Saturday, October 31, 2009


Despite the title, this is not a vampire film, but instead a re-telling of the legend of the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who tortured and killed dozens (some say hundreds) of young women, supposedly because she could bathe in the blood of virgins and stay unnaturally young. Here, Ingrid Pitt is an aging countess who has just been left a widow. The Count's will has left the estate to Pitt and their daughter (Lesley Anne Down), left the horses and stables to a hunky lieutenant (Sandor Eles, pictured), the library and its contents to a historian (Maurice Denham), and some old army uniforms to the castle steward (Nigel Green), who also happens to be Pitt's lover. No one is terribly happy with these arrangements, but an interesting melodrama about class and gender conflict is short-circuited when Pitt discovers, totally by accident, that the blood of virgins makes her look 30 years younger. She has Down kidnapped, poses as her own daughter, and strikes up an affair with Eles, which pisses off Green, even though he agrees to help her procure virgin sacrifices. The problem is that the effect wears off suddenly, with no warning, and her old self looks more and more ravaged each time. Denham gets suspicious, Green gets jealous, and Down eventually gets out of her captivity just as Eles is about to marry Pitt, leading to an ending which is a little too abrupt, but satisfying in a gothic fairy tale way. Pitt is good, and I found her old-age makeup to be quite convincing (though not all critics see it that way). The acting all around is a notch above par for a Hammer B-film, though the lovely Down doesn't get to do much except struggle with her captors, escape, and get caught so she can go through it all over again. The blood and gore is minimal, and the most shocking scene is early one, when Pitt's carriage runs over and kills a peasant begging for work. [DVD]

Friday, October 30, 2009


Undistinguished Hammer Studios potboiler which does incorporate one interesting variation on the traditional Mummy story. In 1900 Egypt, a British expedition, led by Sir Giles and including his daughter Annette and her boyfriend John, finds the tomb of Egyptian prince Ra; rather than give the treasures to a museum, the group's backer, an obnoxious American named King, decides to take it all, including the mummy's sarcophagus, on the road to make money. Of course, there’s a curse on the defilers of the tomb and sure enough, bad things start happening, beginning with a shipboard robbery of important papers and an attack on John. When sturdy Adam Beauchamp comes to their rescue, Annette falls for his charms. Soon, the mummy is missing, off on a killling spree starting with King. We get the backstory of Ra, who had his hand chopped off and was killed by his brother Be, and it turns out that brother Be is still alive, and wants the mummy for his own purposes. This element of the story is the one original thing in the movie, and I won’t spoil it with further discussion (though one look at the cast list at IMDb will do that for you).

There are all kinds of problems here: the acting is weak, the mummy is rather portly, and Annette speaks in a strange dubbed-in German accent. Fred Clark, as King, chews the scenery but winds up being the most colorful character in the movie, and despite his overbearing personality, you're sorry to see him go so early. Terence Howard as Beauchamp is also acceptable in his role as a somewhat mysterious stranger whom we're never quite sure if we should like or dislike. Though the mummy is a disappointment, there are two startling scenes of violence: one, in the very beginning, shows the chopping-off of a hand and is remarkably graphic for its day (I admit I gasped out loud); the other, late in the film, involves the mummy crushing someone's head with his foot, and while not graphic at all, it is still an effective shock. The other point of interest is that the stereotypically sinister Egyptian character of Hashmi Bey (George Pastell) winds up being not sinister at all. Not as bad as some critics claim (with a few calling this the worst Hammer film ever), but not one to go our of your way to see--although the Hammer Icons of Horror DVD set is a good one. [DVD]

Thursday, October 29, 2009


This is not exactly a masterpiece, but it is perhaps the best Gothic melodrama I’ve seen to date. 17-year-old Caroline’s father is sick and adds a codicil to his will stating that, in the event of his death, she will be taken care of by her Uncle Silas (Derrick De Marney). Dad thinks Silas is a fine man who has been misunderstood because of a shadowy murder accusation in his past. Sure enough, Dad dies and Caroline (Jean Simmons) goes to Silas’s large, dark, and dilapidated mansion. At first, her uncle seems pleasant and just a little nutty, but we soon find out that, with debtors threatening to take his property, he’s plotting to get his hands on his late brother’s fortune, and with only Caroline in his way, that means she’ll have to die. Based on a book by Sheridan Le Fanu, this is an archetypal full-blooded Victorian-era Gothic tale, complete with an old dark house, a villainous governess, a rogue of a son, a handsome stranger, a locked-up wing in the house, stormy nights, and a scary face at the window. Hitchcock’s REBECCA may be a richer movie, but this one is more fun, partly due to the detailed sets, the shadowy cinematography, the well-worn story, and good performances, primarily from De Marney and Katina Paxinou as the crazy, wicked governess. This film, also known as The Inheritance, is hard to come across, but it deserves to be better known, and though it’s not a horror movie, would be perfect atmospheric viewing for late October. [TCM]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


