A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM
By Ed Garea
October 17: The Christopher Lee festival for the day actually begins at 1:00 pm with The Pirates of Blood River (1962). At 2:45 pm comes The Devil-Ship Pirates (1963). At 4:30 pm The Terror of the Tongs (1961), and at 6:00 pm Hammer’s remake of She (1965) starring Ursula Andress as She Who Must By Obeyed.
In the evening we begin with Horror Hotel (1960) at 8:00, followed by Horror Express (1972, 9:30), The House That Dripped Blood (1970, 11:15 pm), The Creeping Flesh (1972, 1:15 am), and The Oblong Box (1969, 3:00 am).
October 24: We begin at 3:15 in the afternoon with Lee fighting old friend Peter Cushing as he looks into reports of The Gorgon (1965). At 4:45 it’s yet another showing of The Curse of Frankenstein (1956), followed by Lee’s turn as Rasputin, the Mad Monk (1966) at 6:15 pm.
Christopher Lee was probably most famous for his portrayals of Count Dracula, and so the evening is devoted to the films Lee made as Count Dracula for Hammer. At 8:00 it’s the superb Horror of Dracula (1958). Dracula, Prince of Darkness (1965, 9:30 pm), Dracula Has Risen From the Grave (1968, 11:15 pm), Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970, 1:00 am), The Scars Of Dracula (1970, 2:45 am), and Dracula A.D. 1972 (1972, 4:30 am. Check our essay on it here.)
October 31: Halloween night begins at 8:00 pm with Lee starring in The Devil’s Bride (1968), for once playing the good guy trying to thwart a couple of small town Satanists from luring an innocent brother and sister into their coven. The bad guy in this flick is Charles Gray, best known for his turn in the cult classic, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
At 9:30 Lee is Kharis the Mummy in the aptly named The Mummy, from Hammer in 1959. At 11:30 he plays Henry Baskerville to Peter Cushing’s Sherlock Holmes in Hammer’s 1959 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles. At 1:15 am Lee has a small role as the red herring in Hammer and Columbia’s remake of the classic Diabolique – Scream of Fear(1961). The fun continues at 2:45 am with Lee in a supporting role in Hammer’s 1961 production of The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll. Paul Massie stars as Dr. Jekyll. Finally, at 4:30 am Lee is back to being the bad guy in Richard Widmark’s only foray into horror: To the Devil, a Daughter, from Hammer in 1976.
It’s now Hammer time for Frankenstein and his Monster, as Hammer studios takes full advantage of color to create some interesting takes on the Frankenstein saga. Peter Cushing plays the mad doctor in all four films screened. The final night dedicates itself to a couple of excellent comedies concerning Frankenstein and his creation.
October 16: Hammer studios takes over with The Curse of Frankenstein (1956) leading off at 8:00 pm with The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958) immediately following at 9:45 pm.
October 23: The Hammer fest continues with Frankenstein Created Woman (1967) at 8:00 pm, and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed! (1970) at 10:00 pm.
October 30: The monster turns to comedy beginning at 8:00 pm with Young Frankenstein (1974), followed at 10:00 pm by Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).
EVIL SCIENTISTS AND DOCTORS
October 21: The focus is on mad scientists, beginning at 8 pm with Spencer Tracy in MGM’s 1941 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Following at 10 pm is the incredible and shocking Eyes Without a Face (Les Yeux Sans Visage, 1960) as mad doctor Pierre Brasseur kidnaps young women, hoping to transplant their face onto the face of daughter Edith Scob, who was disfigured in an auto accident with Daddy behind the wheel. Don’t miss this one.
At 11:45 pm doctor Henry Daniell needs bodies for his medical experiments and finds he must deal with wholesaler Boris Karloff in Val Lewton’s classic adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s take on the famous Burke and Hare incident in Edinburgh from 1927, The Body Snatcher (1945). When RKO signed Karloff and assigned him to Lewton’s unit, the producer was piqued to say the least, figuring he was stuck with a lemon. But Karloff was so wonderful in Lewton’s films that the producer changed his mind completely about the actor, becoming one of the Karloff’s most ardent admirers.
