Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE WOLF MAN preview

"A night monster...prowling, killing, terrifying a countryside. Don't miss the Hollywood SHOCK dramatic feature-length sensation THE WOLF MAN starring Lon Chaney and Ralph Bellamy on this channel! For thrill-packed drama at its best, see THE WOLF MAN!"

Monday, November 29, 2010

SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (1934)

It's not uncommon for a murder-mystery-in-an-old-dark-manor-house to masquerade as a horror movie. Some people feel cheated by this; I know that, as a kid waiting all week for a monster flick and then sneaking out of bed in the middle of the night to see it, I was furious when this sort of bait-and-switch happened. For instance, I can recall being particularly incensed to learn that CASTLE IN THE DESERT--- which is a delightfully evocative horror movie title to see listed in a TV guide--- was actually a Charlie Chan picture without a monster.

But I've mellowed in my old age, and I'm far more tolerant of these titles. Truth be told, I admit that I enjoy them enough to actively seek them out. The plots are ridiculously improbable, the action is contrived, and the characters are shallow caricatures meant only as future murder victims or red herrings. But I like the mood and the ambiance and the art direction of these spooky murder-mysteries even if no monster ever materializes (a typical example would be one that finally came out on DVD a few months back, 1939's THE CAT AND THE CANARY).

But SECRET OF THE CHATEAU is not a spooky murder-mystery pretending that it is a horror movie. It's even more frustrating than that--- it's a crime film pretending that it is a spooky murder-mystery that is trying to slide in under the "horror movie" radar. It's not a bad picture on its own merits; it is competently made and features perfectly acceptable performances. But as it is put forward as a Universal horror movie, it is exasperating. The Brunas brothers and Tom Weaver in Universal Horrors blame the studio's publicity and marketing offices that promoted the movie in 1934 with eerie old-dark-house tag lines such as "Shadows Come to Life! Traps Snare Women! Trunks Swallow Men! Bells Toll Out Death!" in order to lure in audiences:

Clearfield [PA] Progress, December 31, 1934

And look at the one-sheet (designed by Karoly Grosz, maybe?) at the top of this post: an ectoplasmic monster with hooked claws looming over a frightened, fleeing crowd of silhouetted figures backlit by what appears to be a lightning strike. The titular chateau appears at the right, dark and foreboding (here's how it actually appears in the movie, bathed in bright sunshine:)

The most "horror movie" thing about SECRET OF THE CHATEAU (and there is no "secret" about the chateau, by the way, other than it has no electricity and has only one bathroom for 27 bedrooms) is the threat of the infamous murderer/rare-book thief known only as "Prahec." For at least ten years, Prahec has been cutting throats to obtain rare books, and this time around she or he has set his sights on a previously undiscovered Gutenberg Bible from the mid-1400s (there's only twenty or so complete Gutenberg Bibles today) whose value is set at a million francs. The Bible is stashed in an alarmed cabinet-trunk at a chateau in south-central France in the town of Aubazine, and there are a couple of heirs vying for it. An ex-con rare-book thief named Julie Verlaine (a charming Claire Dodd) weasels her way into the chateau just as the executor of the estate has assembled a small group of interested persons.

Pursuing Prahec is the Sûreté inspector Marotte (Ferdinand Gottschalk); he had previously arrested Julie and he turns up at the chateau just as bodies begin piling up. Marotte gets a morbid thrill from the crimes ("What a beautiful murder!" he says at one crime scene. "How delightful!") and he likes to brag about himself in the third person singular, but his ratiocination skills aren't much in evidence right up to the time that Prahec's identity is revealed. Mention should be made, as well, of the irritatingly un-funny comic relief (George E. Stone, who you might recognize from the Boston Blackie pictures of the 1940s).

Julie prowling around the chateau after dark

Within the context of my viewing project, I found the most interesting thing about SECRET OF THE CHATEAU was how its release to TV as part of the SHOCK! package has horrorized it over the years--- it's as if the deceptions made by Universal publicity agents in 1934 have continued unchallenged for decades afterward, even when it is clear that this is not even an old dark house mystery, let alone a horror movie. But it somehow attained a horror movie momentum on TV for decades. In fact, based on my (admittedly limited and perhaps statistically unsound) research, it would appear that SECRET OF THE CHATEAU was programmed as late-night horror movie fare far more in the 1970s than it was from 1957-1968.

SECRET OF THE CHATEAU turned up a lot in those Friday and Saturday night horror/sci-fi movie TV showcases in the 1970s. Sir Graves Ghastly, Son of Svengoolie, and the Fearmonger have all hosted (and, presumably, roasted) it; I've seen listings for SECRET OF THE CHATEAU that have double- and triple-featured it with SON OF DRACULA, MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE, THE CONQUEROR WORM, THE MUMMY’S CURSE, WEREWOLF OF LONDON, and TARANTULA. In one 1974 listing for the Boston television market, I saw SECRET OF THE CHATEAU screened as part of the "Classic Horror Feature" showcase at 1 AM following the horror-hosted "Simon's Sanctorum" on WCVB-Channel 5. Here are some other instances of SECRET OF THE CHATEAU's horrorization in the 1970s:

Salt Lake City [UT] Tribune, Saturday July 2o, 1974



Simpson's Leader-Times, Kittanning, PA, Saturday September 3, 1977


I think that, more than any other non-horror movie included in SHOCK!, SECRET OF THE CHATEAU has succeeded in passing for a horror movie for decades. So how did this happen? I can understand if it was shown a lot when it first came out in SHOCK! in 1957 since the novelty was fresh and the movie pickings were slim. But why so prevalent in the 1970s, when folks presumably had had about ten years to realize that this wasn't really a horror movie at all? And why does SECRET OF THE CHATEAU have a horror movie afterlife that it may never shake off, but other non-horror mysteries that were "Shock!"-packaged for TV by Screen Gems (like THE LAST WARNING, NIGHTMARE or MYSTERY OF THE WHITE ROOM) have managed to avoid being classified as such throughout the decades?


NEXT: "A night monster...prowling, killing, terrifying a countryside. Don't miss the Hollywood SHOCK dramatic feature-length sensation THE WOLF MAN starring Lon Chaney and Ralph Bellamy on this channel! For thrill-packed drama at its best, see THE WOLF MAN!"