This was once considered a lost film, and therefore some hoped that it might be a horror classic. It’s been found, and while it’s not quite a “classic,” it’s a solidly made thriller (with mild horror elements) in the genre of what I call the exotic jungle melodrama. Dorothy Burgess (at left) is a young wife and mother who was born and raised on the Caribbean island of San Christopher where, thanks to her black nurse Ruva, she was immersed in the voodoo culture of the island. Now, away from home for many years, she sits and pounds a drum on the floor with her 6-year-old daughter. Her husband (Jack Holt), in consultation with a doctor, agrees to send her off on a trip back home to see if it will help her occasionally neurotic behavior (aside from the drumming, we never know that consists of). Holt’s secretary (Fay Wray), who secretly harbors a crush on her boss, goes along with Burgess and the daughter as a companion. A family employee from the island tries to stop the trip but winds up dead, killed by a black man skulking about in the shadows. Burgess arrives on the island and is welcomed by the wildly excited islanders; we soon realize that they see her as something of a long-lost voodoo priestess. When Burgess decides to extend her stay long enough to participate in a voodoo moon ceremony (at which there just might be a blood sacrifice), Wray wires the mainland to get help from Holt. The wireless operator is found hanged, but Holt makes it to the island in time for a grand old blood-and-thunder finale which involves most of the white people holed up in a tower while Burgess is about to sacrifice her own daughter.

There is some argument among film buffs as to whether or not this is a real horror film; as far as I’m concerned, if Val Lewton’s well-made but rather mild voodoo film I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE has horror movie status, this one should as well. Granted, the first third of the movie is standard B-movie melodrama stuff, but the shadowy cinematography in the last part of the film adds atmosphere which is missing from the first half, the voodoo sacrifice scenes work up some horrific tension, and there’s a fairly high body count for a movie with a small cast. Fay Wray, the biggest name here, doesn’t have much to do aside from look worried. Holt, whom I’ve found to be somewhat wooden in the past, is quite good here, and Burgess, though third-billed, is the real star, doing a fine job in a tricky part that requires her to change moods and motivations. Clarence Muse is fine in a supporting role as the “good” native; Madame Sul-Te-Wan is wasted as Ruva. This one doesn’t show up a lot, but the print that TCM shows is surprisingly crisp and clean for movie once thought lost. [TCM]

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

2 October short takes:


Lawlessness is rampant in Europe after the Napoleonic Wars--don't know why that’s important, but that’s what we're told. A traveling theatrical troupe is warned about their iffy future, in rhyme, by an old hag (Donald Sutherland in drag, who also has a role as one of the actors). They are invited to stay at the castle of Count Drago (Christopher Lee) who has a room full of stuffed animals—he’s an amateur taxidermist. One by one, members of the troupe are killed off and it looks like the Count will soon have a room of stuffed humans to call his own. This has potential, but once you know where it's going, it takes a long time getting there; despite some atmospheric shots in the castle and a handful of startling deaths (one with an arrow through an eye), my partner remarked halfway through the movie, "My, but life was tedious in the 19th century." Michael Reeves (THE CONQUERER WORM) is credited as a co-writer. [TCM]


This movie plays out like THE OLD DARK HOUSE if the Munsters had been in the lead roles. American Jack Robinson (Pat Boone, believe it or not!) arrives at his girlfriend's family's mansion in England to ask for her hand in marriage. The family, in mourning for cousin Creighton, is an odd lot: Cornwallis is a ham actor, Natalia is a vampiric-looking lady, Muldoon is a crazy brute who has to be kept locked up, Percival is a delusional old man who keeps inventing things that have already been invented, and Grandpa is stuck in bed, reading Playboy. Soon, they start getting bumped off one by one and Jack's sure that someone is after the family's money and estate. This is a loony movie that is fun to watch once, but I can't imagine sitting through it again. One critic compared it to ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, and I think that's the kind of mood the director was going for, but Terence Fisher, despite being an old hand at Hammer horror films, is no Frank Capra, and Boone is definitely no Cary Grant, though he's OK, and he even gets a musical number midway through the movie. [TCM]

