Thursday, October 31, 2013


Dr. Neimann is a mad scientist who is imprisoned for tampering in God's domain by continuing the work of master tamperer Dr. Frankenstein. During a storm, his prison cell collapses and Neimann and his hunchbacked assistant Daniel escape. They run into Lampini's traveling Chamber of Horrors carnival which advertises the actual skeleton of Count Dracula, stake still stuck in the bones of his chest. After they help Lampini get a wagon out the mud, he takes them in, and in return they kill him; Neimann then poses as Lampini and sets out to get his revenge against those who put him in prison. He pulls the stake out of the skeleton and Dracula is revived—for a while, at least. Dracula agrees to help Neimann get his revenge against the local Burgomaster, but when Dracula goes after the Burgomaster's daughter-in-law, he winds up exposed to sunlight and is re-skeletonized. Soon, Neimann arrives at Frankenstein's old stomping grounds and finds both the Frankenstein monster and the Wolf Man encased in ice. He revives them and hatches a plan to put switch brains and bodies, but soon enough jealous Daniel, who Niemann had promised to help but is now ignoring, throws a wrench into the plans, as do the villagers who are spooked when they see a light over at the Frankenstein place.

This is almost the granddaddy of what the 60s monster movie magazines called “Monster Rally” flicks. Technically, it came after FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, but it's the first film to have three headlining monsters. It's certainly fast-paced and atmospheric, but there is almost too much plot crammed into its short running time of about 70 minutes; of course, if this was made now, it would have the opposite problem—there would be 70 minutes of plot stretched out to 3 hours of mind-numbing action/tedium. It's also unfortunate that the film basically is in two parts; when Dracula is vanquished, it starts over, so the three monsters don't get to share any screen time. The acting leaves a little to be desired. Boris Karloff switches places here—he's the mad doctor instead of the monster (who is played unmemorably by B-western star Glenn Strange)—and he's good, but John Carradine is a rather stodgy Dracula and Lon Chaney Jr. is wooden as Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man. The always welcome George Zucco, despite co-star billing, only has a few minutes of screen time as the carnival owner. Support from Anne Gwynne (Dracula's prey in the first half) and Elena Verdugo (who improbably falls for Chaney in the second half) is mild. The best performance comes from J. Carroll Naish as the hunchback Daniel, lovesick for Verdugo, who sets the climax in motion when he rebels after Karloff breaks his promise to him to put his brain in Talbot's body. Like all the Universal horror films of the classic era, it has its moments. Some of the cast returns for the sequel, HOUSE OF DRACULA, but it's ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN that, despite being a comedy, is probably the best of the "monster mash" movies. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Philippe (David Niven) is called back from his sophisticated city life in London to his family's estate in the French countryside to deal with the failing of their vineyards. His wife Catherine (Deborah Kerr) is upset to be left alone and soon packs up her young son and daughter and travels to the estate where she feels threatened by Christian, a mysterious blond man (David Hemmings) who shoots doves dead with his bow and arrow, and his twin sister Odile (Sharon Tate, pictured) who turns a toad into a dove in front of Catherine's daughter. Later she sees the two take a dead dove into a room filled with strange hooded figures. Catherine also has run-ins with Philippe's high-strung aunt (Flora Robson), a smiling but cold priest (Donald Pleasance) and a friendly (or is he?) local doctor. And, of course, those twelve hooded folks. What could be up?

Even if you’ve never seen THE WICKER MAN, you’ll figure out pretty quickly what’s going on: blood sacrifice so the vineyards will be fertile again. The nifty twist here has to do with the origins of the sacrifice ritual: they're not pagans who carry it out, but a heretical Christian cult. The film is atmospheric—its black & white cinematography, its lovely/spooky rural setting, and the presence of Deborah Kerr all put me in mind of THE INNOCENTS—but it's far too slowly paced, so any suspense or tension that builds up eventually dissipates. Kerr is fairly bland; Niven underacts and is surprisingly effective as the movie goes on and his character becomes more downbeat, fatalistic, and possibly sinister; Robson and Pleasance are both fine; Hemmings and Tate seem to be around just as creepy eye candy, having very little dialogue and ultimately little to do with the plot. The climax is particularly dragged out and in the end is not the least bit surprising. [TCM]

