The Bat (1959)

Between 1922 and 1960, the play The Bat was filmed at least five times. I have previously written about the 1960 TV version, and in that post I also told a bit about how the story is connected with Batman. Now the turn has come to what is perhaps the most well-known version, the 1959 film The Bat, starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead.

Agnes Moorehead and Lenita Lane in The Bat (1959)

In this version, Moorehead plays a mystery writer who has rented a mansion over the summer, but the place scares her hired staff, and things do not exactly improve when rumours of the masked murderer “The Bat” start to go around. The Bat is soon drawn to the mansion for some reason, and so are several other persons, including Lieutenant Anderson, who tries to capture The Bat, and Dr. Wells (Price), a man with some pretty shady background.

Of all the versions, this is perhaps the one that is furthest removed from the original play. While that helps to give it more cineastic integrity (in terms of not feeling quite so much like a filmed play), it also works to the film’s disadvantage to some extent. The play has a really tight and well worked out plot, and though the film retains the major plot elements, it feels somewhat less intense and dramatic. The horror aspects that have been added do not feel all that terrifying fifty-plus years later.

Still, it is a cozy piece of a mystery, one to cuddle up in front of on a dark and stormy night. In addition, of the three versions available from the Internet Archive, it is most definitely the one with the best sound and image quality.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a fan if Vincent Price. He is, as always, excellent, though the other actors deserve praise, too. Oh, and Crane Wilbur’s directing is also very solid.

The Bat's steel clawed glove in The Bat (1959)

The Bat
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Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 20 min
Director: Crane Wilbur
Stars: Agnes Moorehead, Vincent Price
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×480)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (2.1 G)

The Hands of Orlac (1924)

The classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), which I wrote about last week, was to my knowledge the first cooperation between director Robert Wiene and actor Conrad Veidt. Four years later, they were to repeat the success in The Hands of Orlac (originally titled Orlacs Hände).

Conrad Veidt in The Hands of Orlac / Orlacs Hände (1924)

Even though both films are firmly rooted in the German Expressionism, The Hands of Orlac, when compared with the earlier film, is in many ways very different. Take Veidt’s role for starters. He is the protagonist, and he is a good person at heart. But he is also somewhat weak, perhaps even cowardly. When he loses both his hands in an accident, and his career as a concert pianist is threatened, his doctor decides to graft a new pair of hands, a pair that previously belonged to a convicted murderer. When confronted with this, Orlac fears that the evil in these hands will take over his mind. This fear, that body parts from another entity will infect the new host with the mind of the old one, is a theme that can be seen in many later films, such as Wolf Blood (1925) and Frankenstein (1931).

The scenography is also very different when compared with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. In the earlier film, the surroundings were nightmarish, bent and twisted, filled with dramatic shadows. Here, the nightmare and the shadows remain, but the rooms are gigantic, with straight, looming walls and pillars, and with very few decorations. This creates an image of small and powerless characters, desperately trying to grasp control from a relentless world. So again, Wiene has created a dramatic masterpiece, but the drama is achieved with different means.

This film is best enjoyed when you want to explore the themes that lead up to the great Hollywood horror films of the early 1930s. It is definitely an important part of that legacy.

Conrad Veidt in The Hands of Orlac / Orlacs Hände (1924)

The Hands of Orlac
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Year: 1924
Running time: 1 h 53 min
Language: English
Director: Robert Wiene
Stars: Conrad Veidt
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (608×464)
Soundtrack: Good; synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Cinepack (1.1 G) or Matroska (1.1 G)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)

If you investigate the history of the horror movie, you will find that sooner or later the tracks lead back to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, or as it is known in English, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Werner Krauß and Conrad Veidt in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is one of the defining works of the German Expressionism, and it is also one of the most thoroughly expressionistic films ever. The sets are twisted, looming, threatening, and induces a dream-like, or perhaps rather nightmarish, feeling into the film. The acting, by several great actors of the time, is on par, as is the plot.

I will not spoil your experience by telling you much about that plot. Suffice it to say that it deals with a somnambulist who is on display as a fair showcase, a mad doctor, and several gruesome murders. Also, things are rarely what they seem.

While not generally considered the first film in the German Expressionism, the film nevertheless had a tremendous impact on the genre, an impact that directly and indirectly carries on to other genres, not least the modern horror genre.

The copy I otherwise link to in this post is the best I have found at the Internet Archive. However, it is a German version with no subtitles. Another good version with English title cards is available, in case your German is out of practice.

This film is best enjoyed with a good musical score. With poor or random music, or no music at all, much of the nerve and intensity of the film will be lost. Fortunately, both the versions I link to are good in this respect. It is much easier to oversee with some defects in the visual quality.