Monday, October 26, 2009


This comes off as a remake of Arch Oboler's FIVE with less interesting dialogue and more action and cliches. However, it's one of the first "monster movies" I remember seeing in my youth, so I still have a soft spot for it. Opening much like FIVE, just after a nuclear apocalypse (with the words "The End" emblazoned across the screen), a radioactive fog is sweeping the world and retired military man Paul Birch and his daughter (Lori Nelson) have stocked up provisions in their house in an isolated California valley (into which the fog doesn't descend). They have enough for three to live comfortably--Lori's fiancé was expected but doesn't show up--but they take in a larger group of stragglers who were caught near the valley at the time of the blasts. They include slick thug Mike Connors, his stripper girlfriend (Adele Jergens), a grizzled old prospector and his burro, a man who seems to be on the verge of death from radiation poisoning, and a hunky geologist (Richard Denning). Trapped in the house together for weeks, tensions soon develop, mostly between Connors and Denning who both fall for Nelson, though of course she only has eyes for Denning. The dying man doesn't die but instead begins mutating into a creature with scaly amour, fit for surviving in the contaminated environment. It turns out that there is at least one other fully mutated monster hanging around outside the house who is almost as much a threat to our group as the violent and unpleasant Connors.

This Roger Corman film has an ultra-cheap look; the house is ugly, the huge sliding glass door drapes are always shut (probably due to a limited budget, though it does add to the claustrophobic feel), and the monster makeup, quite effective at first glance, is not so effective when given too much exposure. There is a nice plot twist involving the inevitable rain which Birch is sure it will be poisonous, and the identity of the roaming mutant is fairly subtly revealed (I certainly didn't catch it when I was 10 years old). Blond bombshell Jergens gives the best performance here, partly because her character is a little more nuanced than the rest. Denning gives good chest, but is otherwise unremarkable. Connors, better looking than Denning (but not as blond), went on to fame and fortune as Mannix on TV in the 60's. This is available in a decent widescreen DVD, paired with the junky treat THE SHE-CREATURE. [DVD]

Saturday, October 24, 2009


This Vincent Price vehicle is closely modeled after his popular THEATER OF BLOOD from a year earlier, with a dash of flavoring from his Dr. Phibes movies tossed in. Price plays a horror movie actor who announces, at a party honoring his latest movie featuring his popular character Dr. Death, that he's engaged to marry a busty young blonde. Porn producer Robert Quarry tells Price that the woman used to be a porn star. In a fit of anger, Price goes looking for her and finds her decapitated. He's cleared of guilt in her murder, but goes into seclusion for years until screenwriter Peter Cushing talks him into reprising his Dr. Death role for a TV series. Things get complicated when 1) it turns out that Quarry, gone legit, is producing the series, and 2) someone starts killing young actresses on the set in ways that duplicate killings from the Dr. Death films. It's pretty obvious that Price is not the killer, but who is? Cushing? Quarry? A loony disfigured actress (Adrienne Corri) from Price's past who is now married to Cushing? A young network flack (Natasha Pyne) who's always buzzing around? This was the last movie Price made with American International, and it provides a nice send-off, being played rather tongue-in-cheek, though not as campily as the Phibes movies, and it includes clips from several of his AIP Poe films. Cushing is wasted, but Quarry and Corri are fine. Some plot points are rather loosely handled, but there are some nice visual touches, and, though most critics don't care for this movie, I found it almost as fun as PHIBES and BLOOD. [DVD]

