Tuesday, October 31, 2006


This Hammer thriller has elements of PSYCHO and DIABOLIQUE and works well enough for most of its length. The film has a great opening sequence of a young girl (Jennie Linden) being led through shadowy hallways by the voice of her mother, who traps her in an asylum cell. This turns out to be a recurring nightmare of Linden's, who years ago witnessed her insane mother stab her father to death. Her boarding school decides to send her home to her guardian (David Knight) for treatment to ease the dreams. Once there, however, she is haunted by a ghostly vision of a woman in white that no one else seems to see, and also by a tableau reminiscent of her father's death. When Knight's new wife arrives, she looks just like the creepy ghost, and Linden promptly stabs her to death and is sent off to an asylum, just as her dreams seemed to foretell. Of course, this is just the first half of the proceedings, and we soon learn that things and people aren't what they seem. When Linden escapes and heads for home, matters build to a fairly effective climax. Even if the plot does become predictable, it is fun to figure out who wants to help Linden and who wishes her harm. Chief among these folks is Brenda Bruce as a guardian from the boarding school, and Moira Redmond as Linden's companion and nurse. Linden has a few too many repetitious scenes of hysteria in the first half, though generally the acting is OK. The moody black and white cinematography is a plus. [DVD]


Routine Italian gothic thriller with the queen of 60's horror, Barbara Steele, in a dual role. This isn't exactly a bad movie, but it has nothing to make it stand out of the pack. Paul Muller is your average mad scientist married to your average dark-haired knockout (Steele), and engaging in your average arcane experiments involving reversing the human aging process. When he discovers that his wife is having an affair with the hired help (Rik Battaglia), he tortures them, kills them, and pulls out and preserves their hearts. He uses their blood to turn his aging assistant (Helga Line) young, and then, I think, takes her as his lover, but discovers that his wife's will leaves the castle to her nutty twin sister (also Steele, in a bad blonde wig). When she arrives, he seduces her and plans to drive her completely over the edge, but it turns out that the strange ghostly figures she reports seeing are actually the ghosts of the dead lovers. The acting is indifferent, the sets are cheap, and the atmosphere is so-so, but if you stick with it, the pace does pick up in the last half-hour and things build to a decent climax. Mostly for Barbara Steele fans. [DVD]

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Another pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing (see THE CREEPING FLESH below), though in separate episodes of a horror anthology film. As a short-story lover (Ray Bradbury's collections were the first "adult" books I read), I like the idea of an anthology film, but in practice it doesn't come off all that well, with rare exceptions like the 1945 DEAD OF NIGHT, and this film is not one of the exceptions. The four tales all take place in a mysterious house which, despite the title, never comes close to dripping blood. The wraparound story involves a Scotland Yard inspector (John Bennett) looking into the disappearance of a horror film star (Jon Pertwee, best known as the 1970's Doctor Who) who had been living in the spooky old house. We then see the stories of three previous residents. The first tale features Denholm Elliot as a horror writer renting the house with his wife (Joanna Dunham); he's trying to finish a novel about a strangler but his efforts get derailed when the ficitonal killer seems to be coming to life and popping up all around the house. The secret here is easy to figure out, but it's still a fun story and the underrated Elliot is fun to watch. In the second tale, two old friends (Cushing and Joss Ackland) become obsessed with visiting a wax museum which has a model of Salome that resembles an old flame from their past. Lee stars in the next episode as a widower who hires a nanny to keep an eye on his young daughter, who may or may not be practicing voodoo. Finally, we go back to the frame story about an actor who buys a second-hand cloak to inspire him in his current role as a vampire; he finds out that clothes do make the man, or in this case, the vampire. Overall, about average for this kind of film--the screenplay by Robert Bloch is fine, but the production values could be better, and the direction by Peter Duffell is quite made-for-Tvish. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