Elsa Wagner and Friedrich Feher in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari / The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari
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Year: 1920
Running time: 1 h 14 min
Language: German (no subtitles)
Director: Robert Wiene
Stars: Werner Krauß, Conrad Veidt
Image quality: Acceptable
Resolution: Medium (576×432)
Soundtrack: Excellent; synchronized with the images
Sound quality: Excellent
Best file format: Matroska (673 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
Download link
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)

Terror in the Midnight Sun (1959)

As we are leaving the winter Olympics behind us, I stumbled across yet another film at the Internet Archive with a winter Olympics connection. Actually, I have seen it years ago, but forgot all about Barbara Wilson playing an American Olympic figure skater who is training in the Swedish part of Lapland. The film in question is Terror in the Midnight Sun, known in Sweden as Rymdinvasion i Lappland.

The monster from Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

I have been trying to find some good background to this movie. Such as, who came up with the corny idea to make a Swedish horror B-movie in the first place? And how was anyone convinced to invest money in the production? Alas, no such info has emerged.

In America, it seems, this film is best known as Invasion of the Animal People, after Jeremy Warren butchered the original and added scenes and narration by John Carradine. The version at the Internet Archive, however, is not that. This is the original and much superior film. Oddly, it seems that this original was never distributed in America, even though it was a joint Swedish-American production.

Barbara Wilson gets ample opportunity to practice her screaming and fainting routine, as she does the standard female victim role with some bravado and less talent. She does provide some more interesting performance early in the movie, though.

There are some genuinely good aspects of this movie, such as the many mood-setting on-location shots from Stockholm and northern Sweden. There are also some well-made scale models that the man in the monster suit gets to wreck, and most of the dialogue makes sense (and I imagine native English-speakers find the genuine Swedish accents half amusing, half exotic). The music is good, too, especially during the closing credits.

But, of course, you do not watch Terror in the Midnight Sun for its qualitative moments, though they help to make the experience worthwhile.

This film is best enjoyed for the Swedish connection, the corny plot, the aliens looking like government officials in bathrobes and the laughable, low-budget special effects. And speaking of special effects, the white blot in the screen shot below is not the midnight sun; it is the alien ship.

Robert Burton, Bengt Blomgren, Sten Gester and Barbara Wilson (and the alien ship) in Terror in the Midnight Sun aka Rymdinvasion i Lappland (1959)

Terror in the Midnight Sun
No longer available for download
Year: 1959
Running time: 1 h 11 min
Director: Virgil Vogel
Stars: Barbara Wilson, Sten Gester
Image quality: Good
Resolution: Medium (720×540)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (3.0 G)

Horror Express (1972)

Once a year, about this time, the Swedish railway companies yet again are taken by surprise by the first major snowfall. This year, hundreds of departures were cancelled in southern Sweden because of anticipated wind and snow. Fortunately for me, I live farther north and had no problems this time. Critics say that the trains purchased in recent years are of insufficient quality and poorly adapted to the Swedish climate. Electric switches that freeze tend to be another source of problems.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to go back to steam engines and manual switches. At least on film, there never seem to be any problems with old trains running through winter lanscapes, such as the one we find in the old horror film Horror Express. This is one film at the Internet Archive I might have overlooked entirely if it was not for the nice Spanish blog Corriente textual, a good source of IA recommendations in case you run out of suggestions here.

Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee and Alice Reinheart in Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express was made in Spain with a Spanish director, but with an English-speaking cast. In spite of its origin, it has the look and feel of an old Hammer film from the 1960s (Hammer Film Productions is famous for its many horror films, not least with Christopher Lee as Dracula). This likeness was probably conscious on the part of producer and director. The pacing, dialogue and music all remind of Hammer’s style.

The choice of actors also suggest a deliberate nod to Hammer. Christopher Lee here plays a slightly mad scientist who has found an ancient ape-like corpse in China and wants to secretly transport it on train through Russia. (But is it really dead?) Peter Cushing, another actor who did many roles for Hammer, plays a doctor who tries to save the situation as it goes increasingly out of hand. Another interesting actor, although he has no connection with Hammer as far as I know, is Telly Savalas who plays a Russian cossack.

As a horror film, Horror Express feels aged today. The monster make-up is good enough, but the special effects are far from spectacular, and the pseudo-science in the dialogue makes me cringe. Fortunately, the suspense is good and the acting is decent overall; especially Lee and Cushing are good. And the interiors of the old railway cars are just beautiful.

This film is best enjoyed if you are a Hammer fan and want to experience something similar.

Telly Savalas in Horror Express (1972)

Horror Express
Download link
Year: 1972
Running time: 1 h 28 min
Director: Eugenio Martín
Stars: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Telly Savalas
Image quality: Excellent
Resolution: Medium (712×439; not counting black border)
Sound quality: Good
Best file format: MPEG2 (1.1 G)