Thursday, October 22, 2009


A gloomy Gothic-toned tale of love, sex, and death. It's inspired by a poem by Tristan Corbiere, and some critics note that this movie is best approached as a visual poem; certainly like many poems, short stories, or TV series episodes, it's all about atmosphere over narrative, and it is effective here and there, but at feature-film length, it feels quite padded out. At a wedding party, a guest in black (Hugues Quester, acting here under the name Pierre Dupont) recites a short poem (by Corbiere) about death and flirts with a girl in red (Francoise Pascal) who may be a bit death-obsessed. They spend the next day together romping through a 70's Clairol commercial (except with fog and gloom instead of sunshine and tall grass) and take a picnic into a fenced-in graveyard. Down in a crypt, they get naked and do the deed while weird figures, like a clown, are traipsing about between the graves. After night falls, they try to find their way out but when they discover they are locked in, they get a little hysterical and start bickering. She lies down on a grave, acting like she's communing with the dead, and the pair wind up in a old burial pit, making out against a pile of bones. It's all downhill from here for the pair and for the audience. I do appreciate the attempt at producing a single concentrated effect, as Poe believed should be the goal of the short story, but the length here is a problem. Neither lead is particularly effective and the lack of background music hurts. There is a causal reference to it being November 1st, so maybe this is a Halloween/All Soul's Day story. Directed by French cult filmmaker Jean Rollin who is known for both horror and porn; this film has one completely gratuitous nude scene late in the proceedings, but frankly it's too little, too late. Aka LA ROSE DE FER and THE CRYSTAL ROSE. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Kai (Shen Chan), human caretaker for the legendary seven golden vampires of China, arrives in Transylvania to enlist Dracula’s help as one of the seven is dead or sick or something and needs to be mystically revived. Dracula takes Kai’s human form and heads off to the Chinese village where the vampires (who wear large golden bat medallions which apparently give them their power) capture buxom wenches and tie them to a large star-shaped torture device where they lie there bare-breasted, wriggling about to beat the band until the inevitable blood-letting when their blood drains down into a bubbling cauldron. But Dracula’s old nemesis Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is hot on his trail, and he's partnered up with his son (Robin Stewart), a rich young countess (Julie Ege), and members of the Hsi clan, who have fought the vampires for years.

There was potential in this plotline, but the film ends up feeling like a Hammer movie unit was stuck in Hong Kong (where this was filmed) and decided to make a movie to pass the time until the next boat home. There is some lackluster kung-fu fighting, some terribly phony rubber bats, and, as mentioned above, some jiggling bosoms. The Chinese vampires react to icons of Buddah as Western vampires do to the cross. Van Helsing’s son, who has the looks of a second-rate romantic lead, is almost completely ineffectual, as an actor and a character. In a nice multicultural twist, his love interest is not the European Ege but a Hsi sister, and Ege has the hots for the leader of the Hsi clan. There is a fair amount of blood, though the most atmospheric scenes are of hordes of corpses rising from their graves to help the vampires. The best moment is when one man has to kill his beloved because she has been become a vampire, then has to spear himself because she bit him. Worth seeing as a novelty. [DVD]

Monday, October 19, 2009


The best sequence in this film is the opening, featuring Richard Greene in a coffin, apparently dead but actually alive but in a coma-like state, unable to communicate with the two men who are preparing him for burial. The bulk of the film is a flashback showing how Greene, an English nobleman, got in this predicament. Investigating the strange disappearance of two friends, he is put on the trail of the eye-patched Count Von Bruno (Stephen McNally). Greene, incognito, arrives at McNally's Austrian estate for a hunting vacation. He doesn't find his friends, but he falls for the Countess (Rita Corday) who was forced into a marriage she didn't want. As he vows to help her get away, he must also contend with a brutish mute manservant (Lon Chaney Jr.), an African panther, a pit of crocodiles, some sword-wielding henchmen, a spot of torture, and a doctor (Boris Karloff) who, when Greene and Corday get in a tight spot, agrees to give them a serum that will put them in a death-like state for twelve hours, theoretically allowing them to escape the grounds in their coffins. However, as we saw in the opening, that plan backfires. Will good (Greene) triumph over evil (McNally)? The first scene, set on a windy night in a spooky courtyard, with howling dogs in the background, sets the bar high, but the movie never again reaches this height of horrific atmosphere. In fact, it plays out more like a Gothic-tinged swashbuckling melodrama than a full-blooded horror film. Greene and Karloff (in a particularly small role) are good; McNally is OK but not as dreadfully imposing as he should be. John Hoyt and Michael Pate are the wicked henchmen. Henry Corden, later the voice of Fred Flintstone in the 80's and 90's, is a sympathetic servant. The sets are good, but overall the film is a bit too "off" in most departments to be a truly effective shocker. [DVD]