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Shock It To Me - Forthcoming Book



Coming up early next year (March or April) will be a book on the horror hosts and horror Shock Theater-type programming of the San Francisco area. Titled SHOCK IT TO ME, The Featured Creatures of Bay Area TV, and written by Michael Monahan (Doktor Goulfinger), the book promises to contain a wealth of information, exquisitely researched, on the following hosts:

Terrence (Jr. and Sr.)
The Cool Ghoul
Asmodeus
Bob Wilkins
The Ghoul (syndicated)
Tom B. Stone
John Stanley
Son of Svengoolie
Creepy KOFY Movie Time (with No Name and Balrok)
Ms. Monster

... and unhosted shows and later entries like Commander USA and Elvira.

Previously unpublished photos and rare ads will serve as visual treats and the kindling of memories, even if you don't have them! The book will be published in conjunction with AMERICAN SCARY, a book version of the documentary that Michael was involved with.

We wish Michael the best on these projects and very much look forward to reading his books.

And here are a couple of ad mats from the Ghoulfinger Archives, courtesy of Michael:



Thursday, November 25, 2010

Our Lady of Horrors: Vampira's Programming, Part 2

What follows is another update on the pre-SHOCK! films hosted by Vampira. After reading my post last week, doctor kiss contacted me to say that he had some corrections and refinements to the original list that I had used.

In his note, doctor kiss said that he took some time to scour California newspaper TV listings for KABC during the run of Vampira's show, concluding that "although most of what I found corresponded with Dick Nitelinger's list, there were a couple of notable discrepancies among the early episodes (5/1/54 and 5/29/54), as well as the final movie (4/2/55) having been announced as a Vampira episode, but in fact ending up being shown with no host."

He goes on to say that programming did not begin as "The Vampira Show," but rather as "Lady of Horrors." The doctor explains: "The first five shows from 5/1/54 through 5/29/54 were billed in publicity, press reports, and TV listings as 'Lady of Horrors,' and it was only following Vampira's swift rise to fame did the show become billed as 'Vampira' from 6/5/54 onwards."

What follows are excerpts from doctor kiss's extensive research notes. I am putting these up here as insight to the origins of the Monster Culture revolution in the 1950s and to aid any future Vampira researcher who stumbles upon this blog:

5/1/1954 – all sources consulted from Bakersfield, Long Beach, and Van Nuys name WHITE ZOMBIE as the movie being shown on "Lady of Horrors" that night, and both the Long Beach Independent and Long Beach Press-Telegram additionally name Bela Lugosi as the star. (Nitelinger identifies THE CHARGE IS MURDER as the film shown).

The shift from a midnight slot to an 11pm slot beginning on 5/29/54 is attributed in all sources consulted to the KABC song-and-dance/variety show “Party at Ciro's” (which previously filled the 11pm slot) having lost its sponsor.

5/29/54 – all sources consulted from Bakersfield, Long Beach, and Van Nuys name CONDEMNED TO LIVE as the movie being shown on "Lady of Horrors" that night, and both the Long Beach Independent and Long Beach Press-Telegram additionally name Ralph Morgan and Mischa Auer as the stars. (Nitelinger identifies CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS as the film shown).

6/5/54 – none of the sources consulted name the film being shown on this date; Nitelinger reported the same situation in the Los Angeles press. This was the first date on which the show was billed as "Vampira" rather than "Lady of Horrors."

8/7/54 – Vampira appeared on two shows on this night, the earlier of which constituted her first appearance on a nationally-syndicated network show, "The Saturday Night Revue," hosted by Ben Blue. The show aired at 9pm on KNBH in the Los Angeles area; Blue's other guest that night was George Jessel. Vampira hosted DANGEROUS INTRUDER (1945) during her regular 11pm slot on KABC.

Ellis Walker's “Video Notes” column in the Hayward Daily Review (CA) of 8/7/54: “Ben Blue figures his stint on Saturday Night Revue tonight at 9 (KRON) will be about as jolly as a tour through the morgue. He'll introduce Vampira to the nation's televiewers. This doll hopes she kills the audience. Really.”

John Frederick's “Looking and Listening” column in the Long Beach Press-Telegram of 8/7/54: “Vampira to do haunting on 'Saturday Night Revue.' Ghoulish glamour girl Vampira of the KABC (7) 11p.m. mystery theater, will move over to KNBH (4) at 9p.m. to do a guest stint with George Jessel and Ben Blue on the 'Saturday Night Revue.' Jessel subs for Eddie Albert and Ben Blue gets involved with Vampira in her 'most horrible home in the world.'”

9/18/54 – RED DRAGON (1954).

John Frederick's “Looking and Listening” column in the Long Beach Press-Telegram of 9/18/54: “Vampira, the amazing glamour-ghoul (7) at 11p.m., will take a bath during the show. Naturally it'll be in a cauldron of fire fanned by gasoline.”

9/25/54 – THE MISSING HEIRESS. Both the Long Beach Independent and Long Beach Press-Telegram give a longer version of the film's title, as THE CASE OF THE MISSING HEIRESS [a confirmation of my own guess at identifying it in last week's post].

10/23/54 – THE SHADOW RETURNS (1946).

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 10/23/54: “Vampira, who'll be dining at Brower's in Long Beach on Thursday evening, will do a poison-to-poison interview with sponsor Fletcher Jones on her 11p.m. horror show on (7). Vampira opens at the Orpheum Theatre on Oct.29-30 in a stage horror show for Halloween.”

[10/28/54] As promoted on her 10/23/54 show, Vampira was the special guest interviewee on KFOX radio program ON THE AIR WITH DON MAY, broadcasting a Halloween-themed show from Belmont Shore that ran from 11pm to 1am. Vampira was billed in advertising as the “best lookin' spook in town.”

10/30/54 – KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941).

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 10/30/54: “Vampira, the dream ghoul of (7) at 11p.m. will have a special show for this Halloween with fun and games for her friends (?). Formaldehyde-and-seek, bobbing for poison apples and other such games will be played and refreshments will include sui-cider and Thirteen Up.”

11/6/54 – Vampira appeared on two shows on this night, the first of which was a postponed Halloween episode of nationally-syndicated show PLACE THE FACE, hosted by Bill Cullen. The show aired in the Los Angeles area at 8.30pm on KNBH, and Cullen's other guests that night were Pat O'Brien and Tony Martin. Vampira hosted DOOMED TO DIE (1940) during her regular 11pm slot on KABC.