This Victorian horror/sf film which co-stars Hammer favorites Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee has a few too many subplots going for its own good, and its horrors are more subtle than some fans of the genre like, but it's worth watching for good performances and interesting (if not always successful) narrative threads. In a rather surreal opening, Cushing is painting horrific Dali-like portraits on the wall of his laboratory and telling a visitor that he has made the startling discovery that evil exists as a bacteria and he has it under his microscope. The main story then unfolds in flashback as Cushing returns to England from New Guinea with a skeleton of a primitive humanoid, and based on his readings in the local folklore, he believes it belongs to a race of creatures of pure evil. While washing off one of its hands, Cushing discovers that when water drips on it, its flesh re-composes, and he cuts off one of the fleshy fingers for further study. At the same time, he has to deal with dysfunctional family matters: his long-institutionalized wife has died (in an asylum run by Lee, his brother), and he is concerned that her illness will be passed down to his innocent daughter (Lorna Heilbron), who has just been told about her mother's secret illness. He makes a serum out of the cells of the skeleton that he thinks will serve as an antidote against evil and injects Heilbron with it. For one reason or another (the serum, or heredity, or the realization that such a huge secret had been kept from her), she snaps, runs away, and heads to town to act like a slattern. In a third plot line, Lee, who plans to steal the skeleton from his brother, has to deal with an escaped maniac, who winds up crossing paths with Heibron and setting up the climax of the film which ties all the plot threads together in a more or less satisfactory way, including a scene inspired by Val Lewton's THE BODY SNATCHER in which the skeleton winds up out in the rain and, of course, reconstituted and ready to find its missing finger. Cushing is really the star of this one and he acquits himself nicely with a nuanced portrayal of a man who thinks he's doing the right thing, for both his own flesh and blood, and for mankind, but who makes a monkey's breakfast out of everything (and, come to think of it, there actually is a monkey running around in the movie). Some critics take exception to the film's equating sex with evil (the sheltered daughter's slutty behavior is certainly seen as her first step toward total evil), but I saw the movie saying that the real problem was Cushing's well-intentioned sheltering. At any rate, the film's soup of repression, inherited insanity, sexual desire, and primal evil makes it difficult to assign meaning here, and indeed the movie is best viewed as an archetypal Cushing/Lee mad scientist movie. [DVD]

Monday, October 23, 2006


Monster movie fan that I am, I had never heard of this Japanese import until I saw it on Turner Classic Movies' schedule last month. I figured, what the hell, and watched it expecting at best a sublimely bad movie, but instead it turned out to be a creepy and fairly compelling film, though in essence, it's just a long Twilight Zone episode. The film is set on a passenger jet where the mixed bag of travelers (psychiatrist, politician, arms dealer, space scientist, etc) are discussing the sad state of the world--wars, assassination, suicide terrorists--while the plane is flying through an increasingly apocalyptic-looking blood-red sky, and birds begin suicidally smashing themselves against the plane windows. Suddenly, even more hell breaks loose: just as the pilot gets a message that a bomb may be hidden on board, a man with a gun (Hideo Ko) storms the cabin, and a UFO zooms over the plane, sending it crashing to the ground. And all this happens before the credits! The survivors are left with little food or water, not knowing where they are. The gunman escapes, finds the glowing UFO, and in a trance, walks into it, to be confronted by a pulsing silver-blue blob. In one of the coolest effects ever, the man's face splits in two and the blob slithers in, taking control of him. Eventually, others get taken over in an old-fashioned vampirish fashion, tensions mount in the plane as the civilized surface of the passengers is worn down, and a creepy apocalyptic scene provides a satisfying ending. There is a strong anti-war theme running throughout the film, with newsreel footage of Hiroshima and Vietnam spliced in here and there during heated discussions. A young blond American woman takes pity on the split-faced guy because his face reminds her of the fatal wounds of her soldier-husband, who died in Vietnam. The politician gets on everyone's bad side, especially when it is revealed that the arms dealer has pimped his wife to him. According to Robert Osborne, this film inspired a scene in Quentin Tarentino's KILL BILL. Overall, a nice surprise, well worth searching out. It's on a Region 2 DVD, which may bode well for an American release someday. [TCM]

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I lived in Tucson, Arizona for a few years in the mid-60's and our local Saturday night Chiller Theater would occasionally throw some Mexican horror films into the mix. I have vivid memories of only one of those, this atmospheric film which betrays a number of horror film thefts, influences or homages, depending on how generous the viewer is feeling toward the filmmakers. Off the top of my head, I count references, in plot or visuals, to Dracula, The Mummy, Phantom of the Opera, The Wolf Man, Fall of the House of Usher, Eyes Without a Face, and Black Sunday, and the film has the general feel of the American International B-movies of the era. All that makes the movie a nice thick Gothic soup, watered down a bit by a low budget and a sub-par English dubbing (though apparently there is a recent DVD release in Spanish with English subtitles). In a prologue, we see two men and a young woman riding in a coach through a foggy woods, stopped by a hideous wailing woman dressed in black with either jet-black blind eyes or empty eye sockets (I was never sure which). Her brutish companion unleashes some killer dogs and all three passengers are murdered. Cut to a nearby isolated hacienda, lived in by Selma (Rita Macedo) and her crippled manservant, the two killers from the previous scene, though the woman's eyes are now normal. Selma's niece Emily (Rosita Arenas) and her new husband Herbert (Abel Salazar, also the film's producer) arrive for a visit, summoned by Selma and brought by a coachman reluctant to approach what he calls the "Witch House."

