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The Body Snatcher

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher (Horror Double Feature)

Tagline – Foul Fingers Crimson with Dead Men’s Blood!

Starring – Boris Karloff (Cabman John Gray), Bela Lugosi (Joseph), Henry Daniell (Dr. Wolfe ‘Toddy’ MacFarlane), Russell Wade (Donald Fettes), Edith Atwater (Meg Cameron).

Released – May, 1945

Directed By – Robert Wise

Produced By – RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed By – RKO Radio Pictures

Description – It is 1831 in Edinburgh, Scotland and one year prior to the passing of the Anatomy Act which sought to end illegal trade in corpses, where Dr. Wolfe MacFarland runs a successful medical school.

Dr. MacFarland’s assistant, Donald Fettes, is hopeful that the surgeons skill can be used to help a young girl who has lost the use of her legs. For some reason, unknown to Fettes, the doctor is reluctant.

All the doctor’s time is spent on anatomical research with, what seems to be, a continual supply of fresh cadavers. Working so closely with Dr. MacFarland leads Fettes to learn that the doctor is paying Cabman John Gray to supply him with dead bodies.

Just how, and from where, are all the bodies coming from? Also, what is the hold that John Gray seems to have over Dr. MacFarland? I’t clear that the two have a history, but what is it?

The answers begin to surface with the revealing of a famous trial that took place many years ago when Gray was arrested for grave-robbing and refused to identify the doctor that was buying the bodies from him.

It looks like John Gray is using his silence to force Dr. MacFarland into continuing with payment for bodies illegally stolen by Gray. Could the kindly Dr. MacFarland be the monstrous doctor whose identity was protected by Gray? And, is he still a monster?

NOTABLE: The robbing of graves for selling idea portrayed in The Body Snatcher, though based on a fictional short story by Robert Louis Stevenson, was also greatly influenced by the 1828 crimes known as The West Port Murders where the corpses of 17 victims were sold to provide material for dissection.

The Body Snatcher was the eighth and last on-screen teaming of legendary horror stars Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Thursday, April 14th, 2011

Picture of Dorian Gray, The [Blu-ray]

Tagline – His life was a muddy morass into which he dragged all who knew him! Such was Dorian Gray, the man who wanted eternal youth, and bartered his soul to get it!

Starring – George Sanders (Lord Henry Wotton), Hurd Hatfield (Dorian Gray), Donna Reed (Gladys Hallward), Angela Lansbury (Sibyl Vane), Peter Lawford (David Stone).

Released – March, 1945

Directed By – Albert Lewin

Produced By –  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed By – Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Description – On the surface, Dorian Gray appears to have everything. He is handsome, wealthy, and intelligent, but the one thing he treasures most will pass with time. Dorian wants nothing more than to remain young forever.

While posing for a portrait, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton. It is Lord Wotton’s belief that the only life worth living is a life dedicated totally to pleasure, convincing Dorian that youth and beauty will bring one all that they desire.

Dorian now makes a wish, his wish is that the portrait would age rather than him. This wish is made in the presence of an ancient Egyptian statue of a cat-shaped goddess that supposedly has the power to grant wishes.

During a visit to a tavern, Dorian meets and falls in love with Sibyl Vane. Within weeks the pair are engaged and Dorian is as happy as ever. That is, until another fateful meeting with Lord Wotton. The Lord’s influence on Dorian again steers him in the direction of a life of hedonism, and he sends a hurtful letter to Sibyl breaking their engagement.

The next day Lord Wotton informs Dorian that, upon receiving his letter, Sibyl has committed suicide. At first racked with guilt, Dorian begins to adopt the Lord’s manner of indifference and dedicates his life to pleasure.

One evening, after attending the opera, Dorian notices some subtle changes to his portrait. It seems to have aged, while Dorian, who is now nearly 40 years old. still appears to be 22. He decides to hide the painting from anyone but himself.

With each new sin and transgression the portrait seems to grow more ugly. During a visit with Dorian, Basil, the portrait’s artist, asks to view the painting. Dorian refuses, but Basis does accidentally see the painting and is horrified.

He encourages Dorian to mend the ways of his life, but this is something that Dorian is in no hurry to do. In a panic, Dorian murders Basil locking his body in the same room as the painting.

It is only a matter of time before the ugliness of the painting makes the transition to the human body of Dorian Gray.

NOTABLE: The Portrait of Dorian Gray won the Oscar for Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, and was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Angela Lansbury), and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White.

Although filmed in Black-and-White, the picture does use the 3-strip Technicolor technique on Dorian’s portrait in its original state, and again after a period of degeneration.

The original portrait of the decayed Dorian Gray, painted by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright, took nearly one full year to complete and now hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago.

Actor Basil Rathbone tried in vain to get the part of Lord Wotton and believed his typecasting as Sherlock Holmes was the reason he was unsuccessful.

I Walked With A Zombie

Monday, June 14th, 2010

I Walked with a Zombie / The Body Snatcher (Horror Double Feature)

Tagline – See it happen–right before your startled eyes… in the screen sensation that rips the mask from the darkest secrets of forbidden voodoo!

Starring – James Ellison (Wesley Rand), Frances Dee (Betsy Connell), Tom Conway (Paul Holland), Edith Barrett (Mrs. Rand).

Released – April, 1943

Directed By – Jacques Tourneur

Produced By – RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed By – RKO Radio Pictures

Description – See this strange, strange, story of a woman whose lure sent brother against brother, whose love caused hate – and whose beauty bowed to an evil spell whose power we must refuse to believe – Even If It’s True!

