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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Vampire Bat: 1933

 Happy Birthday Dad, This Review Is For You...

   Since the beginning of horror films and literature, the vampire bat is probably, in my opinion, the most well known out of all the horror cliché’s.  In fact, this device has been used so much, that it is considered to be symbolic, to both the written word and cinematography to this day.  However, in some senses, the vampire bat is quite real to areas such as Europe and South America, where on occasion, they spread famine and disease.  It is a sad truth, one that is covered by Hollywood to make it 
appear as though a fairy tale.  It is often put next to The Vampire, and more famously, "Dracula".  But today I will not be reviewing Dracula:  1931.  Instead I will go just a bit farther, after Todd Browning's success with Bela Lugosi (I'm saving that for later).  Today I will be reviewing, "The Vampire Bat", from 1933!

   In the small village of Kleinshloss, the locals are scared with a serial killer that is draining the blood of his victims, and the Burgomaster Gustave Schoen is convinced that a vampire is responsible for the deaths.  The skeptical police inspector Karl Brettschneider is reluctant to accept the existence of vampires, but the local doctor Otto Von Newman shows literature about cases of vampirism inclusive in Amazon.  When the apple street vendor Martha Mueller is murdered, the prime suspect becomes the slow Herman Gleib, a man with a mind of child that loves bats.  The group of vigilantes chases Herman, while Dr. Von Newman's housemaid Georgiana is attacked by the killer.

   Although more prominently a horror film, "The Vampire Bat" kind of has a little bit of everything.  At first it’s a Mystery, then a Horror, then a Comedy, and finally a Science Fiction film.  The two genres’ that stood out to me the most were Horror and Mystery.  However beware, because this movie plays out as if it were a horror film.  And just as my review of, “The Invisible Man” tricked me, so has this film of leading me to believe that what I was watching was a horror flick.  

   But its main attraction is the perfect distraction making it seem like one genre of film when it’s actually another.  For, "The Vampire Bat" is actually, and always has been...a Mystery Film!  Just look at the facts; first, you have many disappearances in a small town.  Yes, there is some supernatural nature to the idea as well as horror, but how the townsfolk deduce the dilemma is executed as though from a mystery movie!  One of the occupants of the area is accused, however you yourself aren't fully convinced that he is the actual culprit because of the true nature this character has.  

   He is very shy, and though strange at times has an innocence to him that would compel the viewer to believe that he did not commit the crimes he was accused of.  This works well in the favor of the movie and I guess that it also balances the line between Horror and Mystery as well.  In this way, "The Vampire Bat" also reminds me of, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari".  There is a mystery to the plot as well as implementing horror, the supernatural, and a dream state.  This was where the movie swayed more towards being a horror film above all else.  Each scene was distorted, warped and didn’t have a full grasp on the proportions of things, as if you were dreaming.  It is in this way that, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" was more of a horror film than, "The Vampire Bat".  But I'm really sidetracking into something I could keep writing about for hours.  

   The movie is marketed and sold as a horror film, so I guess its false advertising but in a positive way.  Its like if you suddenly win a free cruise to (insert tropical island name here).  When you leave on the cruise ship back home, the people there give you the cruise ship with everything you liked on it and everything you didn't like on it even though it wasn't included in the prize, and you like it for a while until you realize you have nowhere to keep it, and you realize that you just wanted the vacation instead...or something like that.  So anyway, there is also a connection between this review and last review because Majestic Pictures, who produced this movie, was making B-Movies way before Rodger Corman (who directed, "The Terror"...sort of) was in the business.  He made B-Movies fast and inexpensive, which was the polar opposite of this film because they use a diagonal wipe for every transition!  Obviously this was overused because it was a new technique at the time.  It’s similar to, "The Guardians of GaHool" film adaptation and their new discovery of the SLOW-MO shot for every single epic fight scene.  And everyone in the cinema world knows that an overuse of an effect in a movie can be the very thing that leads it to its downfall.  

   Speaking of effects, the bats in the very beginning of the film look better than in, "Dracula" from 1931, because of the film’s use of lighting.  The screen is just dark enough so that you can see the bats but not the strings.  It’s a very good illusion and is pulled off very nicely.  However, the diagonal wipe is not the only aspect of the film, because this movie has also managed to use a device that almost all the early Vampire movies share.  They have one of the main characters at first disbelieves the rumors that there are such things as vampires.  But this fact isn't shoved in our faces for long, or at least not as long as, "Nosferatu" did it.  Although this establishes the super naturalism in the town is not something of the norm, it is very redundant if you have seen something like this time and time again.  As I've said before, "film is an art form that repeats itself".  

