Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Killings at Outpost Zeta (1980)

Although low-budget and frequently fairly shoddy The Killings at Outpost Zeta has some interesting ideas (though fairly similar to films like Alien) and some genuine suspense.

An elite team (including Gordon De Vol and Jacqueline Rey) is sent to a distant planet to find out what has happened to two earlier expeditions which are missing presumed lost. Once on Zeta the team discover a load of horrifically decomposing corpses and the team then start getting bumped off by a mysterious alien creature...

It is quite silly, and the sets look made out of tin and cardboard but it isn't that bad a film. One interesting aspect of the film is the acting, the actors frequently pause awkwardly and mess up their dialogue. Oddly the effect is quite realistic.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Cross-Examination (1932)

You can't beat a good courtroom drama and this is a superior example of the genre. It stars Don Dillaway as David Wells, accused of killing his father Emory (William Mong). David was about to be disinherited by his father (to be honest he was about to disinherit everyone) and when Emory is found dead David is the natural suspect.

H.B. Warner plays the defence attorney who does an excellent job though the case isn't blown open until David's mother Mary (Sarah Padden) turns up to tell the true nature of Emory and David.

The film takes place mostly in the courtroom with flashbacks to show the testimony of the witnesses. The courtroom scenes are excellent and tense, the whole film being well paced. The only problem with the film is that the case against David is actually pretty flimsy in the first place. The police don't seem to have done a lot of investigation and not found any actual direct evidence he did anything. Still the truth is out in the end.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Phantom from Space (1953)

A low-budget science-fiction romp. Flying saucers, aliens in strange suits et cetera. A UFO is spotted heading over the US but later disappears.

Lieutenant Hazen (Ted Cooper) is with the Federal Communications Commission investigating mysterious radio signals and comes across two men stricken by radiation. A survivor claims a strange man in a suit attacked them. A man with no head.

Later on more mysterious deaths occurred, explosions at an oil refinery and more radio interference. Unfortunately for our heroes (but fortunately for the budget) the alien is invisible outside of his suit...

It's a reasonable film though thats start off with little real action though does improve later on. There isn't much in the way of characterization (that is invisible like the alien) or much in the way of plot but it's not a bad film. One good aspect is that the female lead Betty (Lela Nelson) does more than just run around screaming. It also has a fair amount of suspense and some interesting "Invisible Man" type effects.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Philo Vance's Gamble (1947)

A Philo Vance story with Noir-ish elements (i.e. people get bumped off at regular intervals). An emerald has been stolen but before the fence (Dan Seymour) can double cross his syndicate of backers and his mistress he is bumped off.

Unfortunately for Philo Vance (played by Alan Curtis this time) he is present due to an association with Laurien March (Vivian Austin) and thus the police include him as a suspect.

Vance conducts his own investigation assisted/hindered by his rather dopey detective Ernie (Frank Jenks) who provides a bit of comic relief. The film is fast paced with some decent lines and nicely dark in the right areas. The ending also has a really nice twist.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

American Ninja (1985)

Ninja films were all the rage for a time in the 1980s, this might be considered the high point of the genre. At least it looks like it had a budget of more than 20p.

The story is fairly basic: it starts a boy who has grown up on the wrong side of the tracks (Michael Dudikoff) but is now in the US Army gets tangled up with ninjas but has their skills himself. He is later found to have been bought up by a Japanese soldier/ninja but has forgotten his past due to amnesia (of course).

Meanwhile a black marketeer is stealing US Army weapons and hiring ninjas. Now it falls to our hero to save the day of course. So that's the story, naturally it is just a flimsy framework for a good deal of martial arts action. The action is often pretty decent and the film seldom has chance to get boring.

Naturally it is also pretty cheesy, especially when viewed nowadays. I particularly liked the evil ninja who had laser guns and mini rocket launchers.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Troublesome Night 4 (1998)

The Troublesome Night series of horror films amazingly went up to nineteen but let's stick with one of the earlier efforts.

A group from HK go to the Philippines for a tour, and here are three ghost stories set around their tour. One guy is transporting an urn containing the ashes of a Filipina who died in HK. As he heads to deliver his pack he keeps seeing a girl in the mirror and even in the shower. She looks exactly like the girl whos ashes he's now carrying!

So that is the kind of fare on show here. The frights are more the Carry On Screaming type than the Driller Killer kind of horror. Plenty of ghosts appearing suddenly and people screaming. And it's all quite funny, sometimes intentionally too.

The film is a typical late 90s silly HK slapstick packed with contemporary pop culture and HK life references. If you like that kind of thing you'll like this film, though some of the references are dated now. The honeymoon couple story (starring Louis Koo and Pauline Suen) and the urn story are reasonably good ghost stories, the third story about three horny guys is a bit of a zombiefest yawn but you can't win them all.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Grief Street (1931)

A theatre actor Alvin Merle (Crauford Kent) is found murdered in his dressing room, and thus an average murder mystery is set off. The dressing room was locked and apparently no one entered the room so how was he killed?

There are plenty of suspects, the victim was a womaniser and rather rude to all and sundry. The police investigation proceeds apace though a rather stupid Sergeant tries to do his best to stink out every scene he is in by overdoing the aggression. The focus of the film though is reporter Jim Ryan (John Holland) who is on the story (and given remarkable access to the police investigation) and young actress Jean Royce (Barbara Kent) who is in the possession of a rather incriminating note...

The film is fine, just rather unexceptional. It plods along, the dialogue is oddly stilted at times (with the odd funny line) but the film has great production values. A neat feature of the film is that you think the murder takes place right in the first scene but its really on stage... the real crime follows soon after.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Bombay Waterfront (1952)

The Marquis is a serial killer terrorising London. While the police have no leads the amateur detective Paul Temple (John Bentley) is on the case - this is the last in a short series of Paul Temple films - indeed it's alternative title is Paul Temple Returns. In fact Temple is warned off by The Marquis even before he is on the case which is a bit of an odd move to be honest.

Temple and his wife Steve (Patricia Dainton) obviously arn't put off by these warnings and begin investigating the case even though the police led by Ross (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) are not keen for the help...

Everyone is frightfully posh (apart from a rather dated stereotype Burmese servant) and the film proceeds at a decent tempo with an interesting view of early 1950s London. Paul Temple is a bit bland as a detective and somewhat smug but the film has a good supporting cast including Christopher Lee as a rather creepy Egyptologist and Robert Urquhart.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Mystery Train (1931)

This drama is book-ended by train perils. It stars Hedda Hopper as Miriam, a near-bankrupt businesswoman who needs to marry a daughter off to a rich young man to get her hands on his inheritance. Unfortunately she doesn't have one...

Then after a train crash she comes across a young girl called Joan (Marceline Day) who has been wrongly convicted of a crime and now on the run. Miriam makes Joan her "niece" and targets the young man for marriage.

Luckily Joan and the rich young man Ronald (Nick Stuart) fall in love without any more schemes by Miriam. However Joan doesn't want to go through with the plan but Miriam threatens her...

It is an interesting and charming little film which ends with another railway adventure. Some of the dialogue and acting is a little stilted but the film flows nicely. The railway scenes are very well done.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Charlie Shanghaied (1915)

Another Charlie Chaplin comedy short. An unscrupulous ship captain (Wesley Ruggles) wants to scuttle his ship so he can get the insurance money. However he needs a crew for a final fatal voyage...

It just so happens the captain's daughter (Edna Purviance - of course, she often played the leading lady in Charlie Chaplin films of this era) is in love with a tramp (Charlie - of course). The captain gets Charlie to shanghai him some crew... and then shanghais Charlie too.

So its a Charlie Chaplin slapstick farce at sea - causing various mayhem and eventually foiling the plan to blow up the ship. An enjoyable film, especially as there is some actual story to hang the action on.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Phantom in the House (1929)

An early talkie, and a bit rough around the edges but an interesting story. A woman (Nancy Welford) kills a man trying to take advantage of her. Her husband (Henry B. Walthall) takes the fall and ends up in prison for fifteen years.

When he finally is released he finds his wife has moved on into high society - and it's overjoyed to have him back - and his baby daughter is now a fully grown woman (Grace Valentine) being pursued by a titled womaniser while in love with Paul (Ricardo Cortez).

Many talkies suffered from rather stilted and unnatural dialogue and static camerawork due to the limited nature of the technology at the time and The Phantom in the House is no exception (though not the worst). Some of the acting is also awkward, actors were still getting used to talking on film though Walthall does really well. However it is an interesting film, with a good if sometimes pretty dark story. Plus it had some truly great set design.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Seven Doors to Death (1944)

Jimmy (Chick Chandler) gets mixed up in a murder case when one of the suspects Mary (June Clyde) jumps on his car - and he promptly crashes it.

Jimmy doesn't think Mary has committed the murder though (maybe because he fancies her - though still wants to charge her for repairs to his car), instead it appears to be someone who lives behind one of the doors in a small shopping precinct which includes her shop. While the police (Michael Raffetto) begin their investigation Jimmy and Mary also look for the killer... before he gets them.

A pleasing B-movie though lacks much in the way of suspense. The chemistry between Jimmy and Mary is good and the film had sufficient humour and energy to make it worthwhile if not particularly Earth shattering.

Monday, June 18, 2018

I'll Name the Murderer (1936)

A neat little murder mystery about the killing of a black mailer and singer (Agnes Anderson) at Luigi's Cafe.

Being a Golden Age type story there is of course an amateur detective who leads the police a merry dance. This time it's newspaper gossip column writer Tommy Tilton (Ralph Forbes).

There are a number of possible suspects including the victim's ex (and target of her blackmailing) Ted (Malcolm McGregor), love rivals and also cafe owner Luigi (Harry Semels) himself who is in financial trouble. Tommy boasts he will reveal the murderer in his column. The problem with his boast is that he doesn't really have much to back up his bravado but the investigation is on.

An enjoyable little film, a bit creaky and low budget but the story proceeds at apace. Tommy is played with plenty of cheek. Whether a playboy is credible as an amateur detective is another question.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Silent Night Deadly Night 2 (1987)

Silent Night Deadly Night 2 is a sequel which includes so much of the first movie it means you are quite safe to start with this one. A weird kind of Christmas movie though not very festive in theme being a rather bizarre horror film / black comedy.

Ricky (Eric Freeman) is the brother of the murderer in the first movie, and is in a psychiatric hospital following murders he has committed. He recounts his brother's murders to a psychologist using recycled footage from the first movie...

Then we see Ricky's own murder spree, killing people he thinks are "naughty". Ricky then escapes from hospital, kills a Santa and steals the outfit (thus making the film festive I guess)...

It doesn't sound very funny from the description but is executed so ridiculously you can't help but laugh. The budget was so low they needed to re-use so much old footage and the new footage is pretty ropey and badly acted. Random scenes and dialogue also add to the weirdness. A deserved cult classic, the film has become quite (in)famous for the following scene (which quite frankly is the best thing about the entire film):

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Death at Broadcasting House (1934)

A radio play at the BBC is being broadcast, one of the actors is "murdered" in the play and puts on a terrific performance, you'd almost think he was being murdered for real... oh he is!

The victim has a number of enemies including some of his fellow actors including Dryden (Austin Trevor) who suspiciously left the studio during the performance. And who exactly was the foolish toff (Peter Haddon) wandering Broadcasting House?

The police investigation by the Inspector (Ian Hunter) proceeds well including a rather curious watch listening scene. The acting is at times rather melodramatic (and everyone is frightfully posh - actors in broadcasts back in those days performed in top hats and evening gowns) but rather suits such a setting. A lovely film with a good cast including Henry Kendall and Jack Hawkins. It also includes a couple of songs by popular singers of the day (Elizabeth Welch and Eve Becke) and the mystery of why a tap dance routine is broadcast on the radio.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Last Woman on Earth (1960)

Last Woman on Earth has a rather interesting premise, some mysterious catastrophe has wiped out the world population apart from three people. How do they survive especially when the three people consists of two men in love with the same woman?

The action takes place in Puerto Rico. Anthony Carbone is a crooked businessman hiding out from the law with his wife Evelyn (Betsy Jones-Moreland) and his lawyer Martin (Robert Towne). They are underwater when disaster strikes, something wiping out the world's oxygen. When they return to the surface they find everyone asphyxiated, luckily plants begin restoring the world's oxygen supply before their scuba tanks run out of air.

The film then becomes a love triangle with the two men fighting to assert their superiority. Well it can't end well as you expect. The film is pretty low-budget (helped greatly by killing off everyone else apart from the three main actors of course) and sometimes a bit slow but has some great ideas and the suddenly de-populated world is rather creepy. It is just a shame the new world was not explored more, there must have been other survivors somewhere for example? One silly thing is Evelyn somehow managed to keep her perfect hairdo and supply of lovely dresses even though the two men get reduced to rags.