The various plotlines, perhaps due to the vagaries of the dubbing, were sometimes difficult for me to follow, but here's what I was able to glean: 1) Selma is the descendent of a witch, killed hundreds of years ago by a lance through the heart; she keeps the witch's skeleton in the basement; 2) According to legend, on the eve of Emily's 23rd birthday, the long silent bells in the hacienda tower will toll and Emily will be able to resurrect the dead witch; 3) Selma's husband has fallen under the family curse which turns all the males into wolfish beasts, and he's imprisoned upstairs. Emily is told that Herbert will suffer the same fate; 4) Selma periodically transforms into the black-eyed witch figure and kills, needing human blood to thrive. Even if the plot remained disconnected, the individual sequences are all well staged, with shadows and shrieking and a good Gothic air to the proceedings, though the hacienda sets are a bit spare. A backstory flashback scene, which uses brief clips from earlier Salazar films presented in negative, is quite effective, conjuring up similar flashback scenes from the Universal Mummy series. One shot of Selma walking through a giant cobweb is cribbed directly from the Lugosi DRACULA. The music veers between effective and overdone, and the acting is no better than the genre calls for. Worthwhile viewing. [A note on the film's date: IMDb credits it as a 1963 release, but other sources say '60 or '61.] [VHS]

Thursday, October 19, 2006


This is the first of a series of SF films featuring the character of Prof. Quatermass, the head of a secret group of British scientists who are conducting experiments in outer space. The film opens with a young rural couple whose outdoor make-out session is interrupted by a huge crash-landing missile. Quatermass (Brian Donleavy, playing him as an mean and arrogant man who is used to getting his way) and his group arrive on the scene and we find out that they have sent up the rocket with three men on board without any kind of official approval. Only one of the men survives; the other two appear to have been reduced to small blobs of jelly. The survivor (Richard Wordsworth), who never speaks, experiences some weird skin and bone changes, is cold to the touch, and doesn't seem to be able to react to people. His wife smuggles him out of the hospital without realizing that he has essentially been taken over by an alien life force, and is able to drain the life out of plants, animals, and people. He escapes and winds up on the loose as he transforms into a gigantic jelly blob. The climax takes place in Westminster Abbey where the blob is perched, like a faceless Jabba the Hutt, on some scaffolding not far from where a TV news crew is broadcasting a special on the Abbey. I suspect that this film was a bit ahead of its time, with its theme of alien organisms infecting and changing human beings (the influential INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS came out the same year). Its dank, bare bones, black-and-white look keeps the film admirably low-key. Quatermass is unlikable and unsympathetic, which was most likely intended by the filmmakers (at one point, he says, "There's no room for personal feelings in science") though Donleavy's gruff, one-note performance certainly adds to that. Jack Warner plays a mostly sympathetic police inspector, Margia Dean is the astronaut's wife, 10-year-old Jane Asher appears as a young girl menaced by the alien, and Gordon Jackson (later the beloved butler Hudson on "Upstairs, Downstairs") has a small role in the climax as a BBC-TV producer. I liked the tension between the restraints of society and the law, and the unbridled impulses of the scientists, and I also liked the ending, in which, despite the "meddling in God's domain" message of the narrative, Quatermass vows to keep exploring the great unknown. [TCM]

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


Despite this movie's title and the pedigree of its production company (Hammer Films), this is just barely a horror movie. It's more a Gothic Freudian Dickens tale with a wolfman instead of a pickpocket at its center. A long opening sequence focuses first on a beggar (Richard Wordsworth) who arrives in a Spanish town during a holiday which has been called to mark the wedding feast of the Marquis's daughter. The Marquis at first appears inclined to be generous, but soon the beggar is thrown into jail and left for years to rot, totally forgotten. The story then shifts to the jailer's mute daughter (Yvonne Romain) who winds up in his cell and is raped by the beggar, who has become completely deranged. She goes off to live in the woods, but dies while giving birth on Christmas Day, which is considered a cursed day for childbirth. The boy grows up into a werewolf, but the love and compassion of his guardians stop his evil transformations. However, as an adult (Oliver Reed), he discovers that feelings of lust trigger his lycanthropy. He falls in love with Christina (Catherine Feller) and the two have an affair, despite her betrothal to someone else, but when things don’t go his way, Reed's transformations cause trouble for all. The film is slow-going, especially if you're only watching it for blood and horror; most of the werewolfery is saved for the last 10 minutes of the film. Reed is excellent--I agree with one IMDb reviewer who says that Reed may be the best actor ever to play a werewolf--and the makeup is quite good. The rest of the acting and the general production values are about par for a Hammer film. Overall, an interesting variation on the usual Hollywood werewolf story, but not totally successful. [DVD]

