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Bonus Reviews: The Walking Dead (1936) and Targets (1968)
Horror Bulletin Bonus for Week 179
For this week’s bonus films, we’ll look at two more films by the legendary Boris Karloff. One’s a straight-up horror film, and the other stars an aging horror film star playing an aging horror film star. Yep, we’ve got the original 1936 film, “The Walking Dead” and “Targets” from 1968.
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The Walking Dead (1936)
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Ewart Adamson, Peter Milne, Robert Hardy Andrews
Stars Boris Karloff, Ricardo Cortez, Edmund Gwenn
Run Time: 1 Hour, 6 Minutes
Watch the whole film: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1sp7v3
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It's Karloff doing some mighty fine Karloff, but nothing terribly different than some of his other works. It's a tale of murder and revenge. Science with an undertone of the supernatural. Overall pretty entertaining.
The court goes on recess, it's a big robbery case, but no judge would ever dare send this guy up. Judge Shaw does want to convict the man, but he's being threatened regularly, and his wife wants him to let the criminal go. The court comes back into session and the judge convicts Stephen Martin as guilty, surprising everyone. He gets ten years without parole.
Nolan and Merrit are mixed up in the crime as well, and they're not happy. Nolan and Loder have arrange for "Trigger" to kill Judge Shaw. He never misses. They bring in John Ellman, a man who needs work. He was also sent up for assault ten years ago by Judge Shaw, and he's going to be their fall guy. He's a musician, and needs a job. Loder throws Ellman out, but Trigger just happens to run into him later when he leaves and offers to buy him a cup of coffee.
Trigger might be able to help Ellman out. He needs a guy to watch Judge Shaw's house, sort of a detective job. Just watch the house and write down when the judge comes and goes.
Elsewhere, in Dr. Beaumont's lab, Jimmy and Nancy work on keeping a heart alive for two weeks outside a body. They're on a date, and someone sideswipes their car. They pursue the other car for insurance reasons, and see the men in the car pull out a body and dump it into the back seat of a car. John Ellman walks up and gets into the car and finds the body in the back seat. It's Judge Shaw.
Ellman is arrested for murder, and it's an open-and-shut case, and Jimmy and Nancy don't want to testify out of fear. Ellman is found guilty since no one comes to testify on his behalf. He's sentenced to die in the chair. Why would anyone want to frame Ellman? The warden asks for a last request, and Ellman wants someone to play music at his execution.
Jimmy and Nancy tell Dr. Beaumont the truth, and Beaumont calls Defense Attorney Nolan, who's in on the crime. Nolan decides to wait until it's too late to do anything to tell the governor about the witnesses. The prosecutor calls the governor, but it's too late.
Beaumont tells the governor to call off the autopsy; he has an idea. Beaumont Jimmy, and Nancy operate on Ellman. Mad-sciencey things happen in the lab. They bring Ellman back from the dead.
Ellman wakes up, and he can talk, but has some memory problems. Beaumont wants to know what Ellman remembers from "the other side," but there's nothing to remember. Beaumont sees a blood clot in Ellman's brain that might be causing the problem. Ellman can still play the piano, however. Ellman doesn't like Nolan at all, but no one knows why, including Ellman.
The D.A., Werner, tells Beaumont that he believes Nolan is a criminal in league with organized crime. They decide to set up a meeting for all the criminal baddies in town. We see that Ellman is looking more and more like Frankenstein's monster with each scene.
Ellman comes out to play piano for the men, and he gets a good look at all of the criminals. He knows. They know that he knows. There is much silent sweating as he pounds the piano angrily. Werner comes in and accuses the four men of conspiring to kill Shaw and frame Ellman. Loder wants to bring in Trigger, but Nolan says it's all under control.
They call in Trigger anyway. Trigger accepts the job to kill Ellman, but Ellman comes to see him first. Trigger falls over backward and shoots himself accidentally. Blackstone finds the body and calls Nolan. Blackstone knows it was Ellman, and he's leaving town tonight. Ellman chases Blackstone in front of a speeding train. Merritt ends up having a heart attack and falling out his window at the sight of Ellman.
Beaumont talks to Ellman, who still can't explain how he knows the men. Nolan wants to have Ellman committed to an asylum, but his court order is dated for tomorrow, so they still have some time. Beaumont decides to operate on Ellman before morning...Except Ellman climbs out the window.
Nancy knows where he's gone. She follows Ellman to the cemetery. "It's quiet. I belong here," he explains. Loder and Nolan have followed Nancy, and they're waiting outside. They shoot Ellman and drive away-- they drive too fast in the rain and are killed in an accident. Nancy calls Beaumont, Jimmy, and Werner, who rush right over. One of the bullets is near the blood clot; maybe that'll clear up Ellman's memory.
Ellman wakes up, and he does remember everything. How did he know who was involved with the conspiracy? What is death? What was on the other side? But he dies before he can explain anything.
There is mention of a "Lindbergh Heart" which was only invented the previous year, so that's almost "current events" when this was filmed. It was the basis for the current heart/lung machines still in use today.
The only real criminal that Ellman met was Trigger, not Nolan, nor any of the others, but he knew them all in the piano-room scene. Once the revenge starts, Ellman still doesn't actually kill anyone; they all manage to do it to themselves accidentally. There's a subtle supernatural element to it all.
