed by time and overshadowed by true classics like The Bride of Frankenstein, Mad Love, and Werewolf of London. 

Television hadn't been widely distributed by the time this movie was made. It actually features a concept of a home television that was being developed in Hollywood. Although interesting. The praise ends there. This movie is in no way a benchmark for Lugosi and serves as a lukewarm achievement in his career. June Collyer returns to the horror genre in a usual role as the daughter of the late James Houghland, a television inventor invested in a vicious feud with a rival TV inventor. Not even the humor from Hattie McDaniel and the rest of the "help" could save this movie. 

Overall, this movie is forgettable. However, I feel really bad about it. I want to like the movie. Although it's boring and flat. The movie is really inventive and fun. It's an original twist on the usual boring fare. These mystery horror mash ups are a dime a dozen in the thirties. Unfortunately they get swept under the rug. In a few years people might even stop talking about these old pieces of cinema history. 

Don't mind Ah Ling. He has a mania for quoting Confucius... and Charlie Chan.
  • For the scenes showing television equipment, the filmmakers borrowed it from L.A.-area researchers who were working on experimental TV. The equipment they borrowed was worth $75,000 - over twice the $35,000 production budget for the film.
  • When Isabella (the cook) finds the body at the top of the stairs, she simply disappears into thin air. (This may be due to missing footage in the extant print, rather than an error by the original filmmakers.)
  • Stars Bela Lugosi, June Collyer, and Hattie McDaniel... all stars. Quite the star studded cast for such a bad movie. 

Mark of the Vampire (1935) - Tod Browning

1927 saw London After Midnight, a movie starring Lon Chaney as a Vampire that's actually a detective in heavy disguise. This movie follows along the same path and is considered to be a remake of that long, lost, horror classic.This version stars Bela Lugosi and Lionel Berrymore, both turn in a usually decent performance that gets overshadowed by the fun and corniness that is packaged along with it.

After finding a few victims with bite marks on their necks, a rumor of a vampire starts to circulate. They instantly blame the weird ghoulish family Count Mora (Bela) and his daughter Luna (Caroll Borland) who are a bit close... if you get my drift. Apparently this caused a rift with the studio, MGM, which cut the movie down to a very shortened version. The movie is chock full of campy humor some of which still carries over  for today's audiences. 

No doubt this movie had really heavy cuts. Some ideas just seem to pop out of nowhere. Certain things don't make sense but you can still piece it together pretty easily. Left in tact however, is the twist ending that I feel is just shy of breaking the fourth wall. It turns out that the "Vampires" are actually just actors. It's a comedic scene that leaves many critics to believe this isn't actually a horror movie at all. I would have to disagree. 

This movie is horror through and through. One of the best I have seen up to this point. Visually, Mark of the Vampire is quite brilliant. The shots of Bela running at you in full death makeup is magnificent. The scenes of the 'undead' and the makeup used on them is incredible for such and early venture. Tod Browning always delivers quality work and this no omission. His characters are always lively and drive the story along with such incredible tact and professionalism. It's as if his actors have been in talkies for the past twenty years. 

Tod Browning is definitely among the greats of this time. He and James Whale are the true heavyweights turning in spectacular tales that stick with you through time. I profoundly advocate any of their movies for your enjoyment. I haven't been disappointed yet. 

Did you watch me? I gave all of me. I was greater than any real vampire!

  • The film was banned in Poland, and censors in Hungary excised the screams, shots of bats and other gruesome scenes.
  • There was a remarkable degree of difficulty in shooting the scene where Carroll Borland flies like a bat. A jockey initially doubled for her but became nauseated on the wires. A bar was placed down the back of her dress running from her neck to her ankles, but it took some time for her and the handlers to get this right. The single shot took three weeks to work (all of this for a scene where Borland is supposed to be an actress pretending to be flying).
  • When director Tod Browning revealed late in the filming process that the plot dictated that the vampires were really just actors pretending to be vampires, he met with much resistance from the cast and crew. Nobody was more incensed than Bela Lugosi, who pleaded with Browning to let him play a real vampire.

The Phantom Ship (1935) - Denison Clift

This historical mystery piece thats brought to us from Hammer films is based on a true story. The story of the Mary Celeste, a ship that was found with the entire crew missing. Bela Lugosi, note the credit on the poster as Dracula, brings the best performance of his career. Aside, of course, from Dracula. 

The crew of the Mary Celeste find themselves stuck on board their vessel with a murderer about. The film does a good job of trying to build suspense by putting certain crew members in baited situations. The horror in the movie is really subtle and is laying groundwork for similar films in the future. Nothing really "scary" happens other than the uneasy feeling you get from being stuck on that ship.

This isn't that fantastic of a film. It isn't the worst either. It serves best as a catalyst for some pretty decent character acting. The lead crew members of the ship, including the Captain did a great job. Lugosi, however, takes the cake. His part is so good that it actually propels the film a few notches. It's a shame that this happened to be the first and last Hammer picture that Bela had ever been in. Gunner Moir, a heavily tattooed and brutish sailor, gives a standout performance as well. 