Monday, October 16, 2006


A Roger Corman quickie, and as such, sorta fun. Given the title and posters, one might expect this to be a traditional low-budget monster movie, but actually it's a comedy with a monster roaming in and out of the proceedings (mostly out until the last 10 minutes). It clearly had a sub-B picture budget and the dialogue is all dubbed in (a pet peeve of mine), but surprisingly, this was fun to watch once--I don't know that I would want to sit through the whole thing again. Several online critics have noted that the movie plays out like a spy movie spoof, although it was made at the very beginning of the spy movie boom, and the movie is best appreciated in that spirit. Secret agent XK 150 (Robert Towne) narrates this misadventure concerning a gangster (Antony Carbone) who is hired to help take a big chunk of stolen gold out of Cuba in the aftermath of Castro's revolution. On board Carbone's boat is a small crew, the group of thieves, Agent XK 150, and a sexpot femme fatale (Betsy Jones-Moreland). Carbone gets the bright idea to keep the gold for himself by killing off the Cubans one at a time and claiming that a sea monster is to blame. Little does he know that a real sea monster is following the boat, leading to a climax in which the real monster kills just about everyone except the secret agent. The monster is ludicrously bad, like a swimmer covered with a big carpet, with ping-pong balls stuck on for eyes, and it's clear that we're not meant to take any of the menace seriously. The single funniest scene is when the sexpot croons a lounge song, which just happens to be called, "The Creature from the Haunted Sea," and she keeps singing it even while a group of would-be pirates are slaughtered right behind her. I also loved the narration that introduces the crew: we're told that Carbone once tried to nominate Mussolini for president on the Republican ticket, that Jones-Moreland was caught pushing heroin at Boy's Town, and that young Happy Jack (Robert Bean) got his facial tic from watching too many Bogart movies. My favorite character is Pete Peterson Jr. (Beach Dickerson), the son of a vaudeville-era bird mimic, who communicates mostly via animal noises; it's a one-joke bit that remains funny throughout. There are many good one-liners, such as the agent (who emphasizes to us that XK 150 is not his real name) telling us that "it was dusk--I could tell because the sun was going down," or one character telling us that he found his new girlfriend in Puerto Rico "living in a sort of sorority house by the docks." Though the special effects are mostly ineffective, shots of the monster underwater attacking some swimmers look like they may have influenced Spielberg in JAWS. The Robert Towne who plays the agent is the same Robert Towne who wrote some of Corman's films and later went on to write CHINATOWN and SHAMPOO. Good for a few laughs, but not for chills or thrills. [DVD]

Saturday, October 14, 2006


This classic 50's science fiction film seems, on the surface, to be another traditional warning about meddling in God's domain, though ultimately the film's message is both more cosmic and more personal than that, with an interesting spiritual tone toward the end. Typical 50's couple Scott and Louise Carey (Grant Williams and Randy Stuart) are lying about in their swimsuits, vacationing on their boat, in an almost flirtatious mood; when Stuart goes down to get some more beer, the boat goes through a large cloud of mist that leaves glitter on Williams' chest (I'm resisting a 70's disco joke here). They don't give the incident much thought, but a few months later, Williams complains that the dry cleaner gave him the wrong clothes because they're too big; later he notices that his wife no longer has to stand on tiptoes to kiss him, and after a trip to the doctor, he realizes that he's slowly shrinking. Modern medicine is helpless--they call his condition "anti-cancer" but don't know how to reverse it--and after news of his condition leaks out, he's viewed as a freak by a nosy public (there's an interlude in which he finds work at a carnival). The doctors try a serum on him which seems to stop the shrinking for a time, but soon even that quits working. Of course, his condition wrecks havoc with his relationship with his wife, who still vows to stick with him. Soon he's reduced to living in a doll house and when their pet cat attacks him, he winds up trapped in the basement. He's so small that he can't get his wife's attention and she assumes he's been killed by the cat. The last section of the film takes place entirely in the basement as he scavenges for food, tries to work around a mousetrap, and finally does battle with a spider. Not all the "big sets" special effects to make Williams look small work, but the action scenes are still surprisingly effective. In the quiet and haunting ending, he stands looking outside into the night sky, no longer hungry, no longer afraid, and, in a Samuel Beckett mood, speculates about going on in the face of the infinitesimal and the infinite. It's interesting that the cause of the shrinking, which is loosely tied to radioactivity and insecticides, isn't dealt with more, especially given the number of 50's SF movies that focused on atom-age fears. The movie clearly had a B-budget, and most of that money went to the special effects, so the sets are threadbare and the acting is modest at best. The blandly handsome, almost hunky Williams isn't the best actor (he wasn't even that good in the detective show "Hawaiian Eye" which seems to have been the peak of his career), but his detached demeanor works in the context of the movie. William Schallert (Patty Duke's TV dad) and Raymond Bailey (Mr. Drysdale on "The Beverly Hillbillies") play doctors. Hey, Universal, why isn't this classic out on DVD with commentary? [TCM]

