Wednesday, October 31, 2018


Myles Clarkson (Alan Alda) is a classical music journalist who has snagged an interview with the great but cantankerous pianist Duncan Ely (Curt Jurgens). Duncan is dismissive of Myles until it comes out that Myles had studied for years to be a concert pianist, but gave it up when he received scathing reviews for his first recital. Duncan seems obsessed with Myles's hands and encourages him to take up the piano again. Myles's wife Paula (Jacqueline Bisset) isn't terribly happy when Myles begins spending lots of time in the company of Duncan and his beautiful daughter Roxanne (Barbara Parkins), the two of whom seem almost incestuously close. But Duncan is dying of leukemia and Myles volunteers to give blood for a transfusion. Afterwards, Myles lapses into unconsciousness and Roxanne carries out a Satanic rite involving plaster masks, Myles's blood, and a gooey blue liquid dabbed on Myles’s forehead. Next thing you know, Duncan is dead and soon Myles is acting very differently and playing the piano with a new fervor, so much so that Roxanne arranges for Myles to replace Duncan at a concert. The audience reaction is rapturous, and with good reason: as we discover, the Satanic rite has replaced Myles's soul with that of Duncan's. At first, Paula doesn't really notice, though she is happy that Myles's lovemaking has become more satisfying, and it doesn't hurt when Duncan's will is read and Myles is the recipient of $100,000 and ownership of Duncan's beloved pianos. But when Paula's daughter dies of an mysterious illness, Paula does some digging into Duncan and Roxanne's past and begins to suspect that supernatural forces at play.

This stylish horror film has a bad reputation, but seen today in a lovely widescreen transfer, it comes off much better than you might anticipate. Yes, it owes a debt to Rosemary's Baby—though later movies like The Exorcist and The Omen may have been influenced, at least in small ways, by this film—and the narrative arc is predictable.  But good devil worship movies are few and far between, and if nothing else, this looks great, with bright colors and disorienting visual effects. It takes a little getting used to Alan Alda as the not-exactly likeable male lead, because his very likeable Hawkeye Pierce character from the TV show MASH keeps getting in the way (he filmed this the year before MASH started). But if you can get past that, he does give a decent performance, especially early on as the passive and colorless reporter, though later Alda isn't quite capable of going full-out evil. Bisset is good, though Parkins is a little wooden; it might have been more effective if she had switched roles with Bisset. The movie isn't exactly scary, but it is creepy, and the creepiest thing is the incest vibe between Parkins and the considerably older Jurgens, which, to their credits, the actors approach full-on. Alda (pictured above left) more or less vanishes for a good chunk of the ending which gives Bisset time to shine. Bradford Dillman is good in a small role as Roxanne's former husband. The cinematography is full of odd angles and distorting shots, and the colors are rich, so when the acting is so-so, or when a plot weakness pops up (as they do here and there), the visuals can distract you. Recommended for Halloween night viewing. [Amazon Prime]

Tuesday, October 30, 2018


Rarely has a title been so inappropriate for its movie.  It suggests a titillating exploitation flick, which this is not. None of the other alternate titles this has been released as (CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD, OPERATION FEAR) fit either. Maybe it should just be called A MARIO BAVA PICTURE, and fans of Bava's films like BLACK SUNDAY and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE will know they should see it for, if nothing else, its lurid colors and stylish visuals. The movie begins with a startling sequence of a woman running from something and then falling (or jumping) out of a window to wind up impaled on spikes. Coroner Paul Eswai is called in to conduct an autopsy, and, though some villagers try to stop him, he finds that a gold coin has been embedded in her heart. Ruth, the local witch, says she did it to ease the girl's spirit into the afterlife. Soon Paul and Monica, a former villager who is visiting her parents' graves, are enmeshed in the mystery of the Villa Graps. It seems that years ago, seven-year-old Melissa Graps died due to some drunken revelers, and ever since, the ghost of Melissa has haunted the village. People have disturbing visions of the little girl (and a creepy bald doll--pictured above) and it's rumored that the ghost forces people who see her to kill themselves. It's also rumored that anyone who visits the Baroness and the Villa Graps never returns. Can Paul, Monica and Ruth get to the truth and break the spell that the evil house has over the village?