At 1:15 am Karl Malden is up to no good with his pet gorilla in The Phantom of the Rue Morgue from 1954. Look for the young Merv Griffin as Georges Brevert. At 2:45 it’s William Castle’s hit shocker, Macabre (1958).
Finally we recommend two films for their sheer awfulness. First up at 4:00 am is Bela Lugosi in producer Sam Katzman’s The Corpse Vanishes (1942) for Monogram. Bela uses poisoned orchids given to brides at the altar in order that he extract their vital fluid to keep his wife (Elizabeth Russell) looking young. And if you think that one’s bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet, for following at 5:15 am is the crap classic The Brain That Wouldn't Die. Made in 1959 as The Head That Wouldn’t Die, it didn’t see the projector’s light until 1962 when it was released for the drive-in crowd. Jason (later Herb) Evers plays a brilliant surgeon whose hobby is putting together people from scattered parts, most of which he unethically amputates while operating at his hospital. Taking fiancee Virginia Leith to his mountain hideaway (he was called there by assistant Leslie Daniels who told him to hurry, for the thing in the closet is getting worse), he drives rather recklessly, with the result being an accident that seriously injures Virginia. Cutting off her head, he runs to his hideaway and in the basement lab places her head in a roasting pan using fluid to keep her alive while he looks around for another body. Both films are the kind that must be seen to be truly appreciated and are available in MST 3000 form. We recommend both highly.
October 28: Universal Studios gave us the classic horror films that scared our parents or grandparents in the theaters and us on television. TCM honors them with a five-movie mini-marathon beginning at 8:00 pm with Bela Lugosi in the unforgettable Dracula from 1931. At 9:30 Boris Karloff comes back from eternity looking for the reincarnation of his lost love in 1932’s The Mummy, directed by Karl Freund. Director James Whale takes the stage at 11 pm with Claude Rains in The Invisible Man (1933), while Lon Chaney, Jr. is bitten by fellow werewolf in 1941’s The Wolf Man at 12:15 am. Finally, Karloff and Lugosi battle it out in director Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934).
October 16: A pair of Japanese horror films begins at 2:00 am with Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell (1968), immediately followed at 3:30 am by The X From Outer Space (1967).
October 18: At 6:15 it’s the best of the versions of Stevenson’s tale of Dr. Jekyll as Frederic March and Miriam Hopkins star in director Rouben Mamoulian’s distinctly Freudian version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde from 1932. March was awarded the Oscar that year, sharing it with Wallace Beery (The Champ). It was the first time an actor had won Best Actor for a horror role and would not be repeated again until Anthony Hopkins took home the statue for The Silence of the Lambs.
October 19: Jean Gillie saves gangster boyfriend from the gas chamber in order to get her hands on his hidden loot in Monogram’s Decoy (1946) at 10 am. At 3:15 fate catches up with Tom Neal in Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic Detour from PRC in 1945. And Laurence Tierney is the man you love to hate in Born to Kill (1947) at 5:45 pm.
October 22: Sach’s ability to literally smell diamonds brings The Bowery Boys to Africa in Jungle Gents from 1954 at 10:30 am.
Beginning at 8:00 it’s the first three films in the Jaws series: Jaws (1975), Jaws 2 (1978), and Jaws 3 (otherwise known as Jaws 3D).
At 2:00 am director Toshiya Fujita’s Lady Snowblood (Shurayukihime) from 1973 has its premiere. It’s the story of a young girl, Yuki (Meiko Kaji), whose family is nearly wiped out by criminals. The criminals have also kidnapped and brutalized her mother, but left her alive. Mom later winds up in prison; the only thing that keeps her going is the thought of revenge. To that end she purposefully gets pregnant, but dies in childbirth. However, before giving birth she has made sure that her child will be raised by an assassin to kill the criminals who destroyed her family. The result of all this is that while other youngsters know the love of a family, young Yuki only knows killing and revenge. The company that made this film, Toho Studios, was going through a rough financial stretch. In an attempt to right the ship, the studio began looking around for new blood and new ideas. One of its executives noticed that women’s wrestling, which was aimed at teenage Japanese girls, was drawing big numbers, and it was decided to try to aim for that audience. It wasn’t until the release of House in 1977 that Toho began to come financially solvent once more. Lady Snowblood, however, scored well with its target audience, being enough of a success to spawn a sequel in 1974, Lady Snowblood 2: Love Song of Vengeance, which airs right after the original at 3:45 am. In the sequel, Yuki (Kaji) is caught by the police and sentenced to the gallows for her crimes. But she is rescued at the last minute by the secret police, who want her services in assassinating some revolutionaries. Both films were a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino is making Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2.
