Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Posts tagged “1941

Universal Monsters in Review: Invisible Agent (1942)

invisableagent1

OUT OF THE SKY…DROPS…AN INVISIBLE INVADER…TO TERRORIZE AN ENTIRE NATION..ONE MAN AGAINST A NATION ..SPYING.. FIGHTING.. DESTROYING.. STRIKING AT THE VERY HEART OF THE ENEMY! My apologies for writing in “all caps,” but I couldn’t help my enthusiasm. Just watching the trailer alone, my spirit feels jazzed enough to sock ole Hitler in the jaw. Yes. As it would seem, Invisible Agent came to Universal’s lexicon at a very precarious/interesting place in history. The world was once again at war. Pearl Harbor happened less than a year before (December 1941) the release of the film. And perhaps this makes Invisible Agent (July 1942) one of the more interesting footnotes in the Universal Monsters vault as the monster was no longer who we assume; but rather, the “enemy,” which in this instance was Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Invisible Agent is nothing more than a propaganda film, aimed to boost moral of the 1942 wartime audience, and it is hard to ignore some of the starch xenophobia concurrent throughout the movie. BUT we must also remember, Invisible Agent is a product of its time. When looking at historical pieces, we must consider the thoughts and motivations of the era in which the movie was made. For me, I was intrigued, not only because of the historical footnote, but also getting to watch Peter Lorre on screen. Ignoring (for now) the fact that Universal Studios cast an eastern European to play the role of Baron Ikito (a Japanese character), it was still worthwhile being able to watch Mr. Lorre act. He was cool and chilling. And an absolute pleasure. Well, I think I’ve yammered on long enough. Let’s welcome today’s special guest and allow him to bring on that sweet sweet propaganda!

 

Invisible Agent

By: Duncan P. Bradshaw

I must confess, that when Mr Flowers provided a list of the films he had left to review, I did the typical thing, and plumped for something I’d never seen before. It was only afterwards, when I read a bit of the background about it, and then, eventually, got my hands on a copy of it, did I wish that I’d taken the blue pill.

Where the previous iterations in the Invisible Man franchise were stories of horror and science fiction, Invisible Agent is a wholly different proposition. It bears H.G. Wells name solely as it was based on his eponymous novel. This film though, is purely a WW2 propaganda film, made to entertain those stuck at home, and to an audience now part of the global war.

invisableagent2

Released at the end of July, 1942, it is a mere seven months since the US were attacked at Pearl Harbour. With the need to demonise the Axis powers, in an age which didn’t have 24 hour news channels, or instantaneous reports from the other side of the world, films like this were churned out. Invisible Agent is a rote, by the numbers film, which lacks any real story or plot. Choosing to borrow elements of the mad scientist formula which so many films of that era subscribed to, there are few redeeming features to it.

First off, Jon Hall, who plays the titular character, must’ve been laughing his way to the bank, as he’s on screen for next to no time at all. After being threatened by a Nazi and a Japanese agent, he legs it, with the secret formula in his possession. Naturally, the US government asks, politely, and with no sense of menace at all, if he would share it. This is refused. You blink and literally, the scene fade out has barely finished, when he’s back again, in front of important looking blokes and generals, saying that Pearl Harbour has changed his mind. He’ll do it, damn your eyes, but with one condition, that he is to be the one to be injected.

invisableagent3

Right…at no point do they say that he’s a soldier, or some kind of badass, and these people, with national security on the line, are quite happy for him to go behind enemy lines and discover when the Germans are going to attack America. Yeah…that sounds…yeah…

What follows is a paper thin plot, where the Nazi’s are borderline incompetent. They’re only out to usurp their superiors and are easy victims to ridiculous slapstick routines, and chain smoking. Cedric Hardwicke, who plays the main bad dude, Stauffer, has barely finished a cigarette, when he’s using it to light another.

The effects though, given that we’re now rotund on a diet of CGI, is actually pretty good, with one exception. The plane models are awful, you’d have thought that there would be a shedload of stock footage they could have used. Instead you have wobbly wooden planes juddering all over the shop, it’s just odd given the lengths they go to on the invisibility side of things.

Speaking of which, the invisible effects are decent, if a bit predictable. He rocks up in Germany to meet his contact, but hey…how do we know where he is? He’s invisible after all. That’s okay, here have some coffee.

invisableagent4

WOOOOOOOOHHHHH, the glass is floating in the air. Wait a minute, he’s drinking the coffee! But it’s not falling onto the floor, it’s magic! Say…I fancy a cigarette, WOOOOOOOHHHH, look a floating cigarette and flaming match. Coupled with chair springs being depressed as he ‘sits’ down, it doesn’t veer too far from the tried and trusted. You can only see the wires a few times, but that is me being picky, overall I thought it was done pretty well, and easily the best thing about the film.