It really could have been a lot worse. Usually horror movies at sea don't fend well. This one unfortunately happens to fall by the wayside. If you are a film student then this is a good movie to catch up on Bela Lugosi's work. Check it out. 

Bela's Best
  • Bela Lugosi shot this feature in England after The Raven (1935) and prior to The Invisible Ray (1936). Filming lasted from mid July-August 1935.
  • Only the second production from Hammer Films, who did just four features in the 1930s before going into hiatus until 1946.

Werewolf of London (1935) - Stuart Walker

I am not a big fan of animals in horror movies. You may have noticed how I get really pissy when there is a killer gorilla on the loose. Werewolves really take the cake, I hate werewolves. I don't like movies like Underworld or the Wolfman. Hell, I hate that Werewolves have to be weaved into TV shows now and teeny bopper movies. There are exceptions though, I am a big fan of American Werewolf in London. Funny side note, that movie is a sort of tribute/remake of this movie. So i guess in turn, I like this movie. 

The movie is about a doctor that is attacked by a werewolf, and yes you guessed it, he turns into one. He can't control it. He knows that every month on the full moon he will turn. Another doctor, that goes by the name of Yogami, finds out that there is a flower that can cure him... The doctor is well to-do in some pretty bourgeois circles.  He even hosts a few parties to try and hold up appearances, so that no one will find out his hairy secret.

There are a couple of things that I really like about this movie. One being the makeup and transformation scenes. The make-up in this movie was actually the same make-up used for Lon Chaney Jr. in the Wolfman. Also this is the first actual commercial Werewolf movie. I like the effects used for the plants and the acting is not half bad. The only downside is that the werewolf stands up right and wears clothes. He just looks like a psychotic really hairy man. I guess the whole thing is that I really don't like werewolves that stand up right. American Werewolf in London got it spot on right. 

Werewolf of London looks great and has a pretty decent storyline. The cast could of used a few more stars. Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, the latter of which was actually optioned to play Dr. Yogami. As far as werewolf movies go this one is right up there. If you are looking for a classy movie to watch, and sit down with a glass of wine, this is it. 
  • Henry Hull stars in the movie and is 27 years older than the girl that is playing his wife. 
  • The movie was filmed in the beautifully smoggy Universal City, CA. 
  • Warren Zevon has a song that is titled in tribute to this movie, Werewolves of London.

The Raven (1935) - Lew Landers

In the 1930's, Boris Karloff seemed to be making a bunch of Edgar Allan Poe pictures. Poe has popped up numerous times throughout the Silver and Golden Age of horror. There have been countless remakes of his work. This one impeticular takes the Poe story in a completely different direction. This movie deals with a mad scientist that is obsessed with Edgar Allan Poe type torture devices.

Some of the performances are really hard and make me cringe. However, I enjoyed this movie. I wouldn't suggest watching it though unless you are a hardcore Karloff or Lugosi fan. The coolest thing about this movie would have to be the doctor's torture room; He devised a pretty incredible torture chamber with some awesome devices like a pit with a scythe and a shrinking chamber.

The movie was obviously made to just get Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff into another picture together. The movie was produced with nothing but pure greed in mind. That kind of thing is more than okay in my book. I love seeing the gruesome twosome on the silver screen together. They have a sort of mystique when the are preforming together, almost like they can't lose. In fact they kind of remind me of those old tag teams back in the WWF; Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant or Hulk and Macho Man. You knew those teams were never going to lose.

"Poe you are avenged!" or are you?
  • Bela Lugosi didn't attend the premier
  • Filmed in Los Angeles
  • Universal suggested that cinema owners write letters to high schools and colleges, so their teachers would suggest the film to students.

Condemned To Live (1935) - Frank Strayer

Haphazardly thrown together horror movies have been dripping out of Grindhouse theaters for decades; movies like this one which was shot in about a week and pushed out to make a quick buck. The acting is horrible and the actors look as if they are wearing found clothing; the picture is extra blurry and cuts in weird places as if they were filming it on scraps of reel tape. All of these quirks make it beautiful in its own way.

When examining Condemned to Live it is apparent that Frank Strayer came right off of the success of Vampire Bat (1933) and decided to repackage the movie and put it out again. The movie has no real "Monster" to speak of, in fact the villain (known as "the Fiend" in this picture) is more of a repackaging of a psychotic with vampiristic overtones; Professor Kristen doesn't ever actually drink the blood of his victims but he does gnaw on their necks. The village in the movie is taken right out of "The Bride of Frankenstein" and they even throw in a hunchback to drive home the fact that this is a horror movie. He isn't even needed.

The movie is pretty tame and most of the killings are done off screen and didn't hold up my interest very well. The movie is bland and feels like it needs a shot of something to keep it on its toes. I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone, but I wouldn't complain if it fell into a horror movie marathon at a local theater.

What good can there be in a hunchback?
  • Shot in 10 days
  • Used costumes and sets from The Bride of Frankenstein
  • Used the same music and a few sets from The Vampire Bat

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