Thursday, October 12, 2006

THE HEAD (1959)

I ran across this budget DVD with a trashy, lurid cover at the library and chose it for a "low expectations" viewing night, but the movie turned out to be better than its title and cover would indicate, and much more interesting than the more well-known B-movie THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN'T DIE (made the same year as this movie but not released until '62). That one was rightfully skewered on MST3K, but this German film, despite having a few low-budget rough edges, isn't a bad movie at all. Prof. Abel (well-regarded French character actor Michel Simon) lives in an odd house, not quite art deco, but reminiscent of other sinister mad doctor houses (specifically from THE BLACK CAT and EYES WITOUT A FACE), surrounded by an ominous Grimm Brothers forest. Attended by Dr. Burke (Kurt Muller-Graf) and a strapping, somewhat slow-witted assistant named Burt (Helmut Schmid), Abel has been working on Serum X, a formula to keep dead tissue alive, and he's used it successfully on a dog's head. Irene, a young and lovely but hunchbacked nurse (Karen Kernke) visits often and seems to have a thing for Dr. Burke. The creepy Dr. Ood (Horst Frank) arrives one night, having applied to be an assistant to Abel, who is sick and is planning on having his doctors perform a heart transplant on him, but Ood has more grandiose ambitions, wanting to perfect Serum X for his own purposes. When Burke catches on to Ood's plans, Ood kills him, decapitates Abel, and keeps his head alive, resting in a tub of the serum, with wires attached all over the place. Ood's ultimate plan is to cut off Irene's head and attach it to the voluptuous body of Lilly (Christiane Maybach), a stripper at the Tam-Tam Club, on whom, years ago, Ood performed plastic surgery to help her beat a murder rap. The operation goes well and at first, all Irene knows is that her hunched back has been cured, but soon she suspects that something isn't quite right, and when she discovers that she has Lilly's purse, she winds up at the Tam-Tam Club where the stripper's boyfriend recognizes a beauty mark on Irene's back as belonging to Lilly. A somewhat rushed climax follows, resulting in death and destruction back at the Abel house.

The German title of this film is "Die Nackte und der Satan," which translates as "The Nude and the Devil," and indeed the print I saw shows much evidence of censoring snips. We see Lilly start her strip tease, but then there's an abrupt cut to another scene. Later, when Ood plies Lilly with liquor to get her into his lab, she starts writhing, fully clothed, on a couch, then after a jagged cut, she is seen passed out in just her underwear. I assume both scenes had some nudity or near-nudity removed for American audiences, and it would be nice to see a clean and restored version of the movie. It's not a timeless classic, but for God's sake, if Criterion can do a special edition disc of the B-flick FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, it wouldn't hurt for some company to at least dig around for a complete cut of this film. The sets, not quite expressionistic, are quite atmospheric, and even the bare-bones strip club has a weird, "Blue Velvet"-ish feel. The movie's biggest strength is Horst Frank, who looks and acts appropriately strange without going over the top. As far as I know, the only version of this available in the states is from Alpha Video, and though the print is far from perfect, the dubbing is surprisingly good and I was pleased to discover this little gem in any condition. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Poverty Row thriller with a unique twist, though one that some find to be tasteless. Ralph Morgan is a concert pianist and Wanda McKay is his daughter. At a concert, creepy scientist J. Carroll Naish sees McKay, who resembles his dead wife Lenore (a Poe-ish touch), and becomes fixated on the idea that McKay is her reincarnation. Naish pesters the girl, who already has a fellow (Terry Frost). Morgan threatens to go to the police if Naish keeps it up, so Naish knocks Morgan out and injects him with the virus which causes acromegaly, a disorder that causes hideous deformity of the head, hands, and feet and will leave Morgan looking like a cousin of the Elephant Man. His hands are affected first and, since he is unable to play the piano, he cancels all of his bookings and retreats to his study. Morgan's doctor knows the name of a good endocrinologist, who of course turns out to be Naish, who is working on a cure and willing to let Morgan be his guinea pig if Morgan will "give" him McKay. There is a mildly complicated backstory involving Naish's dead wife, who killed herself when he gave her the same disease to punish her for leaving him, but that's not crucial to the climactic action, which involves guns, an ape, and Naish's loyal assistant (Tala Birell) who is eventually moved to help Morgan in his fight against Naish. Morgan's makeup is good for a sub-B film, though other production values are poor. Morgan and Naish are good, and the movie is short, which is a plus here. Glenn Strange, who later played the Frankenstein monster and spent years on Gunsmoke as the bartender, plays Naish's muscle thug. [DVD]