October 23: At midnight comes the silent classic from Swedish director Victor Seastrom, The Phantom Carriage (1922). Seastrom would later gain fame as Dr. Isak Borg in director Ingmar Bergman’s classic Wild Strawberries (1957). At 2:00 am it’s director Lars Von Trier’s Epidemic from 1987, followed at 4:00 am by The Satan Bug from 1965.
October 26: The morning starts off at 6:00 with the unbelievable Mexican production The Robot vs. The Aztec Mummy (1959). It’s followed at 7:15 by George Pal’s classic, The Time Machine from 1960 and H.G. Wells using his time machine to pursue Jack the Ripper in Time After Time (1979) at 9:00 am.
In the afternoon Robert Ulrich is a space pirate searching for a lost planet whose vast reserves of potable water could refresh a dry cosmos in The Ice Pirates (1984) at 1 pm. Kieron Moore is among those trapped in a space station with a ticking time bomb in Satellite in the Sky (1956) at 2:45 pm. Following are two sci-fi flicks from the ‘70s: Logan’s Run (1975) at 4:15 pm, and Soylent Green (1973) at 6:15.
October 28: Ruth Hussey and Ray Milland confront ghosts at a seaside English house in 1944’s truly creepy The Uninvited (1944), while Charles Laughton may just be the maddest scientist of them all in the unsettling Pre-Code Island of Lost Souls, from 1933. Look for an unrecognizable Bela Lugosi as the Sayer of the Law.
October 29: A full slate for the day and evening begins with Lionel Barrymore in Tod Browning’s The Devil-Doll (1936) at 6:00 am. Val Lewton and RKO follow at 7:30 with The Leopard Man from 1943. Lewton strikes again at 9:00 with Karloff in Bedlam (1946), a macabre tale set in the notorious 18th century London mental asylum. The Bowery Boys accidentally uncork genie Eric Blore in Bowery to Baghdad (1955) at 10:30 while at noon Richard Denning tries not to get stung in The Black Scorpion (1957). Steve McQueen warns the town about The Blob (1958) at 1:45 pm. George Sanders and Barbara Shelley try to defeat otherworldly children in 1961’s Village of the Damned at 3:15. At 4:45 it’s one of the greatest sci-fi films ever made, producer Howard Hawks’ The Thing From Another World (1951), followed by Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) at 6:30 pm, with the flying saucers created by special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen.
The evening’s festivities begin at 8:00 pm with Mario Bava’s giallo, Blood and Black Lace, from 1964. At 9:30 comes one of the greatest horror films, Carnival of Souls, from 1962, proving that low budget does not necessarily have to mean terrible. A horrible infant double-feature unspools at 11:00 pm beginning with Larry Cohen’s It’s Alive from 1974, followed by Anjanette Comer and Ruth Roman in The Baby, from 1973. Timothy Carey supplies the weirdness and Frank Zappa the music in The World’s Greatest Sinner (1962) at 2:30 am, and Shelley Winters and Christopher Jones close out the day in Wild in the Streets (1968) at 4:00 am.
October 30: A pleasantly horrific Sunday is on tap beginning at 6 am with Roland Young visited, or haunted, by old friends Cary Grant and Constance Bennett in 1937’s Topper. At 8 am Sydney Greenstreet is up to no good in The Woman in White from 1948. Vincent Price is looking for the cause of fear in William Castle’s The Tingler at noon, while at 1:30 pm Charles Laughton is The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939). Bette Davis is twin sisters in Dead Ringer (1964) at 3:45 pm, and Vincent Price stars in the wonderfully eccentric The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) at 6:00 pm.