Saturday, October 17, 2009


A newly married couple (Simon Andreu and Maribel Martin) go to a hotel for their honeymoon, but she has a scary vision of a man leaping out of a closet and raping her, so she talks her husband into going straight to his family’s estate. She's a virgin, and his deflowering of her is enacted rather like the dream rape; the next morning, they seem happy but she is clearly not up to his 2 or 3-times-a-day appetite. Meanwhile, Martin is disturbed to find that all the portraits of the family's women have been relegated to the basement, particularly one with its face cut out of the notorious Mircalla (the title figure) who stabbed her husband to death on their wedding night because he wanted her to do "unnatural things." A ghostly vision of Mircalla starts appearing to Martin, and she has a dream that Mircalla forces her to stab her husband repeatedly, rip out his heart, and castrate him (though this last act is referred to rather vaguely). The next day, Andreu finds a naked woman buried in the sand on the beach; she’s a dead ringer for the Mircalla figure—and, go figure, her name is Carmilla, an anagram of Mircalla. If you know Sheridan Le Fanu's story "Carmilla," on which this film is loosely based, you know that lesbian vampirism is right around the corner. This winds up being a fairly interesting variation on the Le Fanu story. The film is moody but not terribly gory (though there is some blood-spattering now and again, and the dream-killing of the husband is rather rough) and a little kinky, with an outdoor oral sex scene and a climax involving the two women, naked, inside a coffin, followed soon by the gushing of gallons of blood. Thematically, the movie is misogynistic, though I'd hate to try and cipher out any kind of coherent message about sex and gender, aside from, "If you don’t have sex with your husband whenever he wants it, you’re fated to become an undead lesbian." This Spanish movie appears to have been shot with actors speaking both English and Spanish, with everyone ultimately dubbed in English, probably by different actors, so the acting is difficult to critique. Both Martin and Alexandra Bastedo as Carmilla (both pictured above) are lovely and all three leads are adequate if not much more. [DVD]

Thursday, October 15, 2009


This film begins with a striking sequence: Dr. Frankenstein's assistant Hans (Sandor Eles) steals the freshly dead body of a young man; Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) cuts open the chest and rips the heart out, submerges it in a solution, cranks up the electricity, and gets it to start beating--until a priest arrives screaming of blasphemy and destroys the lab. Frankenstein and Hans return to his old village (where we get an extensive flashback of the doc's earlier adventures in restoring life to the dead) and hide in a glacier cave where they find a deaf-mute begger girl; she mumblingly communes with a figure encased in the ice which turns out to be Frankenstein's original monster. They bring him back to life and hire circus hypnotist Zoltan (Peter Woodthorpe) to get the brute's brain to work; Zoltan tries to control the monster, sending him on a robbery spree in the village, but when the monster kills, the villagers do their usual thing and try to storm the castle (without torches, since they go in broad daylight), leading to the usual ending of bleak destruction.

The third Hammer Films version of Frankenstein was the first one to use specific elements of the 1931 Universal film with Boris Karloff--Universal released the film in the U.S.--and is not well thought of by critics, but I quite liked it, or parts of it. Cushing cuts a fine, if gaunt, figure as the good/bad doc; Eles (pictured with Cushing) makes an unusual assistant--instead of the usual deformed idiot, he is relatively smart and handsome. Katy Wild as the mute girl is attractive but has little to do, though Woodthorpe adds some spice to the proceedings. As the monster, Kiwi Kingston is buried in thick make-up that looks like a cross between a golem and the Karloff creature, but he's not really very scary. The look of the film is superb; it's probably the best looking Hammer film ever, with excellent cinematography, good sets (Frankenstein's old mansion is especially effective), and fine use of color. Available in the Hammer Horrors Series boxed set. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Up at the top of the world, Air Force scientist and pilot Jeff Morrow sees a UFO, but because nothing shows up on radar, he is accused of pulling a prank until a commercial airline pilot also reports a sighting. One old Canadian trapper thinks he's seen it and believes it's a flying wolf-woman out of folklore, but eventually, it's revealed that the strange flying object which has begun attacking planes is a gigantic extraterrestrial bird, protected by an anti-matter barrier that prevents it from showing up on radar. Morrow and his squeeze (Mara Corday) theorize, based on the spiral pattern of its flights, that it's building a nest somewhere, and sure enough, it is. They find a giant egg and destroy it, but somehow the huge bird winds up in New York City, perched Kong-like on a skyscraper, where they buzz the thing in planes and manage to attack it with some invention of Morrow's that does indeed polish it off. From the summary, you might assume this is no worse than any other 50's kiddie-matinee monster flick, but you'd be wrong: what drags it down (or takes it soaring to the heights of bad-moviedom) is the monster bird, a terribly cheap special effect puppet. In my notes, I wrote, "Muppet vulture with visible strings." It just never looks very frightening, and it takes too much suspension of disbelief to think that it is. Morrow and Corday are veterans of such films and are OK, but they can't really make the movie worth watching. [DVD]