Ralph W. Shelden's “TV Hilites” column in the Elyria Chronicle Telegram (OH) of 11/6/54: “The October 30 'Place the Face' show was pre-empted by a political speech and will be carried over for the show of tonight on Channel 3 at 8.30. Scheduled to appear as a special guest is Vampira, TV's most frightening glamour girl. Vampira, who resembles a character in a Charles Addams cartoon, has created quite a stir throughout the country even though her TV show is seen only in the West.”

11/27/54 – DEAR MURDER (1947).

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 11/27/54: “Vampira (7) at 11p.m., will take her flying hearse to Decadence Manor for a Thanksgiving dinner of young Tom Vulture. Rest of the dinner menu includes Sparkling Arsenic, Sour Potatoes, dressing of head crumbs and tid-bits of toes, crank-berry sauce and dead lettuce salad.”

12/4/54 – CASTLES OF DOOM. John Frederick asserts below that the show's sponsor had agreed to another 26 episodes at this point.

John Frederick's “Looking and Listening” column in the Long Beach Press-Telegram of 12/4/54: “'Vampyre,' a French horror film of 1930 (silent) but said to be terrifying, will be offered by Vampira on (7) at 11p.m. The glamour ghoul is quite happy since Fletcher Jones, her sponsor, just dipped a vulture into a blood bank and signed a new 26-week contract.”

12/18/54 – RETURN OF THE APE MAN (1944). Show had a seasonal theme.

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 12/18/54: “Vampira (7) at 11p.m. goes Christmas chopping to fill her hate list.”

1/29/55 – CASE OF THE GUARDIAN ANGEL. Both the Long Beach Independent and Long Beach Press-Telegram additionally name Hugh Latimer as the star [this seems to confirm my previous attempt at identifying the film in last week's blog post].

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 1/29/55: “Vampira will receive the first 'Black Skull of Death Award' from the Mystery Writers of America during her show on (7) at 11p.m. Along with the mounted death head will be an assortment of weapons that have been featured in mystery stories written by the famous authors.”

John Frederick's “Looking and Listening” column in the Long Beach Press-Telegram of 1/29/55: “Vampira, the glamour ghoul of (7) at 11p.m., will be given the first 'Black Skull of Death Award' for her outstanding work as the most 'nightmarish ghoul of 1954' by the Mystery Writers of America.”

2/5/55 – LADY CHASER (1946).

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 2/5/55: “Vampira (7) at 11p.m. visits the spider pound to reclaim her black-widow spider.”

The shift from an 11pm slot to a 10.30pm slot beginning on 3/5/55 was identified in all sources consulted as part of a general adjustment of the KABC evening schedule after the station stopped showing live boxing matches from the Hollywood Legion Stadium on a Saturday night.

Terry Vernon's “Tele-Vues” column in the Long Beach Independent of 3/5/55: “At 8p.m. in this program realignment an old movie will take over and Vampira will do her ghoulish hostessing starting at 10.30p.m. instead of 11. This will all combine to fill the former boxing time, but we doubt that it'll improve the station's audience much.”

3/12/55 – Vampira appeared on two live shows on this night. She was a special guest on AL JANIS' HI-JINX on Channel 7 (KABC) at 9pm, in addition to hosting GLASS ALIBI (1946) during her regular slot on the station at 10.30pm.

John Frederick's “Looking and Listening” column in the Long Beach Press-Telegram of 3/12/55: “Al Jarvis will help Vampira introduce the new dance 'Vampira Vamp' during his “Hi-Jinx” on (7) at 9p.m.”

4/2/55 – Nitelinger identifies THE WOMAN WHO CAME BACK (1945) as the final film hosted by Vampira. However, although initially announced as being hosted by her, Vampira's show was canceled prior to broadcast, and the movie was instead shown without a host as the first feature in KABC's "Nitecap Theater" package, which continued in subsequent weeks with MR. WONG, DETECTIVE (1938; 4/9/55), GANG BULLETS (1938; 4/16/55), THE BATTLE OF THE RAILS (1946; 4/23/55), and THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (1945; 4/30/55).

Vampira instead appeared at 10pm on Channel 4 (KNBH), as a last-minute addition to the line-up of the nationally syndicated GEORGE GOBEL SHOW, reviewed (incorrectly) as her first network appearance; Gobel's other (surprise) guest that night was Fred Allen.

Many thanks to doctor kiss for looking into this in more detail and for sharing his findings. What (very) little research that I have done on Vampira seems more concerned with her persona, her popularity, and her impact; so far, I haven't seen much said at all about which old wine she poured into new bottles on her show. This re-packaging of horror and murder-mysteries for TV is one of the important precursors to SHOCK!.

Vampira with Béla Lugosi on "The Red Skelton Show," October 1954


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

THE SPY RING (1938)


ad mat for theatrical release, January 1938

Imagine it is Saturday night, March 21, 1959. You live in northwest-central Ohio in a home with a decent television antenna so that you can pick up Channel 6 (WTVN, Columbus), Channel 10 (WBNS, Columbus) and Channel 11 (WTOL, Toledo). You are in the mood for a late-night thriller-chiller movie, so you check the listings:

Lima [OH] News, March 21, 1959

At midnight, Channel 10’s “Mystery Theater” gives you something called STRANGE TRIANGLE (or does this start at 12:30? The listing is a little confusing); at 12:15, Channel 11’s “Shock Theater” has THE HOUSE OF DRACULA, and Channel 6’s “Shock Theater” has THE SPY RING at 12:30. There are no synopses here in the newspaper, there are no books that provide you with a description of these movies, and there is no IMDb to check on the internet; because it’s 1959, you can’t record one broadcast while watching the other, so you need to either choose one or flick back and forth (on a rotary tuner ---no remote control) between the three. Because you liked “I Was a Communist for the FBI” on the radio (1952-53) and watched the “I Led Three Lives” TV series (1953-56), you choose THE SPY RING.

