Friday, 17 August 2018

Sandokan the Great (1963)

Sandokan the Great is a rollicking and rather stylish adventure tale of pirates but with a number of features that make it quite different from the usual run of pirates movies. Firstly the action takes place in the South China Sea and the jungles of Borneo, a long long way from the Spanish Main. And secondly, the British are very much the bad guys.

This 1963 Italian/French/Spanish co-production was directed by Umberto Lenzi and was based on the first of the Sandokan novels, The Tigers of Mompracem, by 19th century Italian writer Emilio Salgari.

Steve Reeves stars as the brave and daring Malay pirate Sandokan. With Reeves as the star you might be expecting this to be a kind of peplum but with a 19th century setting and perhaps that’s not all that far from the mark.

The plot of the movie is only loosely based on the novel but it captures the spirit quite effectively. Sandokan’s father is the rajah of a small principality in Borneo but he has been deposed by the British who intend to execute him. Sandokan has no intention of allowing them to get away with that sort of thing and if stopping them means taking on the might of the British Empire then that’s how it’s going to be.

Sandokan’s first move is a raid on the fortified house of the British commander at Fort VIctoria, Lord Guillonk. He kidnaps Lord Guillonk’s niece Mary Ann. She is outraged by the thought of being kidnapped by pirates. On the other hand Sandokan is very handsome and very dashing and pirates are kinda sexy so maybe being kidnapped isn’t quite so bad as it seemed at first.

Sandokan’s right-hand man, the Portuguese adventurer Yanez (Andrea Bosic), also points out to her (quite correctly) that given the nature of British colonial policy the British are in no position to complain about the ethics of piracy. And since they did murder most of Sandokan’s family it’s perhaps not surprising that Sandokan is not a fan of the British. Yanez also points out that Sandokan’s followers have been forced into piracy by the policies of the European colonial powers. This little scene is important because Sandokan is the hero of the film and we need to know that he is one of the good guys.

Sandokan is now being hunted by Lord Guillonk’s men and he sets off to cross the island, which means braving unexplored swamps and jungles, a challenging enough feat but even more difficult with Mary Ann in tow and with Yanez not fully recovered from a bullet wound.

The Sandokan of the novel is an inspiring and charismatic leader but also impulsive and inclined to errors of judgment. He’s a lot more mercurial than his film counterpart. Steve Reeves has decided instead to go for dignity and quiet authority. It’s a perfectly valid approach and his performance is more than adequate. In fact it’s pretty good. There are some hints of Sandokan’s chronic over-confidence - his plan to cross the island in the face of impassable swamps and headhunters was not a terrifically great idea. Sandokan’s men have absolute confidence in him but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he always knows what he’s doing.

Geneviève Grad as Mary Ann is a likeable enough heroine. Leo Anchóriz is suitably malevolent as the dastardly villainous Lord Guillonk.

Although this is a pirate movie there are no sea battles. Presumably the budget wasn’t sufficient to contemplate anything so ambitious. The main problem is that the pacing drags a bit in the middle. On the other hand when the action starts to pick up towards the end it’s worth the wait. The final battle scenes are quite spectacular.

What is particularly impressive is the way the fortunes of war keep swinging wildly back and forth in the last portion of the film. Every time things are looking up for Sandokan it all falls apart again and then just when it’s obviously entirely hopeless his uncanny luck kicks in and he’s back on top again. It’s all suitably nail-biting but it’s more than that. While by this stage the movie has long since abandoned the plot of the novel these outrageous swings of fortune are totally consistent with the Sandokan of the novel. There is nothing rational or calculating about him - he’s a man who is always prepared to put his faith in fate. If God wills it he will survive and keep fighting. His absolute fatalism makes him a fascinatingly non-European style of hero.

Director Umberto Lenzi tried his hand at just about every low-budget genre at some stage (and he would return to jungle settings in controversial fashion with his cannibal movies  later in his career). He does a solid if not overly inspiring job here. The location shooting in Sri Lanka is impressive. It gives the movie an authentically exotic feel.

The danger with the anti-colonialist message (which is there in Salgari’s novel as well) is the very real danger of succumbing to excessive preachiness. That’s something I always intensely dislike in any film, whether I agree with the message or not. I don’t find it to be a problem here, possibly because the British are depicted as over-the-top melodrama villains.

While most of the plot points are clear enough it probably is an advantage if you’re familiar with the books. Salgari was, and to some extent still is, extremely popular on the Continent and there had been several earlier movies based on his books so the screenwriters probably assumed that most European viewers would have some acquaintance with Sandokan.

The Warner Archive DVD-R offers an extremely nice anamorphic transfer and that’s important because this movie, shot in Technicolor and in the Cinemascope aspect ratio, relies a great deal on the gorgeous location photography.

Sandokan the Great has some major things in its favour, namely the unusual and exotic setting and the even more unusual and exotic hero. These things, along with the bravura extended action finale, are enough to compensate for a few minor problems of pacing an coherence. On the whole this is an enjoyable adventure flick. Highly recommended.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Time Travelers (TV-movie, 1976)

Time Travelers is pretty unusual - you don't get many collaborations between Irwin Allen and Rod Serling. It’s a TV-movie that was actually made in 1976 as a pilot for a projected Irwin Allen television series that never eventuated.

What's most surprising about this production is that it's actually quite a decent (and even moderately intelligent) science fiction movie.

Here's the link to my review on Cult TV Lounge.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Carry On Regardless (1961)

Carry On Regardless was the fifth of the Carry On films. It was released in 1961.

Carry On films in general are not renowned for complex plotting but this one is almost entirely plotless. It’s actually nothing more than a series of sketches. That’s not really a problem. The quality of the sketches is variable but most are fairly amusing. The extraordinarily strong cast helps a good deal.

The premise is that a group of desperate unemployed people have answered a newspaper advertisement placed by the Helping Hands Agency. The agency is run by Bert Handy (Sid James). The agency claims to be able to provide people to do just about any temporary job that can be imagined. Naturally the enthusiastic but hapless assortment of misfits assembled by Bert Handy usually manage to make a fairly spectacular mess of things.

They create mayhem in a hospital, on a railway station, and at an Ideal Home Exhibition. They almost manage to break up numerous marriages. They are hopeless enough when sent to the correct assignments but when the scheduling system at the Helping Hands office goes awry and they start getting sent to the wrong assignments it all becomes total chaos.

There are some quite clever moments, and even some inspired ones such as the marvellous spoof of The 39 Steps (including the famous Forth Bridge train scene).

This film has most of the early Carry On regulars - Sid James, Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey, Kenneth Connor, Joan Sims and Hattie Jacques. This was the final appearance by Terence Longdon who’d been made in most of the early Carry Ons and it’s the first appearance by the delightful Liz Fraser who ended up making four Carry On films. Sid James had joined the team in the previous entry, Carry On Constable, and was already becoming the star player.

The episodic format of this film meant that there were appearances in minor rôles by a truly extraordinary wealth of British comic talent - Patrick Cargill, Sydney Tafler, Fenella Fielding (who was later to be a memorable sexpot in Carry On Screaming), Eric Pohlmann, Howard Marion-Crawford and countless others.

A particular highlight is the appearance by Stanley Unwin. Unwin was a unique comic talent. His trademark was his ability to speak fluent Unwinese. This was a private nonsense language he’d invented. What made it clever was that it wasn’t mere gibberish. There was a system to the way he mangled ordinary words and it was always on the borderline between making sense and not making sense. You could more or less figure out what he was saying even when you couldn’t understand a single actual word. And it sounded like a real language and had a rhythm to it. Unwinese is used very cleverly in this film.

There’s some mildly risque stuff but it’s rather tame compared to the later Carry Ons. One of the fascinating things about the Carry On series is that they were made over a time period (1958 to 1978) that saw censorship go from being quite strict to being almost non-existent. At first it seemed like a good thing. The Carry Ons were arguably at their peak from about 1964 (Carry On Spying) to 1971 (Carry On Henry). They were able to get away with being cheerfully naughty without descending to crassness. By the late 70s crassness was becoming the order of the day and the decline of British comedy was well and truly under way. Comedy needs some limits. It needs some discipline.

Of course this time period also charts the long sad tragic decline of the British film industry which was booming in the late 50s and had become a walking corpse by the late 70s.

This is possibly the most good-natured film of the series with the crew of misfits at the Helping Hands Agency actually having a certain camaraderie and even a certain affection for one another.

On the whole the format of loosely linked sketches works well and it helps to keep the pacing brisk.

The ITV Studios DVD (part of their Carry On Ultimate Collection boxed set) offers a very good anamorphic transfer and the extras include an audio commentary featuring Liz Fraser (who interestingly enough blames the Carry On movies for wrecking her career!) and Terence Longdon.

Carry On Regardless is perhaps not one of the very best of the Carry On movies but it’s far from being the worst. In fact it's unfairly underrated. It’s consistently amusing and it can certainly be recommended.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The Thing (1982)

John W. Campbell's classic 1938 science fiction novella Who Goes There? was first brought to the screen by Howard Hawks in 1951, under the title The Thing from Another World. This is a much-revered 50s sci-fi movie although if you’re familiar with Campbell’s novella it’s a bit disappointing. Given the enormous influence that the films of Howard Hawks had on his work it’s not altogether surprising that in 1982 John Carpenter chose to do a remake, to be titled simply The Thing. Carpenter decided to stick rather more closely to Campbell’s story.

The movie opens in spectacular but enigmatic fashion, with a helicopter pursuing a dog over an icy landscape. The helicopter is piloted by a crazed Norwegian and it lands at a U.S. base in Antarctica. The helicopter has come from a nearby Norwegian base and when a group of the Americans checks out the Norwegian base they begin to get an inkling of the horror about to engulf them. Those Norwegians found a wrecked spaceship and they awakened something that had been sleeping in the ice for a hundred thousand years. That something is a shape-shifting monster.

This is essentially a paranoia story, with the paranoia made considerably worse by isolation and claustrophobia. Bad weather conditions mean the U.S. base is out of contact with the outside world. And that monster can take on the appearance of any living thing. Any of the twelve crew members at the case could have been taken over by the monster and there is absolutely no way of telling. It’s an inherently frightening idea and Carpenter extracts every ounce of terror from it.

The problem for these guys at the base is not the usual horror movie problem of how to destroy the monster, although obviously they need to do that as well. Mostly though they need to find a way to tell who’s been infected and who hasn’t, and that’s almost impossible to do.

The monster is certainly terrifying but it’s also fascinatingly ambiguous. It’s not actually evil.  It just wants to survive. It intends to do whatever it takes in order to survive. It’s like any kind of predator. To survive it has to kill. From our point of view it’s evil, but then from the point of a prey species a predator does seem evil. The monster is also absolutely and implacably alien.

The movie is about the monster but mostly it’s about the men who have to face its onslaught. They’re not soldiers and they’re not heroes. They are to some extent misfits, because after all spending very long periods of time cut off from civilisation in the middle of Antarctica is the kind of thing that is inevitably going to attract misfits. They have to function as part of a team but it doesn’t come naturally to them. They are afraid and they are suspicious. Faced with an appalling situation they have to do the best they can. Some of them do poorly and some perform fairly well.

It’s also about leadership, but it doesn’t approach the subject in the familiar Hollywood sort of way. Helicopter pilot MacReady (Kurt Russell) ends up as leader because he’s the only one who is both willing to take the job on and capable of doing so. He doesn’t suggest putting the matter to a vote. When it becomes necessary he simply takes over. His main qualifications for the job are his ability to assess the situation in a brutally realistic manner and to take whatever steps need to be taken. If that requires shooting someone who gets in his way then he’s quite prepared to do so. He’s a leader, not a contestant in a popularity contest. He doesn’t care if he’s obeyed out of fear rather than love, as long as he’s obeyed. He’s really a quiet inoffensive kind of guy but he knows what has to be done and he accepts the consequences.

There is one weakness which Carpenter alludes to in the audio commentary - there are twelve main characters and they’re not very well defined. There are a number of characters who really serve no purpose other than to distract and confuse the audience. Eliminating two or three of the characters would have enabled the remaining characters to be developed in a bit more depth.

Having said this I have to add that the acting is generally extremely good.

This is a visually stunning movie. It’s not just the special effects. The location photography is gorgeous, the sets are terrific, Dean Cundey’s cinematography is breathtaking. This was Carpenter’s first big-budget major studio movie and every penny of the budget is well spent. There are also some extraordinary action scenes with as many explosions as an action fan could wish for, and some very cool flamethrower sequences.

One of the things that makes this film so visually arresting is the constant juxtaposition of ice and fire. Fire is virtually the only effective weapon against the monster and fire seems particularly menacing in a landscape of snow and ice and bitter cold. And there’s no question that explosions look particularly impressive in an icy landscape.

The Thing proved to be a bit of a box-office disaster. Various reasons have been suggested for this. My feeling is that this movie has an identity crisis. The outrageous totally over-the-top gore tends to mark this down as a trashy drive-in movie for teenagers. But it’s not a trashy drive-in movie for teenagers. It’s a thoughtful, intelligent and rather serious science fiction movie exploring some interesting themes. It’s a movie about men under extreme pressure, it’s about fear and suspicion, it’s about trust and what happens when trust becomes impossible, it’s about doing what has to be done even when it’s very unpleasant. But what audiences tended to notice was the violence and the gore.

This movie is also notable for having not a single female character, not even in a bit part, for which it was (quite absurdly) attacked by some critics.

The Thing looks great on Blu-Ray. There’s more than one Blu-Ray release. There’s a barebones release and there’s a special edition release with lots of special features. That’s the one to go for because, among other extras, it includes an audio commentary by John Carpenter and Kurt Russell and their commentaries are always a joy.

The Thing’s reputation has grown considerably since its release. Despite the excessiveness of the gore it’s an extremely fine exercise in science fiction horror and it’s highly recommended.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Escape from New York (1981)

Escape from New York is John Carpenter’s iconic 1981 science fiction action adventure flick about breaking into the world’s toughest prison. The prison is Manhattan. In the future world of the movie the whole of Manhattan Island has been turned into a maximum security prison, this being seen as the only answer to the ever-increasing crime problem.

This is a prison that nobody ever leaves. Once you’re there you’re there for life. There are no guards on the island. The prisoners can do whatever the hell they like. Nobody cares. The whole island is surrounded by walls, minefields, sophisticated surveillance system, helicopter patrols, you name it. No-one has managed to escape. Escape truly is impossible.

But in this story the problem is that first it’s going to be necessary not to break out but to break into the prison, and then get out again. The reason it’s necessary to get in is that the President of the United States is there. His plane was hijacked by urban terrorists. Not only that, the President has with him an incredibly vital recording and that recording is going to be needed within 24 hours at a major international conference. The fate of the world depends on that recording. Which means there’s a time limit. The President has to be extracted and it has to be done within 24 hours.

And it can’t be done by conventional means because the President has fallen into the hands of some very nasty people and if they see a single helicopter or a single soldier trying to mount a rescue mission they’ll kill the President immediately.

The man in charge of the prison is Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) and he has a plan. Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is a slightly psychotic ex-special forces guy turned bank robber and he’s about to be sent to the Manhattan Prison. Hauk offers him a full pardon if he can get the President out. The task is impossible but Snake Plissken may just be mean enough and crazy enough to pull it off.

Needless to say there’s a fair amount of mayhem once Snake is infiltrated into the prison (by glider). Snake manages to accumulate a number of allies. They’re vicious and/or entirely untrustworthy but that doesn’t bother Snake. What matters is that they may be useful to him. These allies include Cabby (Ernest Borgnine) who seems to be New York’s only surviving cab driver, and also Brain (Harry Dean Stanton) and his girlfriend Maggie (Adrienne Barbeau). Brain is a kind of scientific advisor to the self-appointed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).

There’s plenty of violence and it can get fairly brutal at times although it’s not as extreme as you might expect. There’s certainly no actual gore.

The acting is a major strength of the film. Kurt Russell is terrific as the totally amoral totally ruthless Snake, a man more cut out to be a villain but in the insane and evil world of the movie he’s the closest thing there is to a hero. Snake just doesn’t care about anything, which is why he has a chance of succeeding. Lee Van Cleef as Hauk is pretty similar to Snake. He’s ruthless and amoral but he happens to be, technically at least, one of the good guys. Isaac Hayes is suitably malevolent. Ernest Borgnine and Harry Dean Stanton both put plenty of enthusiasm into their performances.

Donald Pleasence plays the President. He’s also technically one of the good guys, and he’s also in reality just as ruthless and amoral as Snake Plissken. The only difference is that being a politician he adds hypocrisy to the mix of endearing personality features.

The movie was made on a budget of around six-and-a-half million dollars. That was a lot more than Carpenter’s previous films but Escape from New York is an insanely ambitious movie for such a budget. The extraordinary thing is that visually it works, and works very well indeed. The special effects were done ultra cheaply and they look splendid. The whole look of the movie is dark and sinister and incredibly hostile. The visual style has been copied countless times since.

This is a move made entirely with old school special effects. Everything is done with animation, or miniatures, or matte paintings or the other techniques that pre-dated CGI. When you take this, and the low budget, into consideration Carpenter’s achievement really is phenomenal. This movie is an object lesson in what you can achieve visually with talent, imagination and hard work.

Insofar as the movie has a message it seems to be that the only thing that does more harm to society than out-of-control violence is out-of-control law enforcement. The world of Escape from New York is a complete moral vacuum. When men like Snake Plissken and Hauk look like heroes you have a society that has a lot of problems. This is a fairly bleak dystopian tale. What’s interesting is that we don’t get any glimpses of what “normal” society looks like.

I’m not saying that it’s all that profound in the political and social points it makes. It does have a fair amount of leftover 70s cynicism and paranoia. At least we don’t get any speeches.

The Region 4 Special Edition DVD comes with a pleasing swag of extras including two audio commentaries. The really good news is that one of the commentary tracks features John Carpenter and Kurt Russell. There’s nothing more enjoyable than hearing Carpenter and Russell talking about the movies they made together.

This movie is stylish and it’s fun and it was a definite hit. There would be lots of violent action movies made in the following couple of decades but Escape from New York has a bit more class than most of them, and Snake Plissken as played by Kurt Russell is one of the great action heroes. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

The Village of the Damned (1995)

There are certain movies that I tend to go out of my way to avoid seeing, for varying reasons. One of the movies I’ve avoided is John Carpenter’s 1995 version of The Village of the Damned. In this particular case my reasons for avoiding the movie were quite clear-cut. First off, I liked Wolf Rilla’s 1960 version so much I couldn’t see how anyone could possibly improve on it. Secondly, I’ve always disliked movies that Americanise English subject matter. In this case my second objection is even stronger than usual, given that John Wyndham was perhaps the most quintessentially English of all science fiction writers. And The Midwich Cuckoos was the most quintessentially English of Wyndham’s novels. An adaptation of that novel set in the United States sounded like a seriously poor idea.

Nonetheless the 1995 version of The Village of the Damned is a John Carpenter movie and I do generally like John Carpenter movies, so I have set aside my prejudices and here I am reviewing it.

One day everybody in the town of Midwich loses consciousness. All the animals lose consciousness as well. Some hours later they all regain consciousness. No-one has any idea what has happened or why. The government has sent Dr Susan Verner (Kirstie Alley) to investigate. While she’s certainly a doctor it’s reasonable to assume that she has some intimate connections with the intelligence community.

It soon becomes apparent that every single woman of child-bearing age in Midwich is pregnant and they all fell pregnant on the day of the unexplained blackout. It’s obvious that something very strange is going on. There is simply no possible way that some of these women could be pregnant, but they are. And they all decide to keep their babies.

The children grow up very fast. They are extremely bright but lack any kind of empathy. They’re not actually emotionless - in fact they display an excessively emotional need for revenge if they suffer any injury or even a minor inconvenience. This is one of the elements in the story that worked fine in the 1960 movie but seems inconsistent and meddled in this version.

Dr Verner is still hanging around and giving the impression she knows more than she’s prepared to reveal publicly. She seems to have been added to the story to give it a bit of an X-Files vibe, with a vague suggestion that maybe the government knows more than it’s prepared to let on as well. She chain smokes through the move so you could describe her as the movie’s faintly sinister Cigarette Smoking Woman.

The children become more obviously evil. It’s not just Midwich’s future that looks bleak, these kids could be a threat to the whole planet.

There are so many things wrong with this movie that it’s hard to know where to start. There’s no subtlety in the portrayal of the children. Right from the start they are clearly Demon Children From Hell and their evilness is so blatant you have to wonder why everybody else in the town doesn’t just leave. For the story to work it’s necessary that the women should make serious attempts to bond with the children and should be genuinely emotionally conflicted about them. Nobody could be emotionally conflicted about these little horrors. It’s also necessary that the strangeness of the children should be revealed slowly, so that at first it’s still possible for people to convince themselves that they’re just normal kids. All of this was done successfully in the 1960 film and the 1995 film fails on every count.

There’s a much bigger problem. John Wyndham had a deep love for traditional English society, and he felt that things were changing rapidly and not necessarily for the better. The Midwich Cuckoos is a kind of allegory of the rise of soulless mass society. The Midwich of his novel was a creation that the author cared about and the reader cannot help feeling emotionally involved in the tragic fate that seems to be the village’s destiny. All of that is lost in Carpenter’s film. His Midwich is already soulless so why would anybody care if it’s threatened?

The characters are dull and the acting is dull. Terrible things happen to the local doctor, Dr Chaffee, but Christopher Reeve’s performance is so colourless and uninvolved that Dr Chaffee is even more robotic than the demon children. The other actors make no impression whatsoever and their characters are so uninteresting that I found it difficult to keep track of them.

Kirstie Alley tries to be cynical and sinister but she doesn’t really have the acting chops to make Dr Verner anything more than a cipher.

The special effects are OK but they’re not really any improvement on the 1960 movie.

There are some minor changes to the story, notably in regard to the David character, but they’re muddled and unconvincing.

By 1995 Carpenter’s once promising career was definitely on the skids. He no longer had enough commercial clout to be given the level of creative control necessary to do something interesting with the material and he knew it. He didn’t want to make The Village of the Damned and he didn’t have final cut and he had major disagreements with the studio and it seems likely that he just lost interest and was only thinking of the pay cheque. It’s ironic that the commercial failures that derailed his career were in fact some of the best and most interesting movies of his career (movies like The Thing and Big Trouble in Little China). This must have been more than a little disillusioning. Unfortunately The Village of the Damned was not the sort of movie that was going to get his career back on track.

The overwhelming impression I get from this movie is pointlessness. It’s inferior in every way to the 1960 film and it adds absolutely nothing of value to the story.

I found myself not caring what happened to Midwich or its inhabitants who seemed no more convincingly human than the evil alien children.

I really can’t think of any reason whatsoever why anyone would want to see this movie.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Bat (1959)

By 1959 the Old Dark House movie was getting rather long in the tooth as a concept but it was a genre that seemingly just wouldn’t die. The 1959 The Bat, directed by Crane Wilbur and starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, was yet another version of the venerable stage hit written by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. There had been a silent version in 1926 and a sound version (with the title The Bat Whispers in 1930).

Agnes Moorehead plays popular mystery writer Cornelia van Gorder who has rented a spooky mansion called The Oaks. She and her secretary Lizzie (Lenita Lane) are alone in the house because the entire domestic staff has quit. They’re afraid of The Bat, a mysterious killer who has been terrorising the local community. They’re also afraid of actual bats, following a newspaper report that the bats in this area are infected with rabies.

The Oaks belongs to the local bank president, a man named Fleming. He’s gone off on a hunting trip with his physician, Dr Malcolm Wells.

A very large amount of money has been embezzled from the bank and the nice young bank vice-president, Victor Bailey, has been arrested for the crime.

There are at least three major sub-plots and the connections between them are pretty tenuous.

There are all the standard ingredients of the Old Dark House film. There are secret passageways and masked villains and lots of running about and screaming.

It’s Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead who make this movie worth seeing, insofar as it’s worth seeing at all. The other cast members are distinctly unmemorable.

Price gives one of his more understated performances but of course he still manages to be pretty creepy.

Moorehead was a much admired actress and this film gives her a rare chance to play a leading rôle. And she has a great deal of fun as the feisty mystery novelist.

Crane Wilbur, who write and directed The Bat, had a lengthy career in film, starting as an actor and moving on to directing. A lengthy career, but not a particularly distinguished one.

Creaky is the word that is inevitably going to be used when describing this movie. Not only does it belong to a genre whose glory days were the 1930s, it really does feel very 1930s stylistically as well. There’s a heavy reliance on shadowy outlines of sinister figures to provide scares. Compared to the horror movies that were being made by Hammer at about this time it must have seemed pretty tame even to contemporary audiences.

Of course any Old Dark House movie is going to have that problem of feeling dated. It’s an inherently very old-fashioned concept. The original play made its Broadway debut in 1920, so it actually pre-dates what we think of as the golden age of the detective story. The difficulty with trying to revive The Bat as a movie in 1959 is that it was either going to feel very old-fashioned, or it was going to end up with a high camp feel. The movie mostly ends up just being old-fashioned.

I personally like old-fashioned things, and I have a certain fondness for the genre but even back in the 30s Old Dark House movies were something of a hit and miss proposition.

There are numerous public domain version of the his movie floating around. Surprisingly enough it’s actually had not only an official DVD release but a Blu-Ray release as well. The version I saw was a public domain copy and the quality was atrocious. The question you have to ask yourself is whether you would bother spending real money buying the Blu-Ray or the apparently excellent Anchor Bay DVD. This really is not the kind of movie you’re likely to watch again and again.

If you’re a hardcore fan of Vincent Price or Agnes Moorehead you might get some enjoyment from this movie, otherwise you’d have to be a pretty enthusiastic devotee of Old Dark House films to bother with this one. If you want a really good Old Dark House movie, check out One Frightened Night or Tomorrow at Seven.