Category Archives: tod browning
The Revenant ~ This black comedy revolves around a American soldier killed in Iraq who comes back from the dead with a thirst for blood to survive. Seeking his best friend’s help, they become vigilante crimefighters, feeding on their prey. Imagine a zombie version of The Boondock Saints and you’ve kinda got the picture. Fun if you turn your mind off, better than a Troma flick, but it’s no masterpiece.
Tit for Tat ~ This great Laurel and Hardy short from 1935 was nominated for an Academy Award. The boys run a hardware store and feud with the grocer next door. Look for the ever popular Mae Busch as the grocer’s wife, slightly worse for wear from her Rosie O’Grady role in The Unholy Three a decade earlier. She actually had a successful career in the Laurel and Hardy comedies, a sort of second coming for the ‘versatile vamp.’
He Who Gets Slapped ~ This silent film from 1924 is based on a Russian play and later film set in a circus where a clown, played by the master Lon Chaney, takes grisly revenge for the unwanted affections of a baron on the woman that he loves. It is the sort of twisted revenge story Chaney would become known for when later working with Tod Browning and Valdemar Young. A spectacle featuring Chaney at his emotive best, also starring Norma Shearer and John Gilbert as leads, and directed by Victor Seastrom, this was MGM’s first film.
Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic ~ An excellent documentary from Showtime about the genius comedian. Great footage of concerts and behind the scenes stuff, as well as interviews with friends and family, however, much was edited out for the sake of his family if the rumors are true. That said, still the best doc on Pryor done so far.
The Terrible Truth ~ A couple decades earlier, and a lot less graphic, this ten minute anti-drug propaganda short subject is like a “Dead Is Dead” for the 1950s. Like a cross between Duck and Cover and Reefer Madness, this color short from 1951 has a good message, if dated and funny. The hipsters will probably laugh their asses off.
If you’ve been to the Biff Bam Pop! website, you know that other than the regular pop culture features, we’re all big horror fans there. Special for this month of October, and culminating today on Halloween is 31 Days of Horror.
31 Days of Horror takes a look at the past and present in horror movies, both in front of and behind the camera, horror television, horror comics, and even horror videogames.
Highlights include reviews of The Shining, The Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Monster Squad, 28 Days Later, Freaks, Night of the Living Dead, The Ring, Sinister, Nightbreed, Prometheus, Paranormal Activity 4, Evil Dead, 30 Ghosts, Tomb of Dracula, Dexter The Game, “666 Park Avenue,” episode by episode analysis of the new seasons of “American Horror Story” and “The Walking Dead,” and interviews with Danielle Harris and Richard Crouse. It’s the best way to celebrate Halloween!
Oh, and if you just want to read my stuff on the site, I’m here. Happy Halloween!
The Little Girl who Lives Down the Lane ~ This is one of my favorite movie-of-the-week-style suspense thrillers from the 1970s. Very straightforward, only a few characters to worry about – heck it could be a stage play easily, and most importantly, it’s scary without being bloody or gory. Are you paying attention, Eli Roth? These things do not go hand in hand. Now I may have gone a bit hard on Jodie Foster earlier this month, but I really do like her. She is a talent powerhouse and here she shows just how good she was even at a young age. Also showing his superior acting chops is Martin Sheen, always a favorite of mine (pre-“West Wing” at least). He is the epitome of the creepy pedophile in this flick. Excellent fodder for a popcorn-filled Halloween Friday night.
The Batman Vs. Dracula ~ I was kinda put off by “The Batman” animated series when it began with its manga design, obsession with the telling of the early stories and its changes for the sake of change. This made-for-DVD movie pitting this new animated version of Batman against the real prince of darkness turned my head and got my attention. In my opinion, this movie was also the turning point for the TV series as well. Dracula is a real vital threat outside the safe constraints of ‘children’s programming’ and the creators take full advantage of it. This is a rare Halloween treat for genre and non-genre fans alike.
Invisible Enemies ~ This is what I get for stopping on one of the Christian broadcasting stations in the middle of the night. Actually this mini-movie with a lesson is pretty good. Like a “Twilight Zone” episode crossed with They Live with heavy evangelistic overtones poured on top, this is the tale of a young man who finds a pair of magical glasses that allow him to see demons in our world. As good as it could be to teach a lesson, and still hold your attention.