What did annoy me though, was the routine when he meets the female double agent played by Ilona Massey. He’s sweet-talking the pants off her, well, he was watching her get undressed until he wolf-whistled (Worst. Stalker. Ever.), but comedy Nazi number one turns up.

Eager to show the cinema goers what ruthless sods these Germans are, he starts showering her with gifts, plundered from occupied Europe. Though a diet of cheese, chicken, lobster and champagne is going to cause a blockage or two, downstairs, if you get what I’m saying. Cue five minutes of stuff being moved about, chicken being eaten, INVISIBLY, WOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH, and food and drink being tipped over the bearer of gifts.

There is nothing really appealing about any of it to be honest. You’ve got the legendary Peter Lorre completely wasted as Baron Ikito, a Japanese agent. Which, let’s face it, given the backlash against Scarlet Johansen appearing in Ghost In The Shell, would probably create a right storm nowadays. There’s just none of the scares or intrigue that you get from any of the other Invisible Man films, they’ve literally used H.G. Wells good name, slapped it onto an identikit propaganda film, and sent it out into the wild.

invisableagent5

He gets plans. People get captured and slapped about a bit, I’m beginning to nod off now, thinking about it. In fact, it would be the equivalent of me telling you how to suck an egg, explaining what happens. Suffice to say, they save the day, escape and get back to blighty. If this film was food, it would be a piece of plain white bread. What’s that? You want some peanut butter on it? NO! Have it dry, I don’t care if you would quite like to have some cheese in there.

So yeah, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed watching it, but…given that my knowledge to date of the franchise stopped with Invisible Man Returns, I can at least say I’ve watched it. Though I can categorically state that I’d not waste eighty more minutes watching it again, I’ll stick to the original thank you very much.

Duncan Bradshaw pic

Duncan P. Bradshaw lives in MIGHTY Wiltshire, with his wife Debbie and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. Their barbershop quartet days may be behind them now, but they can still belt out a mean version of ‘Deepy Dippy’ by Right Said Fred when the mood catches them right. Duncan’s debut novel, zom-com, “Class Three,” was released in November 2014. The first book in the follow-up trilogy, “Class Four: Those Who Survive,” shambled into life in July 2015. Both have received glowing reviews. In early 2016, he released his debut Bizarro novella, “Celebrity Culture”, which has been well received, despite its oddness. Not content with resting on his laurels, Prime Directive blasts off in May 2016, a sci-fi/horror novella which pleased fellow founder J.R. Park. Before the main attraction…Duncan finished writing “Hexagram” in late 2015, a novel set over five hundred years, which follows an ancient ritual and how people throughout the years twist the original purpose to their own end.This is released on July 25th, hold onto your hats for that one.

Advertisements

Universal Monsters in review: Werewolf of London (1935)

werewolflondon1

Diving deeper into the chambers of Universal Classic Monsters, today we bring to you a strange and unusual tale of a botanist who, while researching a mysterious flower in Tibet, is bitten by a cursed and lowly creature. Coming from last weeks dreadful The Mummy’s Hand, I’m pleased to once again find myself pulled into a movie with directors, producers, and actors that’ve taken a story so fantastic as the Werewolf of London and created something phenomenal. Much as many of the Universal classics, and unlike the famed 1941 The Wolfman, we are torn into a battle between the supernatural and the discoveries of modern science. A reoccurring theme, I think, especially among these earlier films. Fears of the things man dabbles in, and the repercussions of progress and so-called modernity. I found Werewolf of London a wonderful film and wish I’d seen it sooner. I’m a fan of werewolf tales, as much as our guest writer I think. With Werewolf of London, its interesting to see a take on the lore set within the confines of science. Very interesting. But enough of that. Let us see what our esteemed guest has to say!

Werewolf Of London

A look back at a Universal Classic

By: JR Park

Werewolves have always held a fascination for me.  At the tender age of six I watched Michael Jackson scream “Go Away” to Ola Ray in the Thriller video as he transformed with excruciating detail into a monster.  It terrified and excited me.  Thirty years later and I have still not recovered.

Vampires, ghosts, zombies and undead serial killers have all provided me with horrific delights since I was bitten by the horror bug all those years ago, but no monster has held the same intrigue to me as the werewolf.  The development of cinematic lycanthropes have certainly been a rapid one in the hundred years since they’ve appeared on film, and as we look back to their origins we find a creature oh so similar, and yet very different from the beast that stalks the moonlit world of the modern era.