Two officers from the US Calvary are in Washington DC developing the CQ, an experimental machine gun with a special firing mechanism (nicknamed “the weenie,” believe it or not!) that would increase the weapon's accuracy and efficiency (I guess?) enough to “revolutionize anti-aircraft defense.”

inspecting machine-gunned mannequins at the US Army proving grounds

the top-secret weenie


our hero

When one of the officers is killed by a free-lance spy who is after the CQ, the other Calvary captain, Todd “Dude” Hayden (William Hall, whose beefy face and toothy smile remind me of a young Ernest Borgnine) is assigned by Military Intelligence to complete the research and bust the espionage organization. He travels back to his regiment in Monterey to continue work on the invention, to spy-hunt, and to romance Elaine Burdette (Jane Wyman), his colonel’s daughter. And wouldn’t you know it? Hayden’s challenger for Elaine’s affections, Frank Denton (Leon Ames), turns out to be a key operative in the spy-for-hire organization and his #1 rival in the big polo championship tournament.

Oh yes, I said “polo"--- that sport where teams of people ride around on horses and hit a ball with a long-handled mallet. When I began this SHOCK! / Son of SHOCK! Viewing Project, I looked forward to blogging about ideas and images that I hadn’t encountered before, but I never expected to find myself writing about polo. And there is (what I suppose is) an exciting polo match in the second half of the picture, but I was too stunned by the fact that I was watching polo in a SHOCK! film to really appreciate it.

Director Joseph H. Lewis--- whose work in MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), GUN CRAZY (1949) and THE BIG COMBO (1955) intrigues me every time I see it ---has a few interesting camera-moves and set-ups here. Lewis shoots through walls, over car hoods, under horses' bellies, behind fireplaces, and catches reflections in mirrors and glasses of champagne; in a private moment between Hayden and Elaine, the camera moves voyeuristically through tree branches like those FRIDAY THE 13TH p.o.v. shots. Lewis pulls off a good nighttime car chase in middle of the movie that I think might be the highlight for thrill-hungry viewers. (Incidentally, the spy ring’s chauffeur who is captured and interrogated by Hayden is played by Paul Sutton, who was the voice of Canadian Mountie Sergeant William Preston on Mutual’s "Challenge of the Yukon" radio show in the early 1950s; at the time that THE SPY RING appeared on SHOCK!, Sutton had twice failed to win his campaign for US Congress as a Democrat from Michigan.)

two years before marrying Ronald Reagan & fifty years before "Falcon Crest"

I am speculating that THE SPY RING went out for TV syndication because of the presence of Jane Wyman. When the film was released originally in 1938, William Hall was given top billing (Béla Lugosi fans might recognize Hall for his bit-part as hood in POSTAL INSPECTOR; he also show's up very briefly in Universal's MAN MADE MONSTER, a SHOCK! title). But Hall never really did much lead-acting after THE SPY RING. Jane Wyman, however, is a different story.

Wyman's character in THE SPY RING is the ingénue (Esther Ralston's role as the icy spymaster Jean Bruce is a much juicier). Among other bits of fluff, she fatuously flirts with Denton to gain the attentions of Hayden and predictably ends up as a pouty hostage of the spy ring. In short, Wyman's work here is lightweight, but she was such a huge star in the 1940s and 1950s that she gets top-billing in almost every TV listing for THE SPY RING that I saw in newspapers from 1957 and 1962; the Screen Gems SHOCK! booklet's entry for THE SPY RING centers around Wyman (for example: "starring in the picture is Jane Wyman and her co-star is William Hall") and it provides stations with a quick biography crafted to be used as a "Shock Theater" plug (the same year SHOCK! hit the airwaves, she was nominated for an Emmy for her work on "Jane Wyman Presents the Fireside Theater"). Because of Wyman's presence in the movie, THE SPY RING got a lot of play at various times throughout the day on television, in the late '50s and early '60s, appearing far more as an afternoon feature than on late-night chiller horror theater showcases.

In retrospect, I think that you should’ve stuck with Channel 10 or 11 on that night in March 1959. STRANGE TRIANGLE, it turns out, is a 1946 B-movie crime melodrama from Fox involving bank embezzling, blackmail, and Signe Hasso as the femme fatale... after seeing the trailer on YouTube, it certainly seems like it was a perverse enough noir-lite to catch one's attention in the middle of the night. Meanwhile, THE HOUSE OF DRACULA, a Son of SHOCK! title from 1945, offered a heaping helping of monsters. In comparison, THE SPY RING is a forgettable disappointment as a "Shock Theater" title.




NEXT: "The hollow ringing of a great bell always precedes murder on SHOCK's full-length feature THE SECRET OF THE CHATEAU, telecast on this channel!"

Saturday, November 20, 2010

THE MUMMY'S TOMB (1942)


Thirty years after an American archaeological expedition led by Professor Stephen Banning (Dick Foran) broke into the ancient tomb of Princess Ananka, the High Priests of Karnak finally get around to exacting their terrible revenge. They dispatch Mehmet Bey (Turhan Bey at his swarthiest) and his shuffling, loping, one-armed undead killing machine Kharis (Lon Chaney, Jr., Tom Tyler, or Eddie Parker, depending on which scene you're looking at) to the provincial New England town where Banning and his family live. Sacred vengeance is derailed, however, when Mehmet starts lusting after a blond white woman (Elyse Knox) who is engaged to Banning's smug physician-son, John (John Hubbard) and diverts the mummy from his murderous mission by assigning him the job of abducting virgins.

This is a silly, poorly-written movie that relies heavily on recycled footage from THE MUMMY'S HAND and a series of trite newspaper front-page montages for exposition. And John Banning is an annoying hero--- his rapid emotional recovery from the horrific deaths of his father and his aunt in their own house seems particularly callous, and it only gets worse when he threatens Mehmet with torture (Hippocratic Oath be damned!) and encourages the club-and-torch-wielding mob of local yokels to burn down his ancestral home. Aside from the wonderful night-for-night photography, the film's direction is flat, unimaginative, and overly literal, all of which makes for rather dull viewing.

But I am being way too rough on THE MUMMY'S TOMB. It's an hour-long and has a kind of pulp/comic-book action pace that doesn't skimp on the monster quotient. There's no need for me to be such a snob about it--- it was fun when I first saw it on TV in the early 1970s and I would go across town in a heartbeat to see it projected onto a movie screen tonight. But I am such an avid fan of the 1932 THE MUMMY that I unfairly want a little more out of this one, that's all...