Much of this feels like a Hammer horror film, though the striking visual style is quite unlike the average Hammer movie. Saturated reds, greens, oranges and blues are effective in building an eerie atmosphere. Shots of the little girl recall the appearances of vampires in windows and doorways in classic-era horror movies. I could do without the gratuitous use of zoom shots, but mostly, this is gorgeous to look at. There's a sequence of Paul chasing (apparently) himself through the same series of rooms that has a David Lynch feel to it. The acting, as usual, is not the important element here, but if there are few standouts (Giacomo Rossi-Stuart does solid work as Paul), there are no real weak links. Viewers drawn in by that awful title may be disappointed with the lack of sex and gore, but the spooky Gothic atmosphere should make up for that. [TCM]

Monday, October 29, 2018


One day, a boy sweeping the church in a small Transylvanian village discovers blood on the belltower rope, and the priest finds a dead woman hanging upside down in the bell, two gruesome bite marks on her neck. Though Dracula (Christopher Lee) had been vanquished, frozen in the ice of a mountain river, the townsfolk take this as a sign that the church, occasionally touched by the shadow of Dracula's castle, is not a safe place and parishioners quit going to mass. A visiting monsignor (Rupert Davies) sends the local priest up to the castle to perform an exorcism which involves wedging a huge golden crucifix in the door of the castle, but being scared and a bit drunk, in the process he falls and cuts himself; his blood trickles down through the ice and re-animates the Count who breaks free and turns the priest into his Renfield-type slave. Meanwhile, the monsignor's niece Maria (Veronica Carlson) is sweet on the poor but handsome pastry cook Paul (Barry Andrews, with Roger Daltry-ish looks), who is an outspoken atheist which causes tensions with the monsignor, and to get revenge against the meddling cleric, Dracula puts the bite on a busty barmaid who is supposed to help him get to Maria. This fourth entry in the Hammer Dracula series was intended as a direct sequel to DRACULA PRINCE OF DARKNESS (which ends with Dracula sinking into the ice), though the movies never really feel very connected, with Lee the only actor to appear in more than one of the movies. The Hammer look (fairly artificial but atmospheric) works well here, especially the scenes in front of the castle with the huge cross. The acting is fairly colorless, though Andrews has a nice scene arguing about his atheism with the monsignor, and Lee is his usual stoic, steely-eyed vampire self, given little dialogue and even less motivation. The odd use of color filters to indicate Dracula's presence is distracting, but overall this is a slightly better-than-average film in the series. [DVD]

Friday, October 26, 2018



One night on an isolated European island, an archeologist named Bolton goes snooping around in a deserted church where he discovers the bleeding hanging carcass of a sheep, obviously a sacrifice of some sort. He is set upon by a more-or-less one-eyed hulk (named in the credits as The Wild Man), is strangled by a handsome fellow hiding in the shadows, and then placed under a huge stone sarcophagus; the two men break the coffin's legs and it falls, crushing Bolton to death. Days later, Bolton's son Chris (Andrew Prine) arrives to find that his dad's body is still under the enormously heavy sarcophagus, and freeing it will require equipment, men, and a couple days' time. But he is welcomed warmly by Peter (Mark Damon)—whom, despite his smiling friendliness, we recognize as the handsome strangler—and his attractive sister Mary (Patty Sheppard). The stone coffin supposedly contains the remains of the 13th century Queen Hannah who, according to legend, was marooned on the island, succumbed to vampirism and turned the entire island's population into vampires. Peter says he is researching a historical novel based on these events, but as we soon find out, he is actually attempting to raise the dead queen through demonic means. Mary, who knows nothing about her brother's plans, hits it off with Chris. We meet a few villagers, including a wise old blind sailor, all of whom are wary of plans to open the coffin. When they do, they find the perfectly preserved body of Hannah—lovely, blond, and wearing a sparkling tiara. Soon, she is fairly active around the island, occasionally turning into a wolf and threatening one and all, including a couple of children. At the climax, Peter is holding a black mass of sorts in hopes that he will become Queen Hannah's favored acolyte while Chris and Mary lead other villagers in trying to stop Hannah before she spreads her evil.