Monday, October 28, 2013



Joan Fontaine is a teacher at a mission school in Africa who is driven to a mental breakdown when a voodoo cult, led by a man in a grotesque mask, breaks into her schoolroom. A year later, she is hired to teach school in a small traditional-seeming English village—a pleasant priest (Alec McCowen) who lives with his sister (Kay Walsh) in a lovely old house hires her—but soon eccentricities begin popping up: McCowen isn't really a priest, but he dresses like one; the village church has been abandoned for years; and Fontaine's prettiest student (Ingrid Boulting) has a grandmother who uses "the old ways" in place of modern medicine and whispers mysteriously to her gray cat. Soon Boulting's boyfriend (Martin Stephens), whom Fontaine is mentoring, falls into a coma and a headless voodoo doll is found in a tree. Stephens is whisked away from the village and his father is found drowned in the river. As Fontaine begins suspecting something's not right, she has a vision of the African voodoo man which sends her into a second breakdown. She starts to recover only to find out that there is indeed a Satanic witch cult in the village, Walsh is the leader, and Boulting is about to be sacrificed to be the "new skin" in which Walsh will regain youth and power.

This movie plays out like a mild forerunner to THE WICKER MAN—a placid village hiding pagan secrets—though the outcome here is very different, with a somewhat artificial happy ending in which the witches are defeated. The screenplay, based on a novel by Norah Lofts (written under the pen name Peter Curtis), is a bit muddled here and there. The opening sequence in Africa is rushed through, as is the middle section before Fontaine's second breakdown. Martin Stephens' character seems like he should be important (and the actor—who was the most memorable alien child in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED—is good), but when he vanishes, he's gone for good. Fontaine bought the rights to the novel and got the film made but she seems uncomfortable doing horror. McCowen is wasted, but Walsh (LAST HOLIDAY) tries her best as the head witch—I had stifle a chuckle when she appeared decked out in her pagan regalia (pictured above), though she didn't look quite as silly as the voodoo man at the beginning. The whole thing could have used a darker look and feel; prancing witches in the daylight don't look very threatening. The climactic witches' Sabbath/would-be orgy looks like it was choreographed by someone who admired WEST SIDE STORY. [DVD]

Friday, October 25, 2013


The best line in this space vampire B-movie comes at the beginning, when a girl extricates herself from the make-out embraces of her horny boyfriend; his articulate attempt to get her back in the car: "Don't be a drag—you know how you flip me!" It's mostly downhill from there, and it's certainly downhill for the girl who immediately runs into a middle-aged man wearing sunglasses at night (although with the terrible day-for-night cinematography, it always looks like high noon) who kills her with his telekinetic stare—no pupils, just the whites of his eyes—then uses a mechanical pump to empty her blood into a vial. You see, the man (Paul Birch) is actually an alien from the planet Davana (it keeps sounding like he's saying Havana) and he's trying to collect blood to save their dying race. Periodically, Birch opens up a closet door and communes telepathically with someone on the home planet. He even tries to send a Earthling through the closet door (apparently also a teleportation device) but that experiment fails. Birch uses his telepathic powers to get a doctor (William Roerick) to give him a transfusion, then hires the doc's nurse (Beverly Garland) to be a live-in caretaker. He already has a valet (Jonathan Haze) who hasn't got the slightest clue what's going on, yet still makes meals for Birch who never eats a bite. Another alien from Davana (Anne Carroll) arrives, but promptly gets an accidental transfusion of blood tainted with rabies and dies, which triggers the climax in which Birch unleashes a flying monster to kill the doctor, then chases after Garland with her cop boyfriend (Morgan Jones) coming to the rescue.

