Time to take on four oldies that have landed on my horror movie shelves, and the only miss for me is one that I scored simply because it was on a double feature disc with another movie I wanted.
THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1943)
Bela Lugosi dons his Dracula costume again to…play a different vampire. Pretty sneaky way to make an unofficial sequel without getting Universal’s blessing. Not that a vampire would want a blessing anyway.
It all starts in a foggy cemetery with…the Wolf Man? No, not Lon Chaney Jr., just some werewolf responsible for protecting the vampire’s grave. He sucks as a guard dog because the vamp gets staked.
A quarter century later, the woman responsible for killing the vampire is back, and so is the vampire. And he wants revenge. Although not named Dracula, he is Bela Lugosi dressed as Dracula. He turns a guy into his werewolf bitch by staring at him with hypnotic eyes and then assigns his new pet the duty of fetching him a coffin.
The vampire targets the family of the woman who staked him. There’s classic swirling mist seeping through windows as he visits a pretty young woman, and loads of fog in the cemetery, where a good chunk of this film takes place. And to mix things up so it’s not just another Dracula movie, bombs are falling because it’s wartime.
It’s a basic little vampire film, but it’s really a must-own for fans of the classic movie monsters and the iconic actors forever linked to them.
This truly is a classic of the giant insect genre, despite some slowdown smack dab in the middle and way too much army involvement instead of ordinary everyday citizens as the heroes.
The film has two distinct focuses. The first is on law enforcement realizing there are giant ants in the desert. There’s nothing better than the first sign of trouble being a young girl they find lost and terrified digging up the nerve to scream just one word…”Them!”
Soon, scientists are battling giant ants! Even more awesome? It was the good old days when someone actually went to the trouble of building giant ants for the actors to interact with.
Once authorities think they’ve conquered the ants in the desert, they discover a couple of queens have flown off to the city (don’t we always?).
The second half of the film involves the military tracking the ants down in the underground sewers to kill the queens.
THE SNORKEL (1958)
Not what you usually think of when you think of Hammer Films, this is a contemporary suspense thriller, and it’s a goodie. It’s also a clear precursor to many teen vs. evil stepparent films that would come after it.
The plot is pretty wild. This dude kills his wife by gassing her in a locked room, and then hiding under the floor boards and using a snorkel to breathe until her body is found so it will look like she committed suicide.
But when his stepdaughter arrives, she immediately assumes he killed her mother because she believes he killed her father years before. Naturally no one believes a grieving kid.
And so begins a battle of wits as she tries to figure out how he did it while he attempts to kill her in a way that also looks like an accident. And he’s definitely a bastard, because when her adorable dog becomes obsessed with his snorkel, rather than just throw out the damn snorkel, well….
The two actors perfectly carry the film, and while the way in which the final act unfolds may seem predictable by today’s standards, that’s because early films like this came before all the modern films we’re familiar with.
The only catch is that if this film were remade today, it would end a few minutes earlier than it does. I was all gleeful when I thought there was a dastardly conclusion, but it being the 1950s and all, the film goes all Leave It To Beaver on us and takes the higher moral ground in one final scene. Blah.
CIRCUS OF HORRORS (1960)
Circus of Horrors starts of strong, with a look at the deformed face of a woman whose plastic surgery went wrong.
The doctor who botched the job goes on the run and meets Donald Pleasence, who runs a circus.
When Donald is killed by a guy in a bear suit…I mean, by a bear in his circus…the doctor takes over the circus.
Then performers keep dying in front of an audience, but no one seems to do anything about stopping the show from going on.
This film is like a boring version of the movie Berserk! with Joan Crawford, with the added twist of the doctor being obsessed with plastic surgery.