Despite the cheesy titles, this is a solid piece of classic-era Euro-horror. The colorful restored print looks great, showing the atmospheric sets and shadowy locales—except for a particularly bad day-for-night sequence late in the film. Prine is too reminiscent of a wasted hippie wanderer to be truly effective as a hero—plus, as other critics have noted, with his 70s mustache, he looks a lot like the unsavory porn star John Holmes—and I never really warmed to him. But the good-looking B-lead Damon, best known as the romantic hero of Roger Corman's HOUSE OF USHER, carries the film. The fact that we clearly see his face in the opening scene makes hash of any attempt to make his role as vampire-worshiper a surprise, but that's the director’s mistake, not Damon's. Sheppard is pleasant looking as Mary but doesn't have a lot to do. While she's half-alive in the coffin, awaiting resurrection, Teresa Gimpera as Hannah (above left) looks way too modern (the shiny ash-blonde hair, the mascara), but once she's revived, she plays the role nicely, acting mostly with her eyes since she has no dialogue. Once only available in murky public domain prints, this looks great on Blu-Ray and Amazon Prime. Pictured at right are Damon and Prine. [Streaming]

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


The CARRY ON movies were made in England from the late 50s into the 70s. Aside from a kind of repertory cast of actors, the films had nothing in common except they were slapstick, slapdash comedies inspired by the British music hall tradition, and though Monty Python went off in a totally different direction, inspired more directly by the radio comedy The Goon Show, you can see some of the Carry On tradition kept alive in Python skits (bawdiness, a focus on breasts, coherent situations that go rapidly askew). In the sense that many of the Carry On films satirized specific film genres (Carry On Spying, Carry On Cowboy, Carry On Cleo—as in Cleopatra), you could say that this series influenced Mel Brooks (BLAZING SADDLES, etc.) and the Zucker brothers (AIRPLANE!). This is the only Carry On movie I've seen, and from what I've read, it seems to be a fairly typical example of the series.

One night, Albert and Doris are making out in the woods when Doris is freaked out by a strange noise. While Albert goes to investigate, a monster carts Doris off, but one of his fingers (more like a claw) breaks off. Albert finds it and takes it to the police. Sgt Bung and Detective Slobotham—pronounced "slowbottom"—tell him about a series of female abductions, and soon they are hot on the trail of some strange goings-on at the Bide-A-Wee Rest Home, in a huge spooky-looking mansion, run by the voluptuous Valeria Watt and her cadaverous associate Dr. Orlando Watt. We soon discover that Dr. Watt (yes, there's a Dr. Who reference made as part of a "Who's on first" routine) is literally a corpse who Valeria revives electrically now and then. The two kidnap women and turn them into mannequins which they sell to fashion shops.

In the beginning, this farce, which in part is parodying Hammer horror films (the sets look exactly like Hammer sets), is fun and energetic; they throw so many gags at you that some are bound to make you laugh. For example: Cop: "I warn you I'll take down anything that you say!" Suspect: "Alright then, trousers." When the monster, Oddbod, is discovered missing an ear, Dr. Watt says, "Oh well, ear today, gone tomorrow." I admit I was laughing or at least chuckling at a fairly high percentage of the jokes, puns and sight gags. But after half an hour or so, it gets a bit wearing as the pace increases but the quality of the humor does not. At 100 minutes, this should have been about 30 minutes shorter. There are lots of mildly smarmy sex gags and, being British comedy, a man in drag eventually crops up. In a cast where everyone is camping it up to one degree or another, standouts include Harry H. Corbett who provides a solid center as Sgt. Bung, Jim Dale as Albert, Fenella Fielding (above right) as Valeria, and Charles Hawtrey who has a funny bit as a men's room attendant. Kenneth Williams (above left with the monster) is a bit too much as Dr. Watt, but he's bearable. I don't know how many more Carry On movies I'd care to see, but I'm glad to have finally gotten one under my belt. [TCM]