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Dracula meets Gidget meets Shadow of a Doubt on a small budget in this film made by a director who apparently didn't care that most of his after-midnight scenes look like they’re taking place at high noon. A band of men arrive at a Transylvanian cemetery at dawn to stake a vampire (Francis Lederer), but his coffin is empty. Lederer kills a man who was on his way to California to stay with relatives and takes over his identity. When he arrives in suburban Carleton, he is viewed by his cousin and her teenage daughter (Norma Eberhardt) as a little stand-offish and eccentric (for example, he's never around in the daytime), but they, especially Eberhardt who finds him exotically fascinating, make an effort to get to know him. Lederer stalks a blind girl (Virginia Vincent) who tells Eberhardt that the nights seem to be getting darker. Sure enough, she winds up dead, or more to the point, undead. Enter John Wengraf, a European Van Helsing-figure on Lederer's trail, and we all know where the story goes from here. I wrote in my notes that this movie should be called Dracula Goes to Mayberry, and oddly enough, the name of the family he's visiting is Mayberry! The acting is strictly second-string except for Lederer, who is OK but adds nothing new to the Dracula routine. The handsome Ray Stricklyn, who was 30 but looks about 18 here, is Eberhardt's boyfriend, but doesn’t have much to do. Eberhardt's relationship with Lederer reminded me of the niece and uncle of Hitchcock's SHADOW OF A DOUBT. The bright nighttime scenes are truly distracting. The black and white film turns to color for five seconds during a climactic blood-gushing scene. [TCM]

Friday, October 09, 2009


College professor Arthur Franz is excited when student Troy Donahue delivers an ancient fossilized fish from Madagascar, a coelacanth, to his lab. No one notices that Donahue's dog laps up a little bit of bloody water from the crate, but moments later everyone notices that the dog has grown extra fangs and gone vicious. Franz declares it a "throwback" and cages it for the night, but the next day, it's just a sweet friendly pup again. The same thing happens to a dragonfly that sups on the fish; it becomes a gigantic buzzing prehistoric-looking creature. When Franz cuts his hand on a fish tooth, he too becomes a snarling "throwback" and kills a young woman, not realizing when he reverts to normal that he's done so. (Technically, that's a spoiler, as they don't reveal for sure who the monster is until the end, but there is virtually no one else it could be, not even a cheap red herring character.) Another violent attack happens after Franz has, get this, smoked some of the fish blood which came from the giant dragonfly and dripped into his pipe. The cops think there's a killer after Franz, but Franz soon realizes that he's the killer.

This is about par for the course for a late 50's sci-fi horror flick: pedestrian story, acting, sets, and direction, and just enough juice now and then to keep you from falling asleep. The coelacanth is a pretty good prop, grotesque and a little scary, though the monster insect is fairly laughable (pictured above, you can kinda see the wires). There is a startling shot showing Franz's first victim hanging by her hair from a tree, but as far as shocks and thrills, it's mostly downhill from there. Donahue is a large wooden pole, though an attractive one; Franz is OK, as is Joanna Moore as his main squeeze. The movie's lesson: "Man is only one generation from savagery!" Or maybe it's something about the beast triumphing over the seeker; I was in a popcorn/Coke coma by the end. [DVD]

Thursday, October 08, 2009


First, we hear about a dangerous bandit known as The Bat, a masked villain right out of a 1940's serial, who has been vivisecting animals (and "society is duly alarmed," according to the subtitles). Next, we're at a "neuropsychiatric investigations" conference where we hear from a Dr. Almada who is working on past-life regression through hypnosis. His girlfriend Flora goes under in a scene which involves a big spinning spiral, discordant music, and bug eyes. In her past life, she was Xochi, an Aztec virgin who was caught with a man just before she was to be sacrificed. Her lover is given a potion to drive him mad and she is put to death. With information given to him by Flora, Almada heads off to find Xochi's tomb to recover a breastplate to prove that his regression technique works. The Bat follows along, believing that the breastplate is the key to finding hidden Aztec treasure. Finally, once they all get to the pyramid, there’s the Mummy of the title, Xochi's lover, who kidnaps Flora and is fought, like Dracula, with the power of the cross. This was the first in a series of Aztec Mummy movies (surely you've seen Wrestling Women vs. The Aztec Mummy?); I remember these films being shown on Chiller Theater, in badly dubbed versions. It was nice to see this in its original state, though I can’t say it made me want to rush out and catch the sequels. The bizarre plot threads ultimately aren't connected very well, the acting is sub-B level, and it looks rather cheap. Still, if you must see it, get the recent DVD release which is about as good as this film is likely to look. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