WEREWOLF OF LONDON, Warner Oland, Henry Hull, 1935, strangle

Werewolf of London was Universal’s first werewolf film, released in 1935, six years before the much more successful and remembered Wolf Man.  The critical reaction was unfavourable at the time, calling it out dated, and given unflattering comparatives to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a film that had been released only a few years before and became a hit.

The plot to Werewolf of London involves a British botanist venturing to Tibet in search of a flower that grows and blooms only under moonlight, known as the mariphasa.  Keeping to the horror film standard for which we all know well today, the good botanist, Wilfred Glendon and his companion are warned against his quest.  ‘Somethings are best not to bother with,’ is the vague caution they are offered, as they causally ignore the rumours of demons in the valley.  It’s not long into their descent down said valley before they encounter the strange bloom.  And it’s not long again after that that a snarling wolf-like beast attacks the doctor, leaving him wounded and scarred.

Back in London and Wilfred has managed to bring home a specimen of the plant, but is irritated that the fake moonlight he projects onto the bloom causes it no reaction.  Then it’s a cut to a party scene with laboriously long dialogue that doesn’t seem to go anywhere until we meet fellow botanist Dr Yogami who seems to know an awful lot about werewolves.

werewolflondon3

From the knowledge of Dr Yogami, and Wilfred’s diligence research in text books, we encounter the mythos for this film’s lycanthrope sufferers, and the driving plot of the film: 1) a person bitten by a werewolf will turn into a werewolf themselves during the full moon, 2) the plant, mariphasa, is not a complete cure, but is an antidote to stop each transformation, 3) the werewolf must kill at least one person per night of the full moon or become permanently afflicted.

We got that so far?  To make matters worse we are left with the lingering words from Dr Yogami, ‘The werewolf instinctively seeks to kill the thing it loves the best.’  Bummer.

Eventually the first transformation scene comes around, and let’s be honest, that’s the bit everyone’s waiting for in any werewolf movie.  The scene is handled well with Wilfred stumbling through his laboratory passing pillars as he goes.  Each pillar he passes, he comes out the other side more horrific.  It’s nicely handled and a good piece of drama that doesn’t disappoint.

But what of the monster itself?

This is a very different design to the snarling, furry faced Lon Chaney Jr of the Wolf Man.  Although both sets of makeup were created by the same man, Jack Pierce, his original design was toned down, the studio asking him to make it more human in appearance.

werewolflondon4

But it’s not just its physical form that makes the creature in this film more human that its savage successor.  This monster has the decency to pick up its hat and coat before it begins prowling the dark streets of the city; and even manages to speak in the final act of its death throes.

The influence of Jekyll and Hyde is apparent in these scenes, and it’s interesting to think that this monster would only become popular when it shook free of the chains of another creation and fully relished in its own monstrous mythos.

But back to the plot:  Wilfred, now as a werewolf runs to the plant, knowing it will cure him, but as he stands over the strange flower a memory of his wife pops into his head.  The monster takes over, filling him with the desire to kill the thing he loves the most (remember the words from Dr Yogami?). This attack fails and so he satisfies his bloodlust with a random woman wondering the streets.

 

Ashamed of his actions, Wilfred rents a room in an Inn to hide away. This is the first time we get to see the wolf man as a tragic figure, something we’ll see a lot more of in the films that follow.  But the four walls provide no prison and he’s back out again, killing, this time in a zoo.  There’s a fun little twist in the movie that I won’t spoil, but ultimately the monster sets himself upon his wife before being shot.  Mortally wounded, Wilfred rolls to face the policeman holding the gun and thanks him for the bullet, before apologising to his wife (how very British of him).

werewolflondon5

 

So is the film any good?  The werewolf make up is okay, and the transformations are pretty effective; the first one handled well and the rest being made of dissolving stills, which is something us modern viewers would expect from a Universal werewolf movie.  Its major problem is the long periods of dialogue, which in themselves would be okay if they were handled well, but sadly the acting is poor.  To begin with I blamed the time period, but a shining light in the film not only gave me some much needed entertainment, but it also highlighted as a comparative, how starch-like stiff the other actors were.

During the scene where Wilfred looks to rent a room he enters a pub and meets two ladies with whom to rent from.  These two characters had fast, snappy dialogue, were forever drunk or drinking, and played with a comic melodrama that stole the show.  In fact the performance of these two were so strong that I’d recommend watching the movie just for these two, despite how fleeting their appearances are.  Good acting is good acting, no matter which period the film is made; just as funny is always funny.