Most critics are kind to this film, and it does have its moments: the first shot of the flying monster (kind of a spider-bat hybrid) got a bit of a shriek out of me, but unfortunately when you see it in action, it looks like a rather pathetic little toy on a string. The blank eye effect (pictured above) is creepy. The acting is pretty good, with Garland in particular giving it everything she's got. Corman regular Dick Miller (at right, seen to best effect as the star of A BUCKET OF BLOOD) has an amusing scene as a vacuum cleaner salesman who winds up drained and tossed in the incinerator. Haze is moderately attractive in a Neanderthal way, strutting around in a grungy white tank-top and a chauffeur's coat. The last 15 minutes are suspenseful and the last shot is particularly effective, but the low budget hurts the mood of the movie; everything is too bright and suburban to sustain a mood of dread. [DVD]

Thursday, October 24, 2013


The first manned expedition to Mars loses radio contact with Earth before it lands. Two months later, the ship is discovered in orbit around the earth. Ground crews guide it in and of the original four astronauts, only two are alive. One of them (Gerald Mohr) is unconscious with a nasty green growth covering his arm. The other (Nora Hayden) is in shock. Soon, she recovers enough to slowly piece together what happened on Mars. The four (the other two were goateed scientist Les Tremayne and soldier/worker Jack Kruschen) get all buddy-buddy on the way to Mars and everything goes like clockwork until they land. Hayden gets hysterical when she thinks she sees a three-eyed monster through a window, but she recovers and the four go out exploring. They find a big octopus-like plant that tries to eat Hayden, a giant rat-spider-crab creature, and an oily lake across which they can see a futuristic-looking city of skyscrapers.  They head out on the lake only to run into a sea monster with one huge rotating eyeball. Racing back to the ship, Kruschen is caught by the amoeba-type beast and consumed whole. The rest get in the ship but the beast envelops it and they can't take off, at least until a disembodied voice broadcasts to the ship, warning them that because Earthlings are technologically adults but emotionally and spiritually children, they must leave and never return. On the way home, Tremayne dies of a heart attack, and Hayden discovers the green growth on Mohr, obtained when he made physical contact with the amoeba. Will earth doctors be able to save Mohr?

This is a very low-budget film with a gimmick: the Mars exteriors were shot in something called Cinemagic, nothing more than a solarized red filter making everything on the planet look shiny red, orange or yellow. It works, to a degree; the painted backdrops and cheap monsters look a little less painted and cheap. It works best on the rat-spider monster, which despite being a marionette, registers as menacing. The first half is slow—there are no crew conflicts except for the sniping between Mohr and Hayden which we know are the first steps toward romance—and Kruschen's comic relief feels strained. The last half works better, though things slow down again after the ship leaves the Martian surface. The acting is weak: Mohr (nicknamed Hairy Chest for obvious reasons by my co-viewer) and Tremayne are OK, but Hayden, though she's attractive, feels like she just dropped in from an amateur theater group. This movie doesn't have the best reputation, but it’s fun for a single viewing. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


In a room with black candles, a female Satanist is chanting, conjuring up a demon. Horrified at what she's done, she grabs a gun to kill herself—and then we discover that we're watching the filming of a low-budget horror movie. The film is being shot on location in the creepy old Beal mansion tended by an old caretaker who knows the house's history. In fact, a string of occult-related deaths that happened there over the years has inspired the movie's script. After the various relationships and tensions between cast and crew members have been established, one of the actresses reads aloud from a real copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, which, unknown to the crew, brings back to life a dead spirit who seems to be re-enacting the Beal deaths with the actors. The choice of the Tibetan book, an actual religious text which describes the experience of death and the afterlife (and inspired the lyrics of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows") seems odd, especially when books of Black Masses are mentioned as also being in the house. The movie, like the movie-within-the-movie, is low-budget but has a handful of effective scenes and decent performances from pro actors John Ireland (the director), Faith Domergue (the insecure leading lady) and John Carradine (Mr. Price, the creepy caretaker, who most of the crew call Vincent). The other performers are acceptable if not memorable, which is a good description of the movie. A little toying is done with audience expectations, especially effective in a couple of scenes in which we're not sure if we're seeing the film being shot or real events occurring. [TCM]