At midnight, it’s Lon Chaney as a mad scientist in Roland West’s The Monster (1925). Following at 2:00 am is one of the finest thrillers ever made, director Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Diabolique (1955). Michel Delasalle (Paul Meurisse) is the headmaster of an exclusive boarding school owned by his wife Christina (Vera Clouzot, the director’s wife). Michel is the type who, if you look up the term “son-of-a-bitch” in the dictionary, you’ll find his picture under the word. Christina’s quite tired of his abuse and joins with Michel’s lover, Nicole Horner (Simone Signoret), a teacher at the school, to dispose of him. There were other thrillers in theaters at the time, notably those made by Hitchcock, but none has the twist ending of Diabolique. The twist ending was so shocking that the closing credits included an a plea that read, "Don't be devils! Don't ruin the interest your friends could take in this film. Don't tell them what you saw. Thank you, for them.” Hitchcock was so impressed with this film that he based his film Vertigo on D'entre les morts (Among the Dead, originally published in English as The Living and the Dead), another novel from writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, who wrote the novel Celle qui n'était plus (She Who Was Not, published in English as The Woman Who Was No More), on which Diabolique was based.
October 31: Tod Browning’s Mark of the Vampire (1935) with Bela Lugosi and Lionel Barrymore, leads off the day at 6:00 am, followed by a Val Lewton double feature: Cat People (1942) at 7:15 and the great I Walked With a Zombie (1943) at 8:30. Roger Corman takes over at 9:45 with Vincent Price starring in Corman’s revamping of Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum from 1961. Price returns at 11:15 with his starring role in Warner’s remake of 1932’s Mystery of the Wax Museum, House of Wax, originally made in 3D in 1953. At 12:45 pm Boris Karloff takes over in the wonderful episodic Black Sabbath from 1964, followed at 2:30 pm by Ealing’s classic episodic foray into horror, Dead of Night from 1945. At 4:30 Price returns to scare the bejeezus out of us in William Castle’s classic shocker The House on Haunted Hill (1958), and the day wraps with Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, and Russ Tamblyn in director Robert Wise’s frightening excursion into horror, The Haunting (1963).
October 16: The vast majority of silents from Japan are lost, but fortunately, one that survived is director Teinosuke Kinugasa’s Kurutta Ippeiji (A Page of Madness) from 1926, a remarkable look at the phenomenon of mental illness. The plot concerns a former sailor whose mistreatment of his wife has caused her to have a mental breakdown. Completely conscience-stricken by his actions, the sailor takes a job as a janitor at the mental hospital where his wife is being treated. Things take an unexpected turn when their daughter visits the hospital to announce she is getting married, raising the question of inherited mental illness. Despite this, things work out for the daughter at the end. To say this film is intense is putting it mildly. I’ve seen it twice and am still astonished by it. Kinugasa uses superimpositions combined with a shifting visual and fantasy sequences to build the intensity. The director also uses the opposition of objective and subjective reality to further ramp up the proceedings. Film scholar Aaron Gerow has written a book on the film dissecting it both on the outside and inside, with some fascinating information on the making of the film itself. It is a film that is still resonates among cinephiles today and one well worth taking the time to view.
October 19: Walter Huston is president Judson C. Hammond in director Gregory LaCava’s incredible Gabriel Over the White House from MGM in 1933. At first President Hammond is a man interested in little else than having a good time while the country flounders. Then he is involved in an auto accident. While recovering he is visited by the angel Gabriel, who forces him to own up to the mess he made. Once out of the hospital he fires his corrupt cabinet and transforms himself into an all-powerful czar who restores order by eliminating the mob, smashing through red tape, gunning down criminals without recourse to trial and ending unemployment. He then turns his attention to the rest of the world and with a little arm twisting, compels the other nations to sign on to his disarmament pact. His work done, he dies, suggesting that he should have died in the hospital from his injuries if not for Gabriel’s intercession. To call this a unique film is an understatement. It’s almost an advertisement for fascism, and indeed, Joseph Goebbels approved the film for release in Germany, telling the German public that President Hammond’s deeds were inspired by Der Fuehrer. It’s on rather late – at 2:45 am – so we recommend you record it, for you’ll want to watch this one closely. Then you’ll shake your head wondering how it was ever made in the first place.