Monday, October 09, 2006


When I was a prepubescent horror movie fan, I not only sought out monster flicks but also any literature about monster flicks--at the age of 8, I had a subscription to "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and bought "Castle of Frankenstein" on the newsstands whenever I could find it. I was also a big comic book buff, and occasionally these two interests met, as in a series of photo-comic books based on horror films. The only two of these artifacts I remember vividly were for THE MOLE PEOPLE and THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH. I saw the first film when I was a teenager, but never got a chance to see the second until sometime in the 90's when I saw a cut print of it bludgeoned to death on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Now, thanks to Dark Sky Films, I own an incredibly pristine copy of the film forever on DVD. Is it really worth having forever? No, since it's basically a Frankie & Annette beach movie as if made by Ed Wood. But having had the chance to see this film which inspired lots of chills in me as a child is, to quote the MasterCard ads, priceless.

The film opens with a garbage boat dumping radioactive waste in the ocean. The canisters leak onto skeletons (Why are they there? Who knows?) which in no time flat transform into chintzy looking "Black Lagoon"-type creatures which come trolling along the beach and nearby community looking for young nubile women to slash up. The main characters are introduced at a beach party (duh!) where hunky John Scott is breaking up with slutty Marilyn Clarke, who wants more out of life than clean-cut, whitebread Scott. The movie flirts with "West Side Story" territory when Clarke starts dancing with sexy, swarthy biker Agustin Mayor and a rumble breaks out. Scott finds solace with the equally whitebread Alice Lyon (who looks closer to 40 than 20, though to be fair, Scott is also considerably older than the Party Beach regulars) and Clarke goes for a swim, only to become the first victim of the monsters. The rest of the movie is a series of vignettes of young women getting killed by the shambling creatures, alternating with vignettes of Scott working with Lyon's scientist father (Allen Laurel) at finding a way to stop the bloodshed. Laurel's maid (Eulabelle Moore), who insists that a voodoo curse is the problem, accidentally discovers that sodium is lethal to the monsters, leading to an incoherently staged finale as Scott and the cops try to destroy the beasts just as they're about to do in Lyon. The black and white film is surprisingly gory, especially in an early sequence where the monsters shred a bunch of girls at a slumber party, but unimaginative camerawork, awkward direction, and shoddy post-dubbing drain the last half of the film of any real energy. A band called the Del-Aires provides occasional rock & roll songs, unmemorable except for "The Zombie Stomp." Online critic Bradley Harding of Monsters at Play defends the film as a "send-up" of the American International beach films, but I don't think it was intended as a parody, and if it was, it's not nearly smart or funny enough to be successful on that level. Still, the movie is enjoyable in its sub-B-level way, and I can imagine watching it again when I'm in a nostalgic mood for the trappings of my childhood. [DVD]