   However they do add comedic relief in some way, which isn't too overdone and for this movie adds a nice touch. However Herman, the assistant to the victim, reminds me a little bit of the two insane people from, "Nosferatu", and "Dracula".  This type of sycophantic side character is not new to vampire movies.  One thing that is used well is the whole aspect of hypnosis when murder is brought into a plot.  It reminds me of the character Murder Legendre, played by Bela Lugosi in "White Zombie", made a year before; "The Vampire Bat" was released.  Although somewhat similar, Lugosi's performance is much more memorable than this, because...well...he's Bela Lugosi!  But alas, just as Bela Lugosi does not star in this movie, neither do music.  That is to say that there is music, it’s just only in the opening and closing credits.  But I'm going to let this fault slide for now because this was very common for the thirties.  Music during the acting scenes was very new at the time and although as the years went by it wasn't being used regularly until the forties.  Also as an added bonus I am so happy with the supporting/lead actress, because she is not foolish or risky, rather smart, powerful, and independent without being in your face about it.  To go even further, she has screamed the least amount of times out of all the horror movies I’ve seen so far! And that just makes it so much better without succumbing to the normal cliché of acting.     

  To wrap this review up, The actual killer isn't that surprising so if you’re waiting for something big and dramatic, go ahead and don't be although there is a small twist at the end.  The film is just under an hour, so if you don't mind a-little-bit-of-everything-but-especially-horror-film, I encourage you to check it out!  This is also to those who especially love a good mystery once and awhile.

I give this film 3 nice juicy apples out of 5

Next Review:  The House on Haunted Hill 1959   


Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Terror: 1963

  Rodger Corman was, and still is known as, “The B-Movie King”.  He was the director of many horror flicks, most of which were made fast and inexpensive.  Around the time this movie came out, Corman was working on, "The Raven", an adaptation of the book by Edgar Allen Poe.  He must have been fond of Poe's work, because he made many more film adaptations like it, including, "The Pit and the Pendulum", and, "The Black Cat".  Anyway Rodger Corman finished, "The Raven" two days before its expected release, so instead of just making an audience wait two days to see a movie, he decided to make another film entitled, "The Terror", the film I will be reviewing today.  "The Terror", was filmed in the two days left over from the early release of, "The Raven", and it used the same props, sets, cast, and crew left over from, "The Raven".  Why not?  

   If you know the cast from the raven, then it won't be a surprise when I tell you the cast of this film are Boris Carloft and Jack Nicholson.  I bet you never would have thought these people would have crossed paths ever in the history of cinema, but there it is!  Wow!  You've got the famous older Boris Carloft with younger-soon-to-be-star, Jack Nicholson, while directed by the B-Movie master, Rodger Corman!  How could this movie possibly go wrong?  Francis Coppola worked on the film a little bit after Rodger Corman gave up the production.  Okay, you might think that this is the time that I go into the movie review like I normally do, but today we're going to do something different.  I'll be moving on right into my conclusion, but instead of labeling it, "In Conclusion", I'm not going to be making any separation from the back story and the actual review of the movie.

   This was a sad film, but not for the acting or the story or the characters.  It wasn't any of those things.  It was simply the fact that it was a clash of actors in the same year.  Boris Carloft and Jack Nicholson both have had their share of horror films, only, for one it was the beginning of a career, and for another the end of one.  But as for the story, it went everywhere with its twists and turns and changing of roles.  It never stopped!  My guess is that Rodger Corman made it this way, because of the lack of time.  He may not have known that his idea for, "The Terror” needed more separation between each possible explanation to a mystery.  To space out the twists until it was appropriate to use them.  There were some confusing parts too, like the very first scene, where you watch Boris Carloft travel down into the castle to open a door to find a skeleton.  This had no purpose to the story whatsoever.  It’s even in the beginning of the movie, so it seems as though it was meant to be paid attention to.  

   Ronald Stein composed the music for the film, and I'm sure that it was meant to be a powerful piece, but it ends up being redundant and forgetful.  Not only was this rushed, but the dialog and timing are sub-par, making for mediocre conversations, and since there is a twist every three scenes, you end up becoming unattached to the plot.  The performances were standard; however, Nicholson   interacting with Carloft was very interesting.  If you'd like to see what Jack Nicholson's career was like before he became famous, you should check this out.  However, it comes with a price.  In the climax its shown clearly, That Boris Carloft cannot do hand to hand combat at all, and you reflect upon the time that has gone by with his career, you now know his former way of life has come to a close.  The turning point of film has arrived with Nicholson, and ended with Carloft.  Out with the old and in with the new, I suppose.  Out with the old and in with the new... 

Verdict:  I give this film 3 unexplained skeletons out of 5

         Next Review:  The Vampire Bat 1933