October 18: Divorcee Miriam Hopkins visits Grandfather Lionel Barrymore’s farm to take a breather and discovers a whole other world in King Vidor’s The Stranger’s Return (1933) at 6:30 am.
October 20: Paul Muni takes on a corrupt prison system in I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932) at 6:15 am, and plays a farmer who suddenly makes a fortune in business only to find it changes him for the worse in The World Changes (1933) at 8:00 am. Aline McMahon is excellent as his loyal and suffering wife.
October 21: Buster Keaton is a plumber hired to make Irene Purcell’s lover, Gilbert Roland, jealous in MGM’s 1932 The Passionate Plumber, along with Jimmy Durante and Polly Moran. It airs at 6:45 am.
October 27: At 9:45 am Joan Blondell, Bette Davis and Ann Dvorak are childhood pals whose lives play out quite unexpectedly in the notorious Three on a Match from Warner Bros. in 1933. Warren William plays Dvorak’s adoring husband and Humphrey Bogart is one of the gangsters who kidnaps her and her son for ransom. This was one of the roughest of the Pre-Codes and definitely one to catch.
October 28: At 7:00 am Wynne Gibson is Aggie Appleby: Maker of Men (1933), a socialite who can’t choose between the tough guy she’s turned into a gentleman (William Gargan) and the gentleman she’s turned into a tough guy (Charles Farrell). Wynne returns at 8:30 along with Bill Boyd in Emergency Call (1933). Boyd is a surgeon who discovers his hospital is run by gangsters.
Jimmy Cagney had a solid hit with 1932’s Picture Snatcher for Warner Bros., so RKO tried to cash in by starring William Gargan in the similarly themed Headline Shooter (1933). Stick with Cagney.
October 24: Though scarcely known today, Helen Twelvetrees was, for a couple of brief shining moments, one of the biggest names in Hollywood. TCM is airing five of her Pre-Code films beginning with Is My Face Red? from 1932 at 6:00 am. Ricardo Cortez is a gossip columnist who witnesses a gangland murder. Helen plays his girlfriend.
At 7:15 Helen is Panama Flo (1932), a nightclub entertainer who is caught fleecing oil prospector Charles Bickford. He threatens to throw her in jail, but they come to an agreement whereby she can work off the debt as his housekeeper in South America.
At 8:30 Helen is Unashamed. This 1932 production for MGM stars her as Joan Ogden, an unmarried woman whose lover, not of her social station, attempts to blackmail her family in exchange for safeguarding her sexual history. When her brother Dick (Robert Young) kills the rogue, he is arrested and Joan must decide whether to defend the only man she ever loved or the brother who committed murder to protect her honor.
At 10 am Helen is A Woman of Experience in this 1932 film from RKO that finds her as a con artist who see her skills to foil some German spies. Finally, at 11:30 am Helen stars in My Woman(1932) about a loyal wife whose hard work propels her unambitious hoofer husband (Wallace Ford) into the big time. His idea of paying her back is to run around with other women behind her back and divorce her for another woman.
October 21: Torchy Blaine takes center stage as five of her films are being shown beginning with Torchy Runs for Mayor (1939) at 12:30 pm and ending with the excellent Fly Away Baby (1937) at 5:15 pm.
October 25: Three episodes of the 1952 television series Gangbusters were put together, re-edited, and released to theaters in 1957 as a feature film titled Guns Don’t Argue, which can be seen at 3:30 pm. It features all the most wanted criminals of the ‘30s, such as Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Pretty Boy Floyd, Homer Van Meter, and the Barker clan. I remember watching it on television as a kid, but little else, so I’ll be interested in seeing it again.