Monday, October 21, 2013


Men drilling for copper in Denmark run into some bloody bones and tissue (which, as we see but they don't, is slowly pulsing). The huge frozen chunk of flesh is sent to Copenhagen where it is put under close inspection by scientists who assume it is a dinosaur tail. When it is accidentally thawed out during a late-night storm, it begins re-generating, and an American army general arrives as a UN representative. At this point, the movie basically stops as the Danish folks take the (surly, obnoxious) general out for a mini-travelogue of Copenhagen, even including a stop at a nightclub for a (not-bad) song called "Tivoli Nights." During another late-night storm, the regenerated creature comes alive and escapes to terrorize the country, eating cattle and spitting a green acid slime. Will our scientific and military heroes figure out a way to stop the seemingly invulnerable beast?

This is often referred to as the worst monster movie of all time. It is pretty bad, but in a fairly entertaining way—it's a shame the MST3K crew never got around to this one. It's a Danish Godzilla movie, except instead of a man lumbering around in a monster suit stomping on a set of Tokyo, this has a gangly, fragile-looking marionette dancing about on a table-top set of Copenhagen. In the Danish version, the monster flies but the American distributor thought those scenes were laughable (though how they could have been more laughable than the scenes of the marionette dinosaur's head bobbling about is beyond me), so the green slime shots were added optically. We see animated bubbling green blobs shoot out of the monster's snout and then the green is simply wiped across the screen, obscuring the people and things it's shot on. Worse, we never see the results of the slime; they simply cut to another shot. There is one nicely-done sequence of hundreds of Danes running across a drawbridge which suddenly parts, causing a few folks (on foot and on bicycle) to go plummeting into the sea. The less said about the acting, the better, though I should bring up two points: the terrible performance of Carl Ottosen (and whoever dubbed him) as the American general, and the fact that Bent Mejding, the closest thing to a hero in the movie, looks like a less quirky David Bowie. This is pretty bad—when a nightclub song is the highlight of a monster movie, you're in trouble—but I did have fun. [DVD]

Thursday, October 17, 2013


As a gangland boss puts $20,000 into a safe in his office, a hulking bald zombie guy smashes in through a window and kills him. Thugs shoot at him, but he is impervious to bullets. Two men are controlling him, speaking through him, and can see everything the zombie can see because of cameras implanted in his retinas. Mad doctor Steigg has created a small army of these creatures by charging recently dead bodies (which explains the recent rash of mysterious morgue thefts) with atomic rays so that Buchanan, a deported gangster, can get revenge against the people who sent him away. The cops don't know what they've got on their hands until Dr. Walker (Richard Denning) discovers that a blood sample from a zombie is an artificial chemical compound with no hemoglobin. More people are found dead, but when Harris, Walker's friendly cop partner, becomes a not only a victim but is also turned into a zombie, it becomes personal.

This is Father Knows Best meets Night of the Living Dead. Denning has a wife and daughter, and we get long, tedious scenes of their banal interactions in their overlit TV-sit-com house. The scene in which Harris (known to the little girl as Uncle Dave) enters the house in a zombie state, with raw stitches across his head, threatens to be, well, threatening, but it's not played particularly well and winds up petering out. This is almost too well-made; at times, it feels like Ed Wood or 40s serial moviemaking with a good-sized budget by competent but unoriginal craftsmen. There's an interesting subplot involving the zombies causing a city-wide panic by blowing stuff up and causing train wrecks, but it's dispensed with in a single quick montage scene. The climax of fisticuffs and explosions is fun. Denning is bland, though Michael Granger is effective as Buchanan. [TCM]