MBDWEOF EC006

 

So Werewolf of London helped birth the cinematic werewolf we know of today.  It had the changing by moonlight, the tragedy of the affliction and the fascination of the transformation.  And although it in itself is not a great movie, it helped pave the way for something far, far better.  To quote a line from the opening scenes of the film, ‘Without fools there would be no wisdom.’

And I got through the whole thing without mentioning Warren Zevon.  Almost.

jrpark

JR Park draws from the crazy worlds of exploitation cinema and pulp literature for his literary inspiration. His family are both equally proud and disturbed by his literary output, dragged from a mind they helped to cultivate. He resides on the outskirts of Bristol in the UK and hopes one day they’ll let him in. Mr. Park is the author of several twisted tales of morbid doom, includingUpon Waking and Terror Byte and Punch. He was also featured with a horrifyingly wonderful short in the horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. Besides giving his readers terrifying nightmares, Mr. Park is also one of the founding members of the up and coming UK Publishing team, The Sinister Horror Company, active in promoting other writers and attending numerous conventions.


Universal Monsters in review: The Wolf Man (1941)

The-wolfmanposter

The Wolf Man has become over the years one of my favorite Universal monsters. Larry Talbot has to be the single most tragic character to ever grace the silver (no pun intended) screen. Curt Siodmak, a Jewish immigrant from Germany, wrote the screenplay for The Wolf Man and several other monster movies and even into the 1950s science fiction era. Given the times and his heritage, I wonder if he had more than a few themes in mind for this horror story. The Wolf Man mythos has Greek tragedy written all over. An innocent, somewhat oblivious, man is cursed with lycanthropy, an uncontrollable transformation from man to wolf. He’s as much a victim as he is a monster. There’s a book written by Siodmak, which I have shamefully not read yet, detailing his creation of the Wolf Man. I am curious how the events of Nazism and WWII and being forced to immigrate to the U.S. impacted his perception of freedom and of humanism. But I’ve yarned on long enough. We’ve got a special guest writer today to tell us a bit about this amazing and haunting movie. Shall we see what Mr. X has to say about The Wolf Man?

When the Wolfbane Blooms

By: Jeffery X. Martin

There’s not a whole lot you can say about a 75 year old movie that hasn’t already been said, but The Wolf Man, a movie which has spawned more bastard children than Mick Jagger, remains so vital, so heart-wrenching, that it deserves to be seen by everyone who has grown up with only Landis and Dante’s version of lycanthropy.

George Waggner’s direction is solid and downright artsy in some scenes. His gorgeous shot inside the town church is utterly breathtaking in its contrast and shadowplay. Who needs color? This black and white work is sublime. He also has an almost symbiotic bond with low-lying fog, a standard element of every werewolf picture to follow.

It’s also right and proper to pour some out for Jack Pierce, the pioneering make-up artist who created the werewolf makeup. He also created the original make-up work for the Frankenstein monster and the Mummy. He may not have been well-liked around the studio, but he was responsible for the looks of almost all of what we think of as the “classic” monsters.

But the heart of The Wolf Man is Curt Siodmak. I know… of course, the writer is going to give credit to the writer. Blood sings to blood and all that. The fact is Siodmak, who was sort of the Rod Serling of his time, wrote a rock-solid script. Lon Chaney pulls off the role of Larry Talbot, who really is just a poor lunkhead, with great aplomb.

There’s stuff in this movie you couldn’t get away with now, like how Larry spies on the girl he likes with a telescope. Stalker! But he’s such a schmoe, such an awkward guy, you can’t help but root for him. You want him to take some power for himself and not be such a noodge.

When he finally gets a bit of that power, and becomes a werewolf, he’s shocked at his own behavior. He doesn’t want to own that kind of personal growth. If Larry has a fatal flaw, it isn’t that he becomes a werewolf when the wolfbane blooms and the gypsies come to town. It’s his humanity that makes him a classic tragic character. He realizes that he’s doomed. He always has been. In a world where the attitude is, as Richard Nixon said, “Fuck the doomed,” he’s never going to get what he wants. No sweetheart, no place as a pillar of the community, no joy. The old gypsy woman was right when she said, “Tears run to a predestined place.”

That gorgeous line is true for all of us. We’re all doomed. We’re all Larry Talbot, awkward and weak in some areas. If we really had some crazy power, would we use it the best way we could, or would we just wish it away? The real question The Wolf Man asks is not, “What is it like to be a werewolf?”

The Wolf Man asks all of us, “What does it mean to be human?”

Mr. X

Jeffery X. Martin, or Mr. X to you, is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat.