I Bury the Living (1958)

Imagine discovering that you have the power over life and death for certain persons. With a simple action you can decide who dies within the next few hours. Of course, that is not necessarily a pleasant discovery, and since you doubt that it can be true, you have to try again. And again. And even when you are entirely convinced yourself, people around you think you are crazy, and even urge you to test it upon themselves.

Such is the story of the wonderful B horror I Bury the Living. Robert has just taken over as Chairman of a quiet little cemetery, when he notices that just by putting a black pin (for deceased) in a certain grave plot on the big cemetery map, he can prematurely terminate the life of the person who has bought that plot.

Richard Boone in I Bury the Living (1958)

Surrounding the ever more confused and desperate Robert is a number of interesting characters: His supportive fiancée, the Scottish cemetery caretaker, his uncle George and a somewhat bewildered police lieutenant. All of these will react in very different ways to Robert’s problems.

Several people, apparently including Stephen King, have criticised the ending of this film. I can understand, and to some extent agree with that criticism, since the ending breaks with the film’s otherwise tense mood. The current ending also makes the film’s genre is a bit ambiguous. But I am not one to complain. On the whole, I Bury the Living is a delightful little horror/thriller.

This film is best enjoyed for the intense feeling of suspense. The plot, when you start to think about it, has a number of glaring gaps, but the music, the photo and the excellent actors give you no time to ponder over such trivialities.

Peggy Maurer and Richard Boone in I Bury the Living (1958)

I Bury the Living
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Year: 1958
Running time: 1 h 17 min
Director: Albert Band
Stars: Richard Boone
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

Vampyr (1932)

I think it is a fair statement that the modern horror genre was born out of a marriage between the German Expressionism's easthetics and Hollywood’s big-budget, mainstream storytelling tradition. For good or bad, that combination has dominated horror film world-wide ever since.

But there were certainly other directions it could have taken. And did, in some cases. Carl Theodor Dreyer showed us a glimpse of one possible influence of avant-garde thinking in the horror genre in his first sound film, Vampyr.

Nicolas de Gunzburg (Julian West) in Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr (1932)

In spite of the German language of this particular print, the film was produced in France. Like most French films from around this period, it has problems with the soundtrack, which is somewhat inexpertly dubbed afterwards. Look, for example, at Zéro de conduite (1933), which is even worse, and then compare with the Hollywood film White Zombie (1932). Even though the American film suffers from inferior recording equipment (compared with what would be the norm just a few years later), it sports sound recorded on location, perfectly synchronized with the images.

But that “perfect” sound comes at a prize. Another interesting comparison is how much more elegantly Dreyer was able to work with the light silent-era cameras that I assume he was still using. White Zombie, in comparison, is much more static and conventional in its imagery, and that is partly because they had to use heavier, sound-proofed cameras.

Dreyer sometimes inserts surrealistic elements, and even though the basic plot is fairly simple, he makes jumps that stretches the story’s credibility. The plot can therefore at times be difficult to follow, but that is a problem only if you expect a traditional story structure. This kind of avant-garde film is not one where comprehending is always the most important thing. Here, everything is designed to make you feel, rather than analyze. So let go your conscious mind, and allow your subconscious to guide the experience.

This film is best enjoyed for two reasons, both contributing to the tense atmosphere that is felt throughout. The first reason is Dreyer’s excellent use of camera, lighting and angles. The second is Wolfgang Zeller’s amazing score, in itself reason enough to watch the film.

Rena Mandel and Jane Mora in Carl Theodor Dreyer's Vampyr (1932)

Vampyr
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Year: 1932
Language: German (English subtitles)
Running time: 1 h 13 min
Director: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Stars: Nicolas de Gunzburg (Julian West)
Image quality: Acceptable (poor in some scenes)
Resolution: Medium (574×434; not counting black border)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (1,018 M)

The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Imagine being kicked in the shin. Repeatedly, over and over again, for almost two hours. That is what it feels like to watch The Star Wars Holiday Special. I normally try to stay away from writing about bad movies on this blog (although on occasion I make an exception or two), but this is one you just need to experience because, you know, you have to see it to believe it.

Patty Maloney, Micke Morton, Paul Gale and Harrison Ford (Han Solo) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

Everyone knows that the first Star Wars film premiered in 1977. Less well known is that The Empire Strikes Back (1980) was actually not the second part of the saga. That honour goes to The Star Wars Holiday Special, which made its TV premiere for the Christmas season of 1978. Here, you will see Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels (C3PO), Peter Mayhew (Chewbacca) and James Earl Jones (voice of Darth Vader) reprising their roles from the first film. However, none of these are the main characters. Instead, the action centres around Chewbacca’s family – his father, wife and son – living in a tree house that would have made Johnny Weissmuller green with envy.

This is where the Holiday Special’s problems start. Through much of the film, these relatives just walk around, howling their lungs out in poor imitation of wookie language (which, embarrassingly, was created by Ben Burtt himself). The so-called story, about Chewie having to make it back home in time for celebrating the all-important Life Day holiday, is stupid enough in itself, but every step of the execution just keeps making it worse, and then worse again.

There is actually one segment of the Special that is rather good (when compared with the rest). About halfway through, there is a ten-minute animated short film. The inclusion of this is incredibly silly, plot-wise speaking, but when seen in isolation, the animation (which is not in any significant way connected with the rest of the plot) has a number of redeeming features. Sure, the animation is a bit too cartoonish and the voice actors (also the original cast, as far as I can tell) certainly did not put their souls into the job. But on the other hand, and very much unlike the rest of the Special, it has a lot of nice Star Wars-esque alien planet environments. The story is simple but not bad. As an oddity under the Star Wars brand, this short is well worth exploring. Also, it is the first-ever appearance of Boba Fett.

Since The Star Wars Holiday Special has never been restored and officially released after the original airing, copies found online tends to be of really low quality. The main copy at the Internet Archive is the best I have seen, with almost-decent technical quality. There is also another version available, with worse quality, but on the other hand it comes with all the commercials from the original airing. They provide a welcome break from the inanities of the Special, and also add some unintended entertainment of their own.

This film is best enjoyed because you know that pain is your friend. Besides, what does not kill you will make you stronger. George Lucas has allegedly gone on record saying that, if he could, he would smash every existing copy of this film with a sledgehammer. This in itself is reason to watch it. Also, when properly applied it can actually be useful. Carrie Fisher has stated that she always puts this film on when she wants her late guests to leave the party.

R2D2, C3PO (Anthony Daniels), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in The Star Wars Holiday Special (1978)

The Star Wars Holiday Special
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Year: 1978
Running time: 1 h 48 min
Director: David Acomba, Steve Binder
Stars: Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Anthony Daniels, Peter Mayhew
Image quality: Poor
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG4 (597 M)

Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)

My five-year-old daughter enjoys watching the 2015 TV series Thunderbirds Are Go. Little does she know, or care, that the original Thunderbirds series, and also a movie with the exact title Thunderbirds Are Go, are older even than her old dad.

Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)

The plot of the movie is about a spaceship that is sabotaged shortly after liftoff for the first planned mission to Mars. The spaceship crashes before reaching space, but the crew is rescued and a few years later a second attempt is made. This time, the rescue team Thunderbirds are called in to make sure that the crew is safe. They also employ the agent Penelope to ascertain that there is no sabotage this time.

Thunderbirds Are Go ia an animated film, mostly made with puppets and scale models. The scale models, in particular, are extremely detailed and imaginative! Spaceships, houses, cars, not to mention the base where the spaceship takes off for Mars. Those things are still impressive and well made when compared to what a similar production would look like today. At times, I feel myself completely blown away by the imagination and the attention to detail that lie behind this production.

The animation was made with a puppetry technique called supermarionation, which was used in all the 1960s Thunderbirds films and TV series, as well as in several other series made by the same production team. There is no facial movement, except for lip synch, and even though that synch is good, it can be a bit unnerving to watch those completely blank faces trying to express some kind of emotion. In fact, most puppet movements are a bit stiff at times, and unfortunately that is also true of the dialogue, and indeed of the entire plot.

Fans of Cliff Richard and The Shadows will not want to miss this one, since Cliff and the band appear as puppets, performing the song “Shooting Star” during an otherwise too long and somewhat absurd dream sequence.

The aspect ratio of this movie is a bit off, but if you have a good player, you can easily adjust that.

This film is best enjoyed for the magnificent scale models of buildings and vehicles, and for the music by Cliff Richard and The Shadows. Quite frankly, there is little else to enjoy about it, but those things go a long way.

Thunderbirds Are Go
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Year: 1966
Running time: 1 h 29 min
Director: David Lane
Stars: Cliff Richard (singing)
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (640×360)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: Cinepack (620 M)

The Ape Man (1943)

It is a shame that Bela Lugosi never got to act in a serious drama for a top director. I think he would have made a glorious performance. Instead, he was typecast as the monster or mad scientist in cheap B movies. Sometimes he was both, as in The Ape Man.

Bela Lugosi as the mad scientist in The Ape Man (1943)

The story of The Ape Man is absolutely ludicrous. Dr. Brewster’s experiments on a caged gorilla that he keeps in a secret room in his basement have gone all wrong. As a result he is turning into a gorilla himself, and the only way he can save himself is to tap people’s spinal fluid. The problem is that the procedure tends to kill the victims. Two newspaper reporters have a hunch that something is wrong and try to get a scoop, and at the same time the police are investigating the killings, as well as the disappearance of the Doctor.

This would seem to be a certain recipe for a disastrous movie, and it is if you try to take it seriously. Well, don’t. Let loose a bit and I think you will find this to be a little gem of a movie. The actors are actually quite good, not least Lugosi who is not so much threatening as he is tragic; hence my comment about serious drama in the beginning. Louise Curry and Wallace Ford (otherwise unknown names to me) also perform nicely as the two reporters.