Apparently, the movie put up good box-office numbers in 1942 and enjoyed a prosperous re-release afterlife. By the time THE MUMMY'S TOMB hit the TV screens in the late 1950s, viewers who had missed the movie in earlier days may had at least seen 1955's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY--- a tedious farce featuring a mummy named Klaris (Eddie Parker again) who defends the tomb of an Egyptian princess from treasure hunters ---so the mummy-as-monster idea was a familiar one. The World War II-era references in THE MUMMY'S TOMB (there's a mention of bandleader Jan Garber and the Russian Front, while John Banning's draft notice is a plot point that kicks the kidnapping plan into high gear) may have dated the film when it appeared on TV as part of SHOCK!. So, too, did the billing of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the mute mummy, as the actor was at that time appearing as Chingachgook in the half-hour Western TV series "Hawkeye and the Last of the Mohicans." But despite all that, I would wager that THE MUMMY'S TOMB did a lot to haul viewers in and grow the reputation of SHOCK! on TV.

Salt Lake City Tribune, Saturday March 28, 1959




NEXT: "An inventor is killed and another takes his place only to find his own life threatened. Don't miss the thrills and action in THE SPY RING, starring Jane Wyman. It's on SHOCK over this channel!"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Update: Vampira & CASTLES OF DOOM

I want to continue on the Vampira tangent that I veered towards with my last post. Yesterday, I put up a list of films that were part of Vampira's show; one of the tidbits that I stumbled upon was a listing for the film CASTLES OF DOOM which was shown on December 4, 1954. I couldn't find any information anywhere about a movie by this name, and I speculated that it could have been instead THE CASTLE OF DOOM, the name given for the re-edited English-language-dubbed cut of Carl Theodor Dreyer's haunting and disorienting horror film of 1932, VAMPYR.

I raised my theory about CASTLES OF DOOM over at the Classic Horror Film Board; doctor kiss responded (his post at CHFB is here) with this wonderful find from the Long Beach Independent (CA), December 4th, 1954:

As doctor kiss points out, "this must have been the very first TV screening of VAMPYR in any form." Considering what a well-regarded classic of the horror genre that film is today, this broadcast by Vampira is a historic one, despite the fact that THE CASTLE OF DOOM version of VAMPYR is quite a mangled version of the original.

In that same thread on the Classic Horror Film Board, Jacque Lecotier explained a little bit about the differences between THE CASTLE OF DOOM and VAMPYR (original post here). He speculated that, since there weren't censorship records at the New York State Archives for THE CASTLE OF DOOM, the 60-minute film may have been a used in roadshows, an idea which opens up a whole new avenue for exploring the intersection between exploitation and Expressionism. (Copies of THE CASTLE OF DOOM are available today through less-than-legal dealers in "collector" DVDs, but I recommend the Criterion release of VAMPYR from last year for those who have never seen the film and would like to explore it.)

But one last nagging question: was the CASTLES OF DOOM title for Vampira's broadcast merely the product of typographical error, or was there yet another cut of the film different from THE CASTLE OF DOOM that was shown on Vampira's program?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vampira's Pre-SHOCK! Programming, 1954-55

How and why did distinctly non-horror action-suspense melodramas get included in the SHOCK! syndicated movie package? I raised this question in a recent post on ENEMY AGENT for this viewing project, and my search for an explanation continues. One hunch that I had was to search for a pre-SHOCK! precedent, and the one that jumps most immediately to mind is the work of Vampira over KABC-Channel 7 from 1954-55. (A few weeks back, Mirek put up a post on Vampira and her horror-hosting.) I've often heard that Vampira's offerings were more murder-mystery than horror, so I dug around a little bit to see if she included any spy movies that might have been the precursor to the Screen Gems decision to include such titles in the SHOCK! collection.

Now, I didn't find any mention of ENEMY AGENT-kinds of thrillers, but I was surprised by some of the other movies that she used for her show. I haven't seen all of them, but many are favorites of mine (though I don't think I would call all of them "good" movies, really). All in all, I found this to be a solid and entertaining line-up that I would love to be able to see... most seem to be in the public domain, so maybe some history-minded contemporary public-access TV horror host can replicate Vampira's schedule. Otherwise, the next best thing that I can hope for is that perhaps someone can start a "Vampira Viewing Project Blog."




Friday Night at 11:00 p.m.

04/30/1954 "Dig Me Later, Vampira" (Preview Show)

Saturday Nights/Sunday Mornings at Midnight

05/01/1954 THE CHARGE IS MURDER. I’m not sure about this one, but one possibility is that it is the English-dubbed-for-TV version of the Italian thriller ATTO DI ACCUSA (1950): A wealthy lawyer discovers his wife has been having an affair; in revenge, the lawyer frames his wife’s lover by murdering the landlord of their love-nest apartment.

05/08/1954 THE FACE OF MARBLE (1946, Monogram). A mad scientist trying to reanimate the dead clashes with his housekeeper’s voodoo practices.

05/15/1954 REVENGE OF ZOMBIES (1943, Monogram). A mad scientist in the Cambodian jungle creates an unstoppable zombie army for the Nazi war effort.

05/22/1954 FOG ISLAND (1945, PRC). The search for hidden treasure in a mansion on a remote island becomes an exercise in murderous revenge.


Saturday Nights at 11:00 p.m.

05/29/1954 CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS (1948, Apollo). British film made in France about reincarnated lovers.

06/05/1954 Not listed, but probably WHITE ZOMBIE (1932, Halperin Productions). A woman becomes the zombie slave of a cruel voodoo practitioner.

06/12/1954 DEVIL BAT’S DAUGHTER (1946, PRC). The daughter of an accused mad scientist tries to uncover the truth about her dad’s experiments and nearly goes crazy in the process.

06/19/1954 THE FLYING SERPENT (1946, PRC). Murderous archaeologist commands a primordial Aztec god-monster to kill his enemies.

06/26/1954 THE MASK OF DIJON (1946, PRC). A mad magician discovers that he has the power to hypnotize and uses it bring death to his enemies.

07/03/1954 THE STRANGE MR. GREGORY (1946, PRC). A villainous magician fakes his death in order to frame his romantic rival.