Sunday, October 08, 2006


The granddaddy of caveman movies, and perhaps the uncle of dinosaur movies, since KING KONG came first. The film begins in the present time with a small band of mountaineers (including Tyrone Power and Carole Landis) seeking shelter in a cave during a storm. Already in the cave is a strange old man (Conrad Nagel) who proceeds to tell his captive audience a story of early humans, gleaned from ancient paintings on the cave walls. Once the flashback starts, there's a bit of narration by Nagel to set the scene, but after that there's no more dialogue (except some caveman grunts) and we never return to the frame story. Since Nagel encourages his listeners to identify with his tale, we see Power and Landis as the two chief protagonists. The main narrative is a kind of primitive "Romeo and Juliet" concerning a romance between members of two different caveman tribes: Power from the brutal Rock People and Landis from the more passive Shell People. Power kills a boar and gets into a clash with his group's leader (Lon Chaney Jr., almost unrecognizable to me at first in a beard and wild hairdo). He winds up kicked out of the clan and, injured and drifting down a river, is discovered by Landis who nurtures him back to health and, as a romance develops, also becomes a civilizing influence. The two have run-ins with dinosaurs, mostly real alligators and armadillos and photographically blown-up lizards with fins stuck on their backs. Eventually, a volcano erupts, sending thick flows of lava down to swallow up animals and people alike, but Power and Landis survive and wind up like Adam and Eve figures. The special effects are OK for the time (stop-motion animation may have been beyond the movie's budget) and some of the scenes have wound up in later caveman movies. The volcano sequence remains particularly impressive. Some have made animal cruelty charges against the film, especially in regards to a violent and bloody tussle between two lizards, but to me the fight looks mostly faked or enhanced by off-screen means. Produced and directed by Hal Roach, also known for the Topper movies and Laurel & Hardy comedies. John Hubbard, who appeared the same year in TURNABOUT with Landis (a fantasy/comedy I'll review next month), is the only supporting player I recognized. I'm happy to have finally seen this, but I'd recommend it only to genre buffs. Others might prefer the 1960's remake with Raquel Welch which I assume has better effects. [TCM]

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I like Mario Bava's BLACK SUNDAY and think it deserves its reputation as one of the most influential horror movies of the 1960's, but I'm not sure that Bava deserves his rep as a genius director. BARON BLOOD is the sixth Bava film I've seen and though each film does have some bright spots, usually in the area of visual style, acting and narrative are not his strong points and overall I haven't been terribly impressed with his output. In this one, handsome young Peter Kleist (Antonio Cantafora) arrives in Austria to search out information on his ancestor, the infamous Baron Otto Von Kleist, a kind of Vlad the Impaler figure from the distant past who had a full-fledged torture chamber set up in the basement of his castle. As it happens, the castle is undergoing restoration for possible use as a luxury hotel and Peter strikes up a friendship with sexy architect Eva (Elke Sommer). They hear rumors of ghosts and curses, and together, in a half-prankish, half-serious way, they read out an ancient incantation designed to bring the Baron back to life. They don't realize that their magic works and the Baron returns as a slouching, gory-faced, Phantom of the Opera-type killer who stalks the castle grounds. He later manages to disguise himself as a distinguished older gentleman in a wheelchair (Joseph Cotton) and is determined to reclaim his land. Peter and Eva figure things out and contact a medium (Rada Rassimov) in an attempt to send him back to oblivion. There is blood and death and, of course, since there's a nice torture chamber around, some scenes of torture before the undead Baron is taken care of. Cotton looks and sounds quite frail, although he wasn't yet 70, and would in fact live another 22 years (and make around 30 more movie and TV appearances before his death). Cantafora and Sommer are both easy on the eyes and act as well as they need to. Well known Italian actor Massimo Girotti (OSSESSIONE, LAST TANGO IN PARIS) is wasted in the role of Peter's uncle. There's an odd scene, in which the Baron kills someone in front of a huge Coke machine, which feels like awkward product placement. The castle sets are impressive, and a nighttime chase through interestingly-lit fog comes off quite well, but overall a slow-moving, disappointing affair. [DVD]

Thursday, October 05, 2006


I think this was an attempt at making a Val Lewton-type of psychological thriller, but sadly, a low budget and the presence in a supporting role of an actor (Tom Conway) who had appeared in several of Lewton's minor masterpieces are clearly not guarantees that an interesting film will result. Conway and the exotic setting bring to mind I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, but this movie loses in any kind of comparison to that more interesting and atmospheric film. At Van Gelder Manor in the middle a jungle plantation, passions ran high, so we are told, because of a love triangle between the plantation owner (Paul Cavanagh), his young wife (Barbara Payton), and the main overseer (Raymond Burr, looking about as young and thin as he ever would). The two men wind up in a fist fight and Cavanagh is bitten by a deadly snake which kills him. An old native woman (Gisela Werbisek) finds the body and puts a curse on the killer, saying "The jungle will hunt him until he's dead." In what could have been an interesting idea (albeit a cop from Lewton's CAT PEOPLE), it turns out that it's not the jungle hunting him down so much as himself; Burr, after marrying the widow, begins to think that he's transforming into a gorilla. He's drawn into the jungle at night, to do what, we're never sure, and the only time we see him in gorilla form is when we're looking through his eyes, or when he's looking in a reflective surface. After long segments of Burr stumbling deliriously around a cheap jungle set, alternating with obvious stock footage from other jungle movies, Burr gets justice at the hands of police commissioner Lon Chaney (yes, Chaney's the good guy!). This winds up being a psychological thriller being sold to viewers as a monster movie, and everyone will be disappointed. Sadly, it's not quite bad enough to be a "so bad it's good" treat, though the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guys might have been able to make it watchable. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