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Kindly but eccentric John Hoyt runs a business called Dolls, Inc., carrying a line of very life-like dolls. His secretary Janet yells at some Girl Scouts who get too close to some very special dolls in clear plastic cylinders. The next day, the secretary is gone and Hoyt hires June Kenney in her place—though we notice a new doll looking very much like Janet in one of the cylinders. June soon discovers that the local mailman, who was nearing retirement, has vanished, and she feels a creepy vibe from Hoyt. John Agar, a visiting salesman, hits it off with June and she rather impulsively decides to head back to St. Louis with him. He says he'll let Hoyt know that she's leaving, but the next morning, it's Agar who seems to have taken a powder. Oddly, there's a new doll on the "special" shelf that looks just like Agar. Soon, June finds out Hoyt's secret: he can, using high-pitched vibrations, shrink people, which is what he's done to Janet and the mailman and Agar and a couple others, and now June. His intentions are almost kindly: he wants to keep the people he likes near him, and he tells them that their new lives are idyllic—no taxes, no responsibilities, just hanging with each other and partying. But Agar plants the seeds of mutiny, and with the police nosing around because of all the missing people connected with him, Hoyt has a plan to throw a last party at a marionette theater, then kill them and himself. As many critics note, there is no "attack" as promised in the title, just some escape shenanigans inspired by THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN which came out the year before. Still, this unusual low-budget film is interesting partly for its lack of horror or villainy; though clearly Hoyt has gone off the deep end, he's not out to conquer the world, just his acquaintances. The effects are OK, and there is a fun reference to THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, a previous film from the same director, Bert I. Gordon. The best scene involves Hoyt making one of his puppet people sing a pop song called, "I'm a Living Doll." [DVD]

Monday, October 14, 2013


Scientists at the OSI (Office of Scientific Investigation) are getting some strange readings indicating abnormally strong magnetic fields. At a nearby hardware store, all the clocks are wrong and a lawn mower starts running on its own. Investigators Richard Carlson and King Donovan talk to a cabbie whose taxi has become magnetized after a man with a suitcase was in the car. They track down the man, an older scientist (Leonard Mudie), who accidentally created a new radioactive element in his lab that keeps doubling in size and power, becoming the monster of the title. People near the lab start dying and soon they deduce that if the "monster" keeps growing, it may throw the earth's orbit out of whack. Working with a computer called MANIAC (wordplay on the actually early computer ENIAC) and Canadian scientists, Carlson decides to try overfeeding the element to kill it. But then one of the scientists (Leo Britt) goes a little nuts and tries to sabotage the plan. This 75-minute movie is not exactly exciting, but if you expect a TV episode—and this does feel a lot like an Outer Limits show, except there is no real monster and the Outer Limits hook was that every episode had a monster—you may be satisfied. The acting isn't much to speak off, though Carlson is fine in the lead, and there's a blah subplot involving Carlson's pregnant wife (Jean Byron, who later played the mother of identical twins on The Patty Duke Show). The climax, which uses footage from an older German film, works well. [TCM]

Saturday, October 12, 2013


After an on-screen note that this film is based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade (it's not), we see a masked figure called the Crimson Executioner being executed for heresy and sadistic crimes, stuck into an iron maiden as blood drips out of the bottom. The dead body is sealed in the device and kept in the dungeon of the Executioner's castle, so as never to be disturbed. Next we're in the present day as a publisher, some male photographers and some voluptuous female models are scouting locations where they can conduct photo shoots for some horror book covers. They come upon the castle where, at first, they get a frosty reception from the owner, an actor named Travis (Mickey Hargitay), but when it turns out that one of the women, Edith, is a former girlfriend, he relents and allows them to stay overnight. After the women get decked out in their sexy, skimpy attire for the photo shoots, people start dying. Travis is actually a nut-job who thinks that he’s been possessed by the Crimson Executioner and has been tasked with keeping his perfect body pure; women just corrupt the flesh and so must be done away with, preferably after some torture (whips, racks, etc.). For good measure, he tortures and kills the men as well.

Much has been written about this film as a graphic psychosexual exercise in sadism, with homoeroticism as the whipping boy (sorry, pun intended); the half-naked muscled torso of Hargitay, a former Mr. Universe, is on display throughout, mostly clad in just a mask and revealing red tights. The character rants about the purity of his body—reminding me of a hotter version of Sterling Hayden's General Ripper in DR. STRANGELOVE—and lovingly applies oil to his chest a couple of times. But since this is a shoddily-made exploitation movie, it does nothing with the interesting subtext. The torture and the almost undraped women (no full nudity) may have seemed graphic in 1965, but today the movie probably would only be rated PG-13, and the gore effects are weak and unconvincing—the blood left on a bared cleavage after a whipping looks like a smear of watered-down ketchup. Nevertheless, Hargitay acts his heart out, making me wish the rest of the movie was better so his character would seem more truly dangerous. [DVD]

Thursday, October 10, 2013


B-movie mix of atomic-bomb, God's-domain sci-fi with gangster melodrama. Eddie (Ron Randell, pictured) is getting a little too much publicity and making things hot for his fellow gangsters, so, led by chief thug Andy Damon (Anthony Caruso), they vote to oust him by framing him for murder. However, on his way to prison, he escapes in the middle of the desert, winding up at ground zero for a nuclear test of Cobalt X. Caught outside of the observation post during the blast, he's battered and bruised but survives and heads back to get revenge against Damon. When Dr. Meeker realizes Eddie has survived, he tells the authorities they need to find him because the radiation will cause his body to mutate. Sure enough, his flesh slowly turns to steel, making him indestructible. His mind begins to go as well, and soon he's getting his revenge even as his mind and body are deteriorating. The cops are desperate to find him, worried that his body is radiating cobalt, putting all around him in danger. There are seeds of good things here that never blossom. Randell is initially very good as Eddie, a sympathetic bad guy, but eventually, he's stuck just acting physically agonized and mentally confused. There are two leading ladies that I occasionally had a hard time telling apart: Debra Paget is Linda, the "bad" bad girl, who used to sleep with Eddie but is now sleeping with Damon; Elaine Stewart is Carla, the "good" bad girl who helps Eddie survive. The steel-mutating plot point is interesting, but due to the low budget, there are no special effects or make-up, just dirt and bullet holes on Randell's torso. The climax involves flamethrowers. [TCM]

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


A botanist (Paul Langton) is up in the Himalayas on an expedition with his photographer buddy (Leslie Denison), looking for some exotic plants. One day, the lead Sherpa (Teru Shimada) tells Langton that another Sherpa's wife was kidnapped in the night by a mythical monster, the Yeti, aka the Abominable Snowman. He wants Langton to halt his trek to help look for it, but he refuses, so Shimada and his men mutiny. Soon, they find and capture the monster and cart it back to the States for research purposes. In Los Angeles, customs stops them while they try to figure out how to categorize the beast as animal or human, and it escapes, shambling about the city, causing havoc. This is almost certainly the first Yeti movie, but any potential for interest or originality is lost due to: 1) an unsympathetic jackass—the botanist—as hero, and 2) a budget so low that the monster looks like a tall, thin dancer wrapped in carpet wearing an fur ear-flap hat, with the same shot of him coming out of darkness and going back again re-used several times in the film. Maybe they only had the poor schmoe playing the monster for a day or two of filming. There is also lots of tedious narration, especially in the first ten minutes, and repeated footage of people climbing through the snow to help pad this out to 70 minutes. The character of the Sherpa is moderately interesting for the gumption he displays in standing up to Langton. The most bizarre aspect of the film: it was directed by W. Lee Wilder, brother of Hollywood legend Billy Wilder (SOME LIKE IT HOT, SUNSET BLVD). Quotable quote, as the authorities warn the populace about the beast: "Tell everybody to stay off the streets and remain calm—that goes for everyone!" [Netflix]

Monday, October 07, 2013


Stefano is brought to a small Italian village to restore a crumbling church painting of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian, performed not with arrows piercing his body as is the norm but by two creepy figures who have stabbed the saint with large knives. The artist, Legnani, who was idolized by his two sisters, was obsessed with trying to capture the actual moment of death in art; forty years ago, he set himself on fire and disappeared into the woods, never to be seen again. Very soon, strange things begin happening: a friend of Stefano's is killed, a whore he takes up with (who is also a schoolteacher) vanishes, and his driver rants about a strange house with laughing windows (large pop-art smiles are painted on the shutters) where he claims many bodies are buried. As Stefano begins an affair with the replacement teacher, he also tries to piece everything together, soon realizing that Legnani painted his grotesque paintings from life, with his sisters procuring young men to serve as models. As the body count grows, it seems as if Legnani may still be alive and back in business. 

As an example of the giallo genre—Italian films which mix mystery, sex, gore, and intimations (at least) of the supernatural—this film pretty much has it all. It has been panned by hardcore giallo fans for not having enough sex or gore (though like many gialli, the plot sometimes borders on incoherence). The opening three minutes, which involve a bloody half-naked man strung up and being stabbed to death, are truly disturbing, though sadly the film never comes through on the promise of that beginning. The sex is very mild—in fact, in one scene, Stefano and the whore get in bed together fully clothed, and when we fade back in on them later, they’re still clothed and cuddling as though they never went any farther. PSYCHO and PEEPING TOM seem to have influenced the director, Pupi Avati, and though there is little graphic gore, there is a feel of decadence and decay throughout. Lino Cappolicchio (at left) is fine as the innocent Stefano who starts out as an outsider and becomes increasingly isolated.  Once you get past the very creepy opening, this basically becomes a psychological mystery with some characters and plotlines that go nowhere—the final reveal is particularly silly—but with a relatively satisfying if predictable ending. Overall, the idea behind the narrative is more interesting than the execution. [DVD]

Friday, October 04, 2013


Freddie and Ann are cavorting on a boat near a small island. He jumps in the water but doesn't come out; instead, the water fills with blood. Ann screams and winds up engulfed by bloody bubbles.  Meanwhile, an alcoholic actress (Rita Morley) and her younger secretary (Barbara Wilkin) hire a pilot (Byron Sanders) to fly them to Providence ahead of a storm. When the engine fails, they land on the same small island where Freddie and Ann met their fates, populated only by the rather intense Prof. Bartell (Martin Kosleck), who despite a forced smile, has a touch of the Nazi about him. Bartell offers them shelter, but the problem winds up being not the storm but the fish and human skeletons that wash up on shore. Soon they all find themselves trapped on the island when the water fills up with glowing blob creatures that feed on flesh. Turns out Bartell created these things based on Nazi experiments he witnessed. After a beatnik on a raft has his stomach eaten away, Bartell tries to destroy them by electrocution, but that just makes them all merge together into one huge monster. Will the drunk, the cute girl and the studly guy manage to escape unscathed?

For a low-budget drive-in B-movie, this isn't bad, and as usual, seeing it in widescreen helped. Kosleck, one of Hollywood's go-to actors for Nazis in the 40s and 50s—he played Goebbels at least three times, including opposite Richard Basehart's HITLER—carries the movie, though honestly, I could have used a little more scenery-chewing than he does here. Sanders is stoic but not much more; Wilkin is unmemorable; Morley does a nice job fleshing out the role of the on-the-skids actress, and she's really the only character I cared about. The effects are done on the cheap but are OK, and the giant monster near the end is quite effective. Shots of blood and the glowing creatures are a bit amateurish, but the scene of the guy with his stomach gone (pictured) is a shocker—held a bit too long but still nasty for its day. It keeps a tense atmosphere going pretty well, and the black and white camerawork is a notch above average for the genre. [DVD]