Kongo ~ This entry from 1932 is a talkie remake of the classic Tod Browning flick West of Zanzibar. It’s okay but it lacks the power of the original. Walter Huston is good, but he’s no Lon Chaney. But then again, no one is, and few approach him.
Dark City ~ This is a flick that I have up until recently only seen once, on the night it came out, and have hated ever since. Despite it being written by a writer I like – David Goyer, and it having actors I like – Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connolly and Richard O’Brien, and it being pseudo-goth-cyberpunk… I still hated it.
A recent episode of a podcast I quite like, Better in the Dark, praised this flick, so because I respect the folks involved, I decided to give this movie another shot. And unfortunately, even though I respect the opinions of Derrick and Tom, it didn’t do much to change my first impression.
Yeah, it looks cool, no denial there, but that’s just not enough. Kiefer’s weird halting speech pattern made me nuts. I wanted to reach into the screen and slap him every time he showed his face. Richard O’Brien is chilling and makes me wonder why he doesn’t work more often. Perhaps the shadow of Rocky Horror has truly scarred the man, and that’s a shame. And speaking of shames, Jennifer C. is plainly wasted here. Other than some interesting effects and O’Brien, it still doesn’t impress me. Sorry, guys.
Portrait of an Assassin ~ More shameless plugs here. I was turned on to Maria Montez by my friend Dan’s cool Cobrawoman Yahoo Group and when I saw this was available on Netflix I snapped it up. This French subtitled flick reminded me quite a bit of the old twist ending Tod Browning silents which charmed me right away. I liked this one quite a bit and can’t wait for more Maria Montez flicks to be available. What’s the hold up?
Mask of the Avenger ~ John Derek stars in this Italian retelling and relocating of Zorro, and it’s actually not bad once you get over the borrowing aspect. And Anthony Quinn puts his usual brilliant performance despite the lack of originality in the rest of the movie.
Up, Up and Away ~ This may have been the precursor/pilot to Disney’s more successful theatrical release Sky High. It’s the same subject matter and the same story roughly and was originally made for the Disney Channel. Set squarely in a superhero world, taken seriously with just the right amount of wink-wink going on for us geeks. Also look for a young E from “Entourage” as the bad guy. If you get a chance to see this, check it out. If only all superhero flicks were this good.
West of Zanzibar (1928) ~ Forget Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame and even London After Midnight, Lon Chaney as Phroso/Dead Legs in West of Zanzibar is truly his most chilling role. Phroso is a magician who finds his wife is leaving him for rival Crane, played by a very young Lionel Barrymore. The two fight and Crane throws Phroso off a balcony paralysing him from the waist down. Crane and the love of Phroso’s life seemingly flee into the night afterward. A year later the wife returns and dies in a church with a newborn daughter in her arms.
Beware of spoilers from here forward…
Phroso moves to Zanzibar, where he knew his rival Crane to be, hunting ivory in the jungle. This is where Chaney sets up shop as ‘Dead Legs’ the white chieftain and witch doctor of the superstitious native cannibals there. He also sends the daughter he believes to be Crane’s off to be raised in a brothel in the city. Dead Legs uses magic tricks to make the natives believe he can control evil spirits and disrupts the ivory trade, seeking to bring Crane to him. He wants revenge, by showing Crane what he’s made of his daughter.
When the two meet again, Chaney introduces the daughter to Barrymore, and Lionel does an impressive bit of silent acting – appearing to cry, when he’s actually laughing. The daughter is Chaney’s! The mother had left Crane when she found out he’d crippled her husband, and then stayed away to have the child, knowing Phroso wanted nothing to do with her. Barrymore’s thespianism is then completely overshadowed by Chaney’s reaction to this news. In less than a minute we are witness to the full talent that is Chaney, as well as perhaps the greatest acting shot in silent film. It is both brilliant and heart-breaking.
The rest of film follows with Dead Legs accepting his fate and a dire danger from the natives. It’s all done in typical Tod Browning directorial fashion. Grim and foreboding. Browning is at his best in silence I think, if you’ve seen and liked his Dracula and Freaks, you should definitely look into his silent work.
The irony of seeing Barrymore act opposite a wheelchair is heartbreaking at times knowing his future but his acting is outstanding. And that’s also the word for Chaney as he drags his dead legs around throughout the film. He was truly a master actor who put his everything into his parts. And here, in West of Zanzibar, Chaney’s make-up-less face and expressions are more terrifying than any other monster of his career. This is a must-see.