[Spoilers follow!] The original title of this Italian horror film is THE VIRGIN OF NUREMBERG. That's a more interesting title, but either way, the film itself is a mediocre product, which is a bit frustrating because the plot has potential. The opening sequence is well done: a woman (Roseanna Podesta) wakes up during a thunderstorm, finds her husband gone, and while looking for him, hears faraway moaning. She investigates and finds a room filled with torture chamber paraphernalia, including an imposing iron maiden (The "Virgin" of the Italian title) with blood dripping from it. When she opens it, she finds a dead woman, her empty eye sockets oozing gore. After the credits, we find out that Podesta has just come to live in a German castle with her new husband (George Riviere); the basement of the castle is a torture chamber museum, and there are rumors that a mad torturer from 300 years ago, known as "The Punisher," still haunts the place. For the next hour, we get a lot of tedious scenes of Podesta wandering around the atmospheric halls and grounds of the castle, dodging a few sinister-seeming folks: the scarred museum assistant Erich (Christopher Lee), the creepy housekeeper, a tourist who is apparently a police officer, and a masked figure who may or may not be just a display mannequin that keeps getting moved around. After another out-of-the-blue murder and a scene of torture involving a rat starting to gnaw through a woman's face, we discover that the real killer is no ghost but Riviere's father (Mirko Valentin), a Nazi who was part of the failed scheme to kill Hitler. He was caught and tortured mercilessly--his face now looks like a skinned skull, and he bears a passing resemblance to Ralph Finnes as Voldemort in last year's Harry Potter movie--and he has himself become a mad torturer. The finale is OK, but doesn't quite make the earlier 70 minutes worth sitting through. Because everyone is rather poorly dubbed, even the English-speaking Lee, it's difficult to judge the acting. The musical score is weak throughout; sometimes it's got a weird jazzy/noir feel which is out of sync with the film's tone, and other times it's wildly overdone shock music, which seems intended to make up for the film's overall lack of shocks. [TCM]

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Today I begin my annual month of horror movie reviews with the last of my Kay Kyser films. Some critics lambaste this movie, which features Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Peter Lorre, as a missed opportunity, and it's true that none of the three are used to their full spooky potential. But once you accept that, and quit wishing the movie was something other than what it is, I think you'll find it a fine comedy-thriller, atmospheric enough for Halloween viewing. Kyser and his band are playing a 21st birthday party gig for an heiress (Helen Parrish) who is also the girlfriend of Kyser's manager (Dennis O'Keefe). The site of the party is a mansion which just happens to be on a small island connected to the mainland only by a small bridge, and once the band and guests arrive, the bridge collapses in the middle of a nasty storm, leaving all stranded for the night. Parrish's slightly loony aunt (Alma Kruger) has arranged to hold a seance with her favorite medium (a turbaned Lugosi) in order to contact her dead husband, and Parrish has arranged to have famed skeptic Lorre there to expose Lugosi's trickery. Also present is Karloff, a respected judge and the family's legal advisor. The seance is played well for both creepiness and hilarity, and it soon becomes clear that someone is trying to kill Parrish, probably for her inheritance. Lugosi is the obvious villain, but are there others in cahoots with him? Kyser, O'Keefe, and Kyser's resident funny man Ish Kabibble trip over themselves trying to solve the mystery. There are secret panels, a falling chandelier, electric shock machines, and a dog whose tail glows in the dark, among other "old dark house" hijinks. One odd but effective gimmick is an electronic voice-distortion device called the Sonovox which produces an unearthly effect and is used both in the climax and the closing musical number. Speaking of music, the songs this time around are all fairly catchy, especially "Like the Fella Once Said," which is made up of bad puns, and "The Bad Humor Man." My favorite Kyser movie; I hope Warner puts out a DVD set of his, though I won't be holding my breath. [TCM]