Despite the title, this isn’t a horror movie so much as a kind of New Year's Eve-take on A Christmas Carol. Edit, a Salvation Army sister, is on her deathbed and her only wish is to see David, an unrepentant drunkard and general low-life whom she had tried to help over the past year. David, drunk and sitting in a gutter, ignores her call and tells his two buddies a story he heard from his late friend Georges that the last person to die each year has to drive Death’s carriage for the next year. As it happens, after David refuses to see Edit, he is beaten up by his companions and, near death, sees Death’s carriage approach with Georges at the helm. Feeling partly responsible for having led David into his life of waste, Georges acts as Dickens' Ghost of Christmas Past and we get an extended flashback showing how David started drinking, mistreated his wife and child, and even may have been indirectly responsible for Edit’s illness (she mended his germ-ridden coat for him, and her thanks was to have him tear it up in front of her). He's even driven his wife to attempt to poison herself and their child. Will David repent, and even if he does, will Death's carriage leave without him?

This was an important film in the history of Swedish cinema; the director, Victor Sjostrom, went on to make the great Hollywood silent movie THE WIND, and years later starred in Ingmar Bergman's WILD STRAWBERRIES—he also stars here as David. The double-exposure special effects used for the carriage and the ghostly figures are well done, and the atmosphere of creepiness and gloom is sustained throughout; there is no humor or whimsy to lighten the mood. The narrative, even within the flashback, skips around in time but remains easy to follow. Not really a horror movie, but still a good October viewing choice. Aka Korkarlen and The Stroke of Midnight. [TCM]

Monday, October 05, 2009


Libby, babysitting for her little sister, invites Kit over to her isolated house while her parents take an overnight trip. Bored after dinner, they start playing phone pranks, picking names at random out of the phone book, calling people and saying things like, "I saw what you did and I know who you are!" They happen upon a man (John Ireland) who in fact has just murdered his wife (in a scene that slavishly copies the shower scene in PSYCHO); of course, he thinks he’s dealing with an adult voyeur who’s out to blackmail him, and as one thing leads to another, Ireland winds up outside Libby's house in the middle of the night, ready to take care of the snoop.

This William Castle thriller isn't a very good movie but it could be argued that it is the real granddaddy of the slasher film. Of course, today's horror movie fans will laugh at this one; except for the shower murder, which is rather brutal, the violence is minimal and the gore non-existent. Though Ireland does a nice job as a figure of menace, it never feels like the girls are in real danger, even at the climax. The plot machinations that allow Ireland to discover his caller's identity are somewhat clever, and the film has the added though dubious attraction of Joan Crawford in what amounts to a cameo role as Ireland’s mistress who also meets a bad end. It all feels like an episode of The Brady Bunch, down to the inappropriately jaunty music and the fancy suburban house set--rather artificial but nicely shadowy. None of the three girls went on to have an acting career. This came out when I was 9, and I remember the ads vividly; I suppose if I had seen it then, it would have given me nightmares. [TCM]

Sunday, October 04, 2009


This early Ray Harryhausen monster movie is surprisingly fun, despite the low budget and the silly romance plot. Kenneth Tobey is the commander of an atomic submarine which gets rammed by a large, mysterious, radioactive Something that shows up on the sonar. When they surface, a chunk of animal flesh is found and two top marine biologists, Donald Curtis and Faith Domergue, are called in to help Tobey investigate. While a rather mild romantic triangle develops between the three, they discover that this thing is a giant octopus; they theorize that it resided deep in the Pacific until it was disturbed by H-bomb blasts. The marine life forms that would be its natural prey can sense its radioactivity and make them themselves scarce, so the beast heads to the American West Coast to feed. It shows up again on the Oregon coast, heads south where it wraps itself around the Golden Gate bridge, and winds up wrecking havoc in the San Francisco Bay. Tobey and Curtis go down in a sub to make one last effort at killing it; will one have to sacrifice his life for the other (and for Domergue, and, I guess, for mankind)? The plot is nothing you haven't seen before--some critics have noted in particular that it seems like a seaside version of the earlier THEM (giant radioactive ants in Los Angeles), and it does, but it's still fun. Harryhausen's stop-motion octopus is notorious for only having six tentacles (all the budget would allow), but honestly I've seen this movie three times and I've always found the creature so effective that I've never noticed this flaw. All three lead actors are just fine, with the understated Curtis especially good in the secondary male lead. The film would seem to partake of the same atomic-age paranoia which informed GODZILLA, THEM, and countless other 50's SF films, but that aspect of the plot is downplayed practically out of existence, and the final scene is all about the romance. [TCM]