Canadian nurse Betsy Connell is hired by Caribbean sugar plantation owner Paul Holland to care for his wife Jessica.

Upon Betsy’s arrival she is taken to the Holland residence and during the trip is informed about the history of the island of Saint Sebastian and how the Holland family brought the slaves to the island.

That night at dinner, Betsy meets Paul’s half-brother, Wesley Rand, and learns that they both have the same mother, Mrs. Rand. Later that evening, while preparing for bed, Betsy hears the cries of a woman across the courtyard.

Her investigation leads her to a tower stairwell where she encounters Jessica Holland who approaches her, almost ghost-like, causing her to scream. Jessica’s zombie appearance is explained as a tropical fever.

During a visit to town Betsy learns that Wesley and Jessica had an affair and that Paul may be the cause of Jessica’s state-of-mind. Wesley believes Paul is trying to drive Jessica insane as a result of the affair.

The locals believe that Jessica has been cursed and is now one of the living walking dead. As some time passes, Betsy finds herself attracted to Paul and is more determined than ever to help cure Jessica.

When all conventional treatment fails, Alma, the maid, suggests that Betsy bring Jessica to see a Voodoo priest.

Voodoo and black magic follow in an attempt to cure Jessica. The locals feel that Jessica is evil and must be held accountable to their beliefs and practices regarding the undead.

Tension builds between the locals and the white settlers as a cure is hoped to be found before the bloodshed begins.

NOTABLE: Producer Val Lewton’s creativity is clearly evident here as this is one of those classic horror films he produced where he was given only the title of a film and had to create a story around it.

I Walked with a Zombie had a “fun” disclaimer at the end of the credits that stated: “The characters and events depicted in this photoplay are fictional. Any similarity to actual persons, living, dead, or possessed, is purely coincidental.”

Personal Note: If you are not familiar with the classic horror films produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, take note. They are some of the best ever made in the genre.

Modern zombie fans may be disappointed in the depiction of zombie’s in I Walked With A Zombie. They are not the flesh eating version so popular with today’s audiences. Rather, they are unfeeling, unthinking, and unresponsive, traditional zombies.

This is one of the best, with great atmosphere, and a surprising, and very satisfying conclusion.

Cat People

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Cat People

Tagline – The exciting story of a woman who kills the thing she loves!

Starring – Simone Simon (Irena Dubrovna Reed), Kent Smith (Oliver Reed), Tom Conway (Dr. Louis Judd), Jane Randolph (Alice Moore), Jack Holt (The Commodore).

Released – December, 1942

Directed By – Jacques Tourneur

Produced By – RKO Radio Pictures

Distributed By – RKO Radio Pictures

Description – While at the zoo, Serbian-born fashion designer Irena Dubrovna meets marine engineer Oliver Reed, who she invites to her apartment for tea. During their conversation, Irena tells Oliver a strange story of her heritage that involves witchcraft and devil worship.

Irena believes she is a descendant of a cursed people with a strange connection to a panther. While growing up her father had died mysteriously and her mother was called “the cat person.”

In spite of these stories, Oliver asks Irena to marry him and she accepts. While celebrating their engagement at a Serbian restaurant, a woman closely resembling a cat approaches and asks Irena if she is “her sister.” This fuels Irena’s fear of the cat curse.

After the marriage, Irena tries to avoid sleeping with her husband as the curse is said to manifest itself by her turning into a panther should she be aroused to passion.

Oliver persuades Irena to see a psychiatrist and begins to confide his marital problems with his beautiful assistant Alice Moore.

Adding another woman to an already cursed relationship can only lead to tragedy.

NOTABLE: In 1993, Cat People was added for preservation to the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.

Cat People cost RKO Radio Pictures just over $140,000 to make and earned over $4 million, reportedly saving the studio from financial ruin.

The film was such a box office hit that many critics who had originally posted bad reviews took the opportunity to view it again and issued positive follow-up.

The Wolf Man

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009

The Wolf Man [Blu-ray]

Tagline – “Night monster with the blood lust of a savage beast!”

Starring – Claude Rains (Sir John Talbot), Warren William (Dr. Lloyd), Ralph Bellamy (Colonel Montford), Patric Knowles (Frank Andrews), Bela Lugosi (Bela), Maria Ouspenskaya (Maleva), Evelyn Ankers ( Gwen Conliffe), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Lawrence Talbot/The Wolf Man).

Released – December, 1941

Directed By – George Waggner

Produced By – Universal Pictures

Distributed By – Universal Pictures

Description – Returning home to Wales, in an effort to reconcile with his father Sir John Talbot, Lawrence Talbot meets and becomes romantically interested in local antique shop owner Gwen Conliffe.

He buys a silver-headed walking stick from her that is decorated with a wolf. She tells him that it is actually a werewolf, a man who changes into a wolf during certain times of the year.

Later that evening, Lawrence rescue’s Gwen’s friend Jenny from a wolf attack. During this encounter he is bitten by the wolf, who it turns out is actually a werewolf and the son of a gypsy fortuneteller.

The curse of the werewolf has now been passed to him.

NOTABLE: The Wolf Man features outstanding makeup and atmospheric music.

The makeup for Lon Chaney took six hours to apply, and another three to remove.

The silver-headed cane, used in the movie, is the only remaining prop, and is in the personal collection of genre film archivist Bob Burns.

Personal Comment: This is classic horror genre at it’s best, ranking right up there with all-time classic horror films Frankenstein, Dracula, and Dr. Jekyll & Mister Hyde.