Monday, October 22, 2018


Chase Cordell plays Paul, a geologist (or archeologist or something—he still lives with his mom, I think) who lives in New Mexico and pals around with a Native American college professor named Johnny Longbow (Professor John to his students). Paul, Johnny, some students, and a photographer named Cathy meet up in some hills where Paul has been digging. They all go off to Johnny's cabin where he makes them dinner. An asteroid is about to hit the moon, resulting in a spectacular meteor shower, and since Paul and Cathy hit it off (quickly but blandly), they head out to the hills to watch it. Rather improbably, Paul gets hit in the head by a small flaming chunk of meteorite but plays it off as nothing, though we discover later that a small fragment of the meteorite is actually lodged in his brain. In the midst of a multi-day courtship, Paul and Cathy visit a museum where a moon rock shoots a laser-like ray of light at Paul's head. That night, a sweaty, writhing Paul transforms into a giant lizard beast—like a human-sized edition of the dinosaur-looking monitor lizard that Paul keeps as a pet—and winds up mutilating and killing a drunk guy whose wife then dies of a heart attack when she sees his body. This keeps happening, and the only clue crops up when Johnny recalls some Navajo folklore about the moon causing a man to change into a giant lizard. Sadly, the folktale ends with the lizard beast eventually dying of spontaneous combustion—is this how things will end for Paul?

B-movie heaven and B-movie hell often coincide, as they do here. There are some delightfully cheap thrills on a low budget, with several moments that wound up getting mocked by the guys on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the funniest of which is Johnny's tedious recitation of the ingredients of his tasty stew: "Chicken, corn, green peppers, chili, [long bored sigh]… onions." There's a also show-stopping—in a bad way—moment in a bar of a folk band performing something called "California Lady." The acting is dreadful throughout, but an eye dulled by drink might come to see the acting as contributing to an almost surreal atmosphere. Some critics call Chase Cordell wooden and distracted, except when he's writhing his way through a transformation, but you could be inclined to say he's presenting a character who is socially inept, or anti-social, but hides behind his bland half-smile (and his several shirtless scenes made me judge his performance a little less harshly). Worse is Leigh Drake as Cathy, whose flipping between overacting and underacting makes it seem like she's in a totally different movie from Cordell. I was pulling for Gregorio Sala as Johnny, but his character is so inconsistent and underwritten that he comes off as badly as the two leads. The appearance of the Moon Beast, done by future make-up and FX superstar Rick Baker, isn't bad though it looks nothing like the fabulous poster art (looks like the work of Frank Frazetta but it probably isn't). The beast attack scenes are awkwardly staged and edited, but a scene of the Moon Beast ripping a guy's arm off works almost in spite of the way it was filmed. Fun for junk-movie aficionados but other should beware. [DVD]

Friday, October 19, 2018



Reed Hadley is the benevolent ruler of a Middle Eastern country. Dying of cancer, he is worried that his death would cause great turmoil and move the country backwards, but he and his associates (Grant Williams and Zandor Vorkov) have a plan. When Hadley dies, he is wrapped in foil (!) and shipped to the United States where Williams and Vorkov take him to mad scientist Kent Taylor who claims he can transfer Hadley's brain into a suitable body—one that resembles Hadley—so he can continue to run the country. Of course, everything that can go wrong does. First, a mysterious man tries to run them off the road. At Taylor's lab (which looks like a cheap suburban doctor's office) one of his assistants, a hulking deformed man-child named Gor (John Bloom) has gone out to find an appropriate body but messes up and instead Taylor must use Gor himself, who of course, looks nothing like Hadley. Taylor's other assistant, a dwarf (Angelo Rossitto), seems like he's trying to sabotage the operation. Not to mention the sexy young woman kept chained up in the basement.