Saturday, October 03, 2009

THE SKULL (1965)

Peter Cushing, a collector of arcane occult memorabilia, buys an antique book, bound in human flesh, about the Marquis de Sade from shady dealer Patrick Wymark. The next night, Wymark brings him a human skull reputed to be Sade’s. It turns out Wymark stole the skull from fellow collector Christopher Lee, who is glad to be rid of it as he believes the skull is possessed by evil spirits that make its owner do terrible things by the light of the full moon. Sure enough, one night Cushing has a freaky nightmare and wakes up in Wymark’s apartment and finds Wymark dead, with his throat looking like it was chewed through. Yes, the spirit in the skull is apparently possessing Cushing, causing him to murder by the full moon. As most critics note, the idea here is OK, but the execution leaves something to be desired. It was based on a short story by Robert Bloch and might have worked better as a Night Gallery episode. There are some good atmospheric subjective shots through the eyes of the skull as it floats about a room, but then the shots actually showing the skull floating are rather silly. The opening graveyard scene, with some poor schmoe (Maurice Good) digging up the skull in the first place, and the price he pays, is nicely done. Some good supporting actors, like Patrick Macnee, George Coulouris, and Michael Gough have thankless roles. Not a disaster, but not as much fun as it sounds like it might be, with virtually no Sadean kinkiness at all. [DVD]

Thursday, October 01, 2009


An old fisherman and his son make their way through the fog and the spiders on Snape Island to discover a bloody human hand and the dead naked man it belonged to sprawled out on the rocks. Next up: a dead girl whose head has been cut off, a dead boy speared to the wall of a lighthouse, and finally a crazed, naked girl who stabs one of the fishermen to death before being subdued. A doctor tries hypnotizing the traumatized girl to get the full story, and that story, told in fragmented flashbacks, is a mini-“Friday the 13th” slasher movie of its own: horny pot-smoking teenagers have sex and are murdered by an unseen figure. A detective (Bryant Haliday) agrees to visit the island to find out what really happened. Meanwhile, a group of archeologists is planning a trip to the island to look for the remains of an ancient Phoenician burial site dedicated to the god Baal, now viewed as a devil figure. Haliday joins the group, composed primarily of bickering husbands, wives, and lovers, and one beefy, long-haired, dimbulb "stud," son of the surviving fisherman from the first scene. The group hears the story of a miserable family who once lived on the island but are now all presumed dead. So we now have all the pieces in place for a second, more prolonged slasher narrative: how will these sober but horny adults die, and in what order?

Ah, it's October, which means it's time for me to watch a month's worth of horror and sci-fi movies. This horror film, which I’d never heard of until it aired on Turner Classic’s Underground, is no gem, but it’s not bad. The island and the lighthouse (the tower of the title) give good atmosphere, the gore is plentiful, the nudity gratuitous, and at least one sex scene is surprisingly vigorous. The look of the actors keeps the film mired in the 70’s: the men wear tight pants and turtlenecks, and one woman in a shiny brown jumpsuit looks like an Abba reject. The Baal plotline is a red herring, though the sacrifice room that is uncovered is creepy (though my partner noticed that the gigantic statue of the fearsome god looked a little like the muppet Gonzo). Jill Haworth, the original Sally Bowles on Broadway in Cabaret, is the "good" (i.e., least horny) archeologist who does, of course, survive, and though none of the actors stand out talentwise, Mark Edwards (pictured), with his very 70's hair and mustache, is easy on the eyes, and classic-era character actor George Coulouris has a small role as the doomed fisherman in the opening. The TCM print, taken I assume from the Elite Entertainment DVD, is sharp, clear, and colorful. [TCM]