It's well made, but very similar to a number of other Karloff films. How many times has Karloff died and come back for revenge in his films? Lots.
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
Written by Peter Bogdanovich, Polly Platt, Samuel Fuller
Stars Tim O’Kelly, Boris Karloff, Arthur Peterson
Run Time: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This isn’t a horror movie, it’s a crime thriller. But it does star Boris Karloff, playing an aging horror movie icon. He’s basically being himself, and he’s really good at it. The whole cast and script are very good. It’s worth seeing.
We open with the credits as Boris Karloff, Jack Nicholson, and Dick Miller reprise their roles from “The Terror.” It’s not a recreation, it’s the same footage. The old castle floods, killing the baron inside. The movie ends as a group of people watch the film in a screening room. Byron Orlok sits there watching it along with a number of studio executives. The boss, Marshall Smith, has a hot new script for Byron, but the old man says he’s not going to do any more films; he’s retiring. Sam argues with Jenny that maybe his script wasn’t good enough. Byron thinks he’s an antique, out of date, an anachronism. He wants to make way for the young filmmakers.
Down the street, Bobby Thompson buys a gun. We soon see that he has many guns in the trunk of his car. Byron and Jenny, who is his personal secretary, talk in the car; he feels bad for letting Sam down. Bobby notices signs around town, including one about Byron Orlock making an appearance at a theater tomorrow night. He goes home, and we see he has a whole room full of guns, gun magazines, and hunting trophies. He lives with his parents and wife. They say grace and have the most WASPiest white-bread family dinner you’ve ever seen.
Byron and Jenny have dinner with Ed, who wants to set up details for his personal appearance tomorrow night. Byron says he’s not doing it. Ed calls Marshall, but Byron hangs the phone up. Byron doesn’t care if Marshall sues him.
Bobby and his father go shooting, and at one point, Bobby points his gun at the old man, and you know he really wants to pull the trigger. Bobby doesn’t like that his wife Ilene works. He doesn’t have a job, but he’s been lying about having one working for an insurance company.
Sam comes over to see Byron, and they watch a bit of Orlock’s first big film. Then they talk and drink a lot. Sam says his newest script would have been a serious work of art; he’s really disappointed that Byron hasn’t even read it. “You can’t change your whole lifetime with one picture,” Byron remarks. “No one’s afraid of a painted monster anymore.” Sam explains that this new picture was written for him as an old man, a real person. “I’ll go offer it to Vincent Price,” Sam declares and then passes out.
Ilene comes home to find Bobby sitting alone in the dark. She goes to sleep while he finishes his cigarette. First thing in the morning, he shoots Ilene as well as his mother and brother. He then puts them in their beds and cleans up, and leaves behind a note saying there will be more killing before anyone gets him. He gets in the car and drives away. He stops at the gun shop and buys a whole bunch of ammunition.
Jenny comes in, and Byron’s heavily hung over, but he agrees to do the personal appearance that he promised. They have a meeting to discuss the show tonight. Orlok is bored with the usual interview questions, so he tells a creepy story instead.
Bobby packs up a bag of guns and supplies and breaks into an oil depot. He goes up the stairs to the top of a huge oil tank. We see that he’s got a really clear view of the crowded nearby highway. He unloads his guns and supplies, and we see where this is heading. But first he eats a sandwich. He shoots one car, then another, and many of them.
One of the workers at the refinery hears the shots and goes up to investigate. He doesn’t even make it to the top. When the police approach the wrecked cars, Bobby packs about half his stuff and runs back to his car. In his rush, he leaves quite a bit of it behind, but he does get away. He drives too fast and picks up a police car, which he manages to lose. He enters the drive-in theater where Orlok will be appearing later tonight.
Night falls, and there’s a huge crowd to watch “The Terror” and see Byron Orlok live and in-person. The movie starts, and we see that Bobby has picked a place inside the giant screen. He can see and shoot through a small hole in the screen. As Byron arrives, Jenny remarks on how many police there are out tonight.
Bobby starts shooting, but most people are too caught up in the film to notice. He even manages to kill the projectionist. Some people figure it out and head for the exit, but others just turn on their car lights and get shot. Byron sees the cars leaving and thinks they hate the film. After a while, Bobby packs up his stuff and starts climbing down. Sam arrives, and he can’t get in because there are so many cars leaving.
Byron spots Bobby running away with his rifle. Jenny gets shot right next to him. Byron gets angry and stomps toward Bobby, who starts shooting at the big screen, confused seeing screen Byron and real Byron at the same time. Byron smacks Bobby around, and Bobby ends up cringing in the corner like a baby. The police come in and grab Bobby.
The next day, we see the drive-in is completely empty except for Bobby’s car.
This also includes clips from “The Criminal Code,” one of Karloff’s (and Orlok’s) first big breaks in film. Karloff was basically playing himself in this for the most part: old, worn out, and probably really feeling a little bit like an antique, since he was pushing 80 at the time. After the action scene in the end, we don’t really get any follow up– did Orlock decide to do the next film? Was that really the end for him?
If you ever have a desire to show some young person what a drive-in theater used to be like, this would be a good film to demonstrate. We get lots of shots (literally) inside the drive-in. This was shocking and controversial in 1968 when it came out; this sort of thing happens every other day now.
It’s pretty dated, but it’s suspenseful, and the Karloff bits are really good.
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