Thursday, October 03, 2013


In a small Mexican village, Jimmy, an American cowboy, is co-owner of a cattle ranch with native Felipe. This doesn't sit well with Enrique who is upset that Jimmy and Felipe are undercutting his cattle prices. Hollow Mountain, at the base of which sits Jimmy and Felipe's property, is surrounded by a dangerous quicksand swamp, has never been explored, and is supposedly home to a prehistoric creature. Enrique plays on the fears of the local workers by spreading more stories about the monster after strange animal tracks are seen and odd growling noises are heard. When the workers all leave, Jimmy and Felipe hire an old drunkard, Pancho, to tend the farm; he brings with him his young son Panchito. Soon after, Enrique’s fiancĂ©e Sarita, concerned about the two, arrives to keep an eye on them, and soon after that, she and Jimmy are in one of those relationships in which they fall in love even as they bug each other. Between flirtations and arguments, and threats from Enrique, Pancho comes upon a gigantic creature in the swamp—we only see its shadow—and is never seen again. Jimmy decides it's best for all if he leaves and gives the ranch to Felipe, but Sarita's obvious feelings for Jimmy bother Enrique. Finally, an hour into this 80-minute movie, the title beast appears, a huge stop-motion dinosaur that eats a cow, then wrecks havoc in the village, leaving Jimmy to use his cowboy skills to try and vanquish the monster.

In its widescreen format, this movie looks fine—the Mexican landscape is shown to good advantage, and a scene of Jimmy and Sarita meeting in a remarkably colorful graveyard is memorable.  But if you're watching this as a monster movie, you have a lot of bland Western melodrama to sit through first. The beast is fairly effective as stop-motion monsters go, but the tedious clichĂ©d Western-style clash between cowboy and good-for-nothing is disappointing, as is the high-pitched whining of Panchito. Guy Madison looks the part as the cowboy, though Patricia Medina is a zero as Sarita. This was based on an idea by Willis O’Brien, who worked on the original KING KONG, and the same material was re-worked a few years later (with the participation of Ray Harryhausen) in THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. [TCM]

Tuesday, October 01, 2013


It's October so it's time for a month of horror/sci-fi movies, and I've got a good one to start with. Set in 19th century Baltimore, this shocker has an effectively creepy opening scene in which Jason Cravette (Patrick O'Neal) forces a minister at gunpoint to conduct a marriage between him and a dead woman. It turns out that Cravette is the Baltimore Strangler, and not only are the police on his trail, but so are two amateur criminologists, Draco and Blount, who also run a "chamber of horrors" wax museum where they build an exhibit of the Strangler. Eventually Jason is tracked down to a brothel where he's been indulging in fantasies involving whores dressed in wedding gowns. He's tried and found guilty, but while being transported to prison on a train, he escapes by hacking off a handcuff, hand and all. After he gets a hook to replace the hand, he sets out to get revenge on everyone responsible for sending him away. A new bloody swath of death is loosed by "The Butcher of Baltimore" who, substituting a cleaver for his hook, cuts his victims up good. Can our cops and criminologists catch Cravette a second time?

This movie is known for its gimmicks, the Fear Flasher (bright lights) and Horror Horn (blaring horn) which appear just before particularly horrific scenes. They're fun, but even if you don't like such campy accoutrements, this is a must-see for fans of classic horror. It's colorful with good period sets and costumes and a fine cast. O'Neal (pictured above with his cleaver hand) had a lengthy career, mostly as a guest star on TV dramas, but this is probably his meatiest role ever. A young and handsome Wayne Rogers (later Trapper John on M*A*S*H) is a policeman, and there are nice turns by Suzy Parker, Jeanette Nolan and Marie Windsor. Cesare Danova (as Draco) and Wilfrid Hyde-White (as Blount) are not especially memorable as the wax museum guys, but they're adequate—the film was originally shot as a pilot for a TV show that would follow the adventures of these two (and their dwarf assistant Tun Tun), and at heart, this is, rather than pure horror, a detective story, albeit a bit grislier than most of the era. It's not graphic by today's standards, but a few scenes still shock, not so much by what you see but what is suggested—the dreamy but grotesque opening, the hacking off of Cravette's hand, the scene of Cravette carving up a judge with his cleaver hand. Given its origins as a TV show, the direction by Hy Averback is quite stylish. Weirdest of all is a cameo by Tony Curtis, who has one line, stares right at the camera, and is never seen again. Recommended. [DVD]