Director Al Adamson is famous (or imfamous) in the world of grade-Z horror. Before this, the only one of his movies I’d seen is BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE which was cheap looking but not awful. This one is cheap *and* awful, and fairly gory, though the blood which decorates many scenes looks more like red paint. The plot is ludicrous and at times feels improvised; the settings look all wrong; the makeup on Gor is ridiculous, with the actor's hair peeking out from under a silly bald cap. The whole thing has a unwholesome, sleazy feeling, which may be a plus for some viewers. Poor Grant Williams (THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, the Hawaiian Eye TV show), in one of his last movies, is clad in silly clothes and seems terribly uncomfortable in his low-budget surroundings. B-movie warhorse Kent Taylor gets by OK, but John Bloom as Gor gives the best performance once he has Hadley's brain in him; unfortunately, he also has a pathetic flashback scene showing how he became disfigured. If you must see this, see it as "riffed" by the Cinematic Titanic folks under the title The Oozing Skull. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 16, 2018


Dr. Randolph (John Carradine) is your run-of-the-mill mad scientist, conducting experiments in bringing the dead back to life with the help of his somewhat less mad assistant Dr. Cochran (Michael Shayne)—though interestingly, for this kind of B-horror film, both doctors generally come off as fairly rational folks that you could actually imagine sharing a dinner with. This night, they have the body of a recently drowned sailor and they are able to re-animate him, but after his eyes flicker open, his face freezes and turns glowing white (the "face of marble" of the title, pictured at left) and he dies again. Meanwhile, we are introduced to the slightly odd domestic situation. Randolph's wife Elaine, who has a faithful Great Dane named Brutus, is trying to get Cochran to talk her husband out of his experiments. Cochran is reluctant to, so unbeknownst to Elaine, her servant Maria begins using what is referred to as "voodoo magic" to get Cochran to fall in love with Elaine so he will do her bidding. (It remained unclear to me throughout if Elaine was really in love with Cochran, though we do find out that her marriage to Randolph is something of a sham). One problem with Maria's plan shows up on the doorstep eventually: Cochran's girlfriend from back home, Linda, whom Randolph sends for in an effort to keep Cochran happy. But complications start piling up: Cochran finds Maria's voodoo fetish and destroys it, causing Maria to warn of violent death; Randolph kills Brutus in order to bring him back to life, but the dog returns as a ghost figure, able to walk through walls; the police discover that the body of the drowned dead sailor shows signs having been given an electrical shock and Randolph falls under suspicion; a "blood-crazed" dog begins attacking local livestock. And there is still a lot of movie to go.

This B-production is interesting if only for the way the writers throw everything and the kitchen sink into the plot. Crazy scientists, check; ghosts, check; dead bodies coming back to life, check; killer animal, check; voodoo, check; I even suspect that the "face of marble" guy at the beginning might have become a zombie if he'd stayed alive long enough. The title of the movie is strange, as the pale pallor of the faces of the reanimated is barely a plot element. "Hemomania" would have been just as appropriate—a word used to describe Brutus's blood craze. It's also interesting that the two doctors are much less "mad" in temperament than they would have been in any other horror film of the classic era. The romance element between Cochran and Elaine seems forced, but there is also little chemistry between Cochran and Linda. I had more emotional investment in the dog than in the romantic entanglements. Acting is OK—Carradine is his usual professional self, Shayne makes for a solid second lead, Rosa Rey does some nice skulking in the dark as Maria, and Willie Best is the comic relief black butler who plays a fairly important role in the wrap-up. An obscurity worth at least one viewing. [DVD]

Friday, October 12, 2018


In an opening sequence, we see people dropping dead like flies, leading to cars wrecking, planes crashing, and people strewn about dead on the street. Jeff Nolan, an American test pilot for North England Aviation, lands in a small English village to find a ghost town. He heads for a local inn along with a handful of other survivors including Ed, a drunkard, and a pregnant woman and her cocky husband. Since all seven of them were isolated from the outside for a time (in the plane, in a hospital room, etc.), they surmise that they escaped a gas attack which killed everyone else, but soon giant robots