The movie has several other qualities as well. The dialogue is good, not as stilted as it sometimes tends to be in similar movies, and the film’s duration of only slightly above an hour makes sure that you do not have time to become bored. The only major problem is sound quality, which is terrible on the copy I found. So bad, in fact, that it was sometimes hard to make out the dialogue, even though the actors spoke clearly enough.

Now, if you thoroughly enjoyed this film and want more of the same, try The Ape (1940) with Boris Karloff as the mad scientist who goes ape. Not quite as enjoyable as The Ape Man, but clearly a child of the same spirit. There is also The Gorilla (1939), which I have not seen, but wherein you will find both Bela Lugosi and yet another gorilla suit.

This film is best enjoyed all the way through to the end. There is a marvellous meta twist that puts everything on end and shows exactly how serious the producer and writer were about the story.

Ralph Littlefield as Zippo in The Ape Man (1943)

The Ape Man
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Year: 1943
Running time: 1 h 4 min
Director: William Beaudine
Stars: Bela Lugosi
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Poor
Best file format: DivX (694 M)

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

There are so many bad science fiction films at the Internet Archive that I am sure I could easily fill a year’s worth of blog posts with them alone. Just a few examples at random: Assignment: Outer Space; The Wizard of Mars; Unknown World; The Phantom Planet; War of the Planets; Cat Women of the Moon. The list could go on.

There is no reason to write in detail about all of them, but watching one every once in a while, just for fun, will do no harm. I have therefore chosen my favourite of the lot, Teenangers from Outer Space. A thoroughly bad movie in every imaginable way.

Harvey B. Dunn and Bryan Grant in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

And yet, there is something enjoyable and charming about this turkey. It is hard to put a finger on it, but behind the corny plot about a renegade alien who tries to rescue humanity, behind the bad dialogue and worse acting, behind all the absurd props and the worst special effects I have ever seen, behind all that there is something genuinely warm and endearing about it. And of course, it is vastly entertaining. Mostly because it is so unspeakably bad, but partly because, for some reason, you actually care about the characters.

The film is about an alien called Derek, who speaks and reads perfect English even though he had no idea that humans existed on earth before he escaped from his kindred who came to wipe out earthly life in order to use our planet as pasture for monster crabs that can grow to gigantic proportions. Oh, and of course there is the girl that he falls in love with. And some absolutely wonderful pieces of 1950s small-town America. And Thor, his companion who is sent out to bring him back to justice.

You can see the communist fear that drives the plot of the film. The fear that someone cold and calculating, someone utterly alien, would come along and take away all the middle-class houses and home baked pies. But also the hope that some of the invaders would be human and turn against their comrades.

On top of all the other rot, the title is one of the most ridiculous I have ever encountered. I doubt if there is a single genuine teenager in the entire film.

This film is best enjoyed late at night with snacks, drinks and the company of good friends.

Dawn Anderson and David Love in Teenagers from Outer Space (1959)

Teenagers from Outer Space
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Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 25 min
Director: Tom Graeff
Stars: There are no stars in this film
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.9 G)

Quatermass II (1955)

In my review of Quatermass and the Pit, I wrote about the scientist Professor Quatermass, who was the hero of a trilogy of excellent British made-for-TV science fiction series. Professor Q. is a very well developed character, and if you are only slightly interested in well-written sci-fi, you should not miss the two preserved series (only two episodes of the original series, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), still exist, though all episodes were remade in 2005). In addition, Hammer films remade the entire trilogy a few years after the originals in good but somewhat different movie renditions.

The spaceship in Quatermass II (1955)

The second series was aptly named Quatermass II (episodes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and was originally broadcast exactly 60 years ago (the final episode was televised sixty years ago this Thursday). The title was the first time the number two was appended to the title of a sequel, though the roman numeral refers not to the series as such, but to the spaceship Quatermass II, which is an important plot object. It has been suggested that it inspired others to use similar numbering for sequels in later film series. It has even been suggested that the spaceship name was just made up as an excuse to smack the “II” label on the title, though that explanation feels a bit far-fetched.

In Quatermass II, Professor Q. battles invading aliens who are jettisoned from an asteroid orbiting earth, and upon landing take control of human bodies. This idea was not new in literature. See for example The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein, available (parts 1, 2, 3) from the Internet Archive. But as far as I know, it had not previously been used on screen. The following year, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers was released, which is one of the most famous examples in the movies.

This film is best enjoyed for the story (brilliant throughout) and actors (uneven, but mostly very good). Frankly, though, other aspects of the production, such as sets, special effects and camera work, feel very cheap and sometimes amateurish by modern standards. Even so, the positive aspects weigh so heavily that I can only recommend watching it.

John Robinson in Quatermass II (1955)

Quatermass II
Download links: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
Year: 1955
Running time: 3 h 6 min
Director: Rudolph Cartier
Stars: John Robinson
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (512×384)
Sound quality: Acceptable
Best file format: Cinepack