07/10/1954 THE MAN WITH TWO LIVES (1942, Monogram) A man brought back to life by a mad scientist finds his body taken over by the soul of an executed gangster.

07/17/1954 CORRIDOR OF MIRRORS. See 05/29/1954

07/24/1954 FEAR (1946, Monogram) An impoverished and desperate student agrees to murder a loan shark for cash.

07/31/1954 ROGUE’S TAVERN (1936, Mercury Pictures Corporation). Shady guests at a remote inn are killed by a vicious dog prowling the grounds. Or are they?

08/07/1954 DANGEROUS INTRUDER (1945, PRC) A hitchhiking out-of-work actress is struck by a car; when the driver’s wife later turns up dead, the actress searches for the killer.

08/14/1954 MYSTERY OF THE 13th GUEST (1943, Monogram). A masked killer murders people one-by-one in an old dark house.

08/21/1954 MIDNIGHT LIMITED (1940, Monogram). The Phantom Robber plunders and murders passengers on a luxury train; a detective and his pretty assistant go undercover to catch him.

08/28/1954 BLUEBEARD (1944, PRC). A puppeteer in 19th-century Paris is a serial killer.

09/04/1954 MISSING LADY (1946, Monogram). An entry in Monogram’s “The Shadow” series. Lamont Cranston is accused of stealing a jade statue and murdering the witnesses.

09/11/1954 MURDER BY INVITATION (1941, Monogram) The scheming relatives of a rich old woman are gathered at her mansion for the weekend to decide the terms of the inheritance and are bumped off one at a time.

09/18/1954 RED DRAGON (1945, Monogram) Charlie Chan in Mexico City investigates three murders and the theft of some atomic secrets.

09/25/1954 THE MISSING HEIRESS. It’s not clear, but I think that this might be a British film called DR. MORELLE: THE CASE OF THE MISSING HEIRESS (1949, Hammer) ; it's a movie about a sleuthing hypnotist searching for clues to young woman who stands to inherit a pile of money who has disappeared from her family’s mansion.

10/02/1954 THE MISSING CORPSE (1945, PRC). A comedy-mystery about a newspaper publisher who opens the trunk of his car to find the dead body of his professional rival.

10/09/1954 THE FATAL HOUR (1940, Monogram). Mr. Wong is on the case when police captain Street’s best friend is murdered at the San Francisco docks by smugglers.

10/16/1954 PHANTOM KILLER (1942, Monogram). A city district-attorney is convinced that a celebrated deaf-mute philanthropist is responsible for several murders despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary.

10/23/1954 THE SHADOW RETURNS (1946, Monogram). Lamont Cranston unravels a case involving a secret laboratory, fake jewels, and murder.

10/30/1954 KING OF THE ZOMBIES (1941, Monogram). A Navy officer's plane goes down in a storm and crash lands on a Caribbean island where a voodoo master works to create zombies for a dangerous unnamed foreign power.

11/06/1954 DOOMED TO DIE (1940, Monogram). Mr. Wong and a feisty lady reporter look into the slaying of a shipping tycoon.

11/13/1954 HOUSE OF MYSTERY (1934, Monogram). A killer ape prowls around an old dark house in seeming fulfillment of a curse.

11/20/1954 MY BROTHER’S KEEPER (1948, Gainsborough Pictures). British film about a dangerous escaped criminal handcuffed to a young small-time crook who are being hunted by police and a newly-married newspaper reporter and wife.

11/27/1954 DEAR MURDER (1947, Gainsborough Pictures). A business man plots to kill his wife’s lovers in this British-made thriller.

12/04/1954 CASTLES OF DOOM. I don’t know what this could be, but the English-language, unauthorized re-cut roadshow version of VAMPYR. DER TRAUM DES ALLAN GREY (1932) was called THE CASTLE OF DOOM (1934). I wonder…?

12/11/1954 THE CHARGE IS MURDER. See 05/01/1954

12/18/1954 RETURN OF THE APE MAN (1944, Monogram). A mad scientist thaws out a prehistoric hominid and brings him back to life after giving him the brain of his assistant.

12/25/1954 MAN WITH THE GRAY GLOVE. Possibly the 1953 dubbed-for-American-TV version of the Italian musical-mystery L’UOMO DAL GUANTO GRIGIO (1948) about the theft of a Renaissance painting and a psycho killer in Rome.

01/01/1955 APOLOGY FOR MURDER (1945, Sigmund Neufeld Productions). A reporter gets tangled up with a scheming femme fatale who wants him to murder her husband, DOUBLE INDEMNITY-style.

01/08/1955 DECOY (1946, Bernhardt-Brandt Productions). A sap gets suckered into helping a femme fatale bring her executed bank-robbing boyfriend back from the dead in order to locate his missing $400,000 in loot.

01/15/1955 MURDER IS MY BUSINESS (1946, PRC). One of PRC’s “Michael Shayne” private eye mystery movies involving blackmail, robbery, and murder surrounding a wealthy woman and her two grown stepchildren.

01/22/1955 PHANTOM OF 42nd STREET (1945, PRC) A drama critic tries to solve the murder of a Broadway actor who was killed on stage.

01/29/1955 CASE OF THE GUARDIAN ANGEL. Perhaps this is the British film THE ADVENTURES OF P.C. 49: INVESTIGATING THE CASE OF THE GUARDIAN ANGEL (1949, Hammer), wherein a London bobby goes undercover to break up a vicious gang of truck hijackers dealing in stolen booze and cigarettes.

02/05/1955 LADY CHASER (1946, PRC). The fiancé of a woman accused of poisoning her wealthy uncle tries to prove her innocence and stumbles onto a blackmail plot.

02/12/1955 KILLER AT LARGE (1947, PRC). Two reporters tackle an embezzling ring with powerful connections.

02/19/1955 SHE SHALL HAVE MURDER (1950, Derrick De Marnay Productions) UK-made movie about a mystery-writing law clerk who suspects that the person responsible for the death of a client might be one of her office co-workers.

02/26/1955 THE LADY CONFESSES (1945, PRC) A woman discovers that her fiancé’s wife isn’t dead after all and winds up getting mixed up with gangsters.


Saturday Night at 10:30p.m.

03/05/1955 LARCENY IN HER HEART (1946, PRC) Another "Michael Shayne" movie , this one involving the search for the missing stepdaughter of a popular city political reformer.

03/12/1955 GLASS ALIBI (1946, W. Lee Wilder Productions). An unscrupulous reporter and his girlfriend plot to murder his rich wife.

03/19/1955 DETOUR (1945, PRC). A hapless cross-country hitchhiker finds himself ensnared in two deaths and a dangerous femme fatale.

03/26/1955 STRANGLER OF THE SWAMP (1946, PRC). Atmospheric chiller about the ghost of hanged ferryman terrorizing a small town in search of revenge.

04/02/1955 WOMAN WHO CAME BACK (1945, Republic). A young woman descended from a witch-hunting judge returns to her family’s hometown and is haunted by the idea that a witch’s ghost is trying to destroy her.


This list of titles was originally compiled by the late Dick Nitelinger Golembiewski from his search of The Los Angeles Times, The Los Angeles Examiner, The Los Angeles Daily News, and the L.A. edition of TV Guide for his now-defunct (but much-recommended) "Milwaukee TV Horror Hosts" website. I accessed it via the Internet Archive's "Wayback Machine." Using Nitelinger's list, I have provided the films' release dates, production company information, and brief synopses. A few of the films I could only guess at--- I welcome any corrections, clarifications, hunches, and insights to this list.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

THE MUMMY'S TOMB preview

"See Lon Chaney [sic] --- the screen's sensational master of menace --- as the monster who would not die on Shock's feature film THE MUMMY'S TOMB... You won't want to miss seeing Kharis, the sacred living mummy that terrorized a town. Be sure to tune in."

Monday, November 15, 2010

ENEMY AGENT (1940)

When I posted about DEAD MAN'S EYES a week ago, I mentioned how hard it was to watch these films without recalling what I had read about it or had seen in the multiple times that I had viewed the movies before. Well, ENEMY AGENT is one of twelve SHOCK! films that I have never seen before or ever read anything about, so I didn't have that problem--- what I saw the other night was entirely fresh and new, presumably as it had been for many SHOCK! watchers in 1957-58.

Though difficult to discern in this screen-cap, stock footage of the burning zeppelin Hindenburg can be seen in a montage beneath the superimposed newspaper front page and the word "SPY"

A wave of sabotage and the murder of an aircraft engineer tips off the FBI that there’s a spy ring at work in Los Angeles. The spies’ latest operation involves efforts to obtain plans for the high-precision Wallis bombsight being designed at Fulton Aircraft for the new B-17 Flying Fortress ("so accurate that a plane can drop a bomb into a pickle barrel from five miles up," the ringleader tells us). As the G-men's investigation put the Fulton engineers under scrutiny, the spy, Lester Taylor (Jack Arnold), frames Jimmy Saunders (Richard Cromwell) in order to divert attention away from himself. Jimmy is hauled in by the FBI for interrogation and later released, but the taint of suspicion is enough to get Jimmy fired and blackballed from finding employment in the aircraft industry. As he descends into a spiral of drunkenness and frustration, the steakhouse hostess who he thought was his girl, Irene Hunter (Helen Vinson), dumps him for Taylor, leaving puppy-doggish good-girl waitress Peggy (Marjorie Reynolds) to take care of bitter Jimmy.

Jimmy is grilled by the Feds


The spymaster Dr. Arnold and his two hoods

The mastermind of the unnamed enemy nation's spy cell, suave Dr. Jeffrey Arnold (Philip Dorn, who adopts a north-central European accent here to evoke Nazi Germany for 1940 cinema-goers and the USSR for those watching it on TV in 1957), sets up a plan to murder Jimmy; Jimmy is becoming a nuisance in his attempts to clear his name and he must be killed. But before that can happen, Jimmy stumbles onto evidence that Taylor is the spy in Fulton Aircraft. Meanwhile, Jimmy's gold-digging ex-girlfriend Irene tries blackmailing both Taylor (for $5000) and Arnold (for $10,000, with an option to join the spies).

By the end of the hour, there’s (what I am guessing is supposed to be) a surprise ending (though the TV description below gives it away) as it is revealed that FBI was just as deceitful and manipulative of Jimmy as Arnold’s organization was. But Jimmy is not upset about that --- he says that he understands why the G-men ruined his life by smearing him with espionage charges, driving him to alcoholism, manipulating his love life, and getting him subjected to a few good beat-downs. And besides, they give Jimmy some money, he gets his old job back with a week’s vacation and a couple plane tickets, and he scores another chance at romance, so it’s all good, I guess.

Listing for KRON- Channel 4, San Francisco, October 25, 1958

Once I got over the simple giddiness of seeing a SHOCK! title that I knew nothing about, I was left with a straight-forward and perfectly serviceable B-movie espionage melodrama. ENEMY AGENT is completely indistinguishable from the dozen or so similar films that you’ve seen on TCM early on weekday mornings. There’s nothing vaguely fantastique here, not even a hint of dark murder-mystery chills; technically or stylistically, there isn't anything unusual or quirky by director Lew Landers (RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE and dozens of other movie and television shows), just thoroughly competent by-the-numbers movie-making (some of the two-fisted action sequences reminded me of similar flat and economical fight scenes in dull serials that I have seen). ENEMY AGENT is not a bad movie ---it is just a pedestrian action flick. (An April 22, 1940 review in the New York Times disagrees, saying that “ENEMY AGENT is considerably more entertaining than the average melodrama of this sort. First, the story is told with dispatch; second, and even more important, it has one of the strangest denouements that you are likely to see in a long time--- a scene so ludicrously funny that it alone is almost worth the price of admission.” I can’t say that I was as amused as that reviewer, but it was definitely unlike anything I had ever seen before.)

According to the television broadcast listings from 1957 to 1962 that I searched, ENEMY AGENT was shown quite frequently on TV, but primarily in non-"Shock Theatre"-style showcases: mid-morning, late afternoon, and early evening were all time-slots where the movie turned up. From my research sample, it would appear that program directors exercised their prerogative in broadcasting any SHOCK! title in any way that they chose, and that many decided that ENEMY AGENT was not enough of a horror or mystery movie to make the cut. And as I said, this is just an action picture that would have incensed anyone (who had tuned in to, say, KRON's "Nightmare" in the wee hours of Saturday morning) hoping for a monster show.

Sheboygan (WI) Press, July 16, 1940. In the 1940 first-run theater listings that I saw for ENEMY AGENT, it was paired with crime programmers like Fox's GIRL IN 313 and Columbia's BABIES FOR SALE; one exception is the listing that I have reproduced here. THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES will show up in the Son of SHOCK! package from Screen Gems in 1958.


Why did the people at Screen Gems include such obviously non-horror movies in SHOCK! when most of their promotional hullabaloo emphasized Universal's monsters? With 550-600 titles at their disposable and a seller's market for movies on television, why did they choose something as un-shocking as ENEMY AGENT to be part of the package? Equally interesting to me is how some other non-horror titles that were included in SHOCK! have come to be regarded as part of the Universal horrors canon when others (like ENEMY AGENT) have not and have all but completely disappeared from view. I'll be offering some ideas about this in future posts as we move through this viewing project.



Next: "See Lon Chaney [sic] --- the screen's sensational master of menace --- as the monster who would not die on Shock's feature film THE MUMMY'S TOMB... You won't want to miss seeing Kharis, the sacred living mummy that terrorized a town. Be sure to tune in."

Friday, November 12, 2010

THE MUMMY (1932)

“Nightmare,” Bakersfield Californian, Friday November 15, 1957

Bryan Senn in Golden Horrors quotes a Universal publicity department's pressbook suggestion for drumming up interest in THE MUMMY in 1932:

"Get up a fake mummy and case. Now arrange for a delivery truck to carry the mummy to the busiest section of town and DROP IT FROM THE TRUCK...The mummy, of course, should carry no advertising or identification. The police, mystified, will report the occurrence to newspapers, and headlines will announce the finding of a mysterious mummy. That is your cue to step in and announce that the mummy was being delivered to your theatre as a display and claim it."

In the 1957 SHOCK! promotional booklet's article "Audience Promotion to Excite Your Public," Screen Gems press agents recommend:

"A mummy 'escapes' from a museum, preferably one which has an Egyptian exhibit. By some odd chance, press photographers will be notified of the 'escape.' When the mummy is interviewed at the museum, he states that he left his tomb in order to get the SHOCK treatment."

I haven't been able to find any reports of such attempts at publicity in the late 1950s. I looked around for one because I wondered which Universal mummy-- Boris Karloff's Im-Ho-Tep or Tom Tyler/Lon Chaney Jr.'s Kharis -- would be the mummy that organizers would try to evoke with such SHOCK! stunts in 1957. The Kharis films from the forties were popular with audiences, but the original from the thirties had been re-released to theaters with some regularity as well, so the familiarity with each may have been equally high. I might be reading too much into it, but perhaps the fact that WBAK used a publicity still from 1942's THE MUMMY'S TOMB in the ad (posted above) for Karloff's mummy film may have meant that Im-Ho-Tep and Kharis were interchangeable in people's minds to a certain extent.

But there's a world of difference between the first mummy picture and the four that come later. (The SHOCK! package had the first four of the Universal mummy movies, while Son of SHOCK! carried the fifth, THE MUMMY'S CURSE.) It sounds funny, I know, but I don't think that THE MUMMY should even be thought of as a mummy movie as compared to the other four. Im-Ho-Tep is a spooky undead sorcerer, much more like Karloff's Dr. Fu Manchu, Morlant (THE GHOUL), or Poelzig (THE BLACK CAT) than Tyler and Chaney, Jr.'s mute, shuffling animated corpse.

I must have been seven or eight years old when I first saw THE MUMMY on television and I was disappointed by its lack of mummy beyond the reanimation sequence at the top of film. I think other people would share my displeasure if they had been led to believe that this was going to be in the same vein as THE MUMMY'S GHOST (or even ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE MUMMY). But this is not to say that I wasn't frightened by THE MUMMY: Karloff scared the holy hell out of me in this movie. Many people point out the parallels to DRACULA in THE MUMMY; the narrative similarities are certainly there, but this movie frightened me far more than DRACULA ever did.



Mummy movie or not, THE MUMMY is a masterfully eerie, haunting motion picture bristling with the stuff that you want out of a monster melodrama, like mad love, undead terror, occult warfare, reincarnation, lost civilizations, and wall-to-wall capital-R Romantic dread-- I'd easily rank it as one of the four or five best horror movies of the 1930s. It is meticulously directed for maximum visual interest, it's crammed full of well-detailed sets and props that really set the mood, and it includes some decent performances by the actors. Those performances are worth making some mention of, but I just can't stop talking about Karloff... I can't shake Karloff's creepy presence in this one; his restraint and stillness as Im-Ho-Tep communicates both a 3700 year-old fragility but also a menacing supernatural power that's coursing through him like high-voltage electricity. There's a kind of sad, impatient asceticism to Im-Ho-Tep, as if he's frustrated and embarrassed by the limitations of his flesh and spurred by the need to transcend those boundaries ("I dislike to be touched-- an Eastern prejudice"). Karloff manages to telegraph that dead-quiet but pulsating restlessness in almost ever scene.

Until very recently, I've only ever seen THE MUMMY on TV as a commercial broadcast, and I have to say that hypnotic spell that the film casts is easily broken and tough to get back into after being interrupted by a station's ad breaks. This is especially true of the flashback scene in the magic reflecting pool with Im-Ho-Tep and Zita Johann's Anck-es-en-Amon/Helen. That sequence has an almost hand-cranked silent movie feel to the proceedings, and coming back to it following a commercial for Sears department store (as was probably the case on Channel 29's "Nightmare" in Bakersfield in mid-November 1957, according to the print ad above) or whatever had to be very jarring. It probably made for some bored, distracted viewers who were looking for more Kharis-izing from this movie. Sadly, I'm guessing that today's ADHD-addled horror movie viewers-- enthusiastic consumers of jump-cut, shaky-cam, digital video, computer-generated hyper-predatory post-Romero undead films à la 28 DAYS LATER --would be equally impatient with movies totally committed to creating a moody, brooding ambiance like THE MUMMY, even on commercially-uninterrupted DVD.





Next: "For exciting adventure with G-Men on the trail of traitors, don't miss the next feature film presentation on Shock. It's ENEMY AGENT starring Robert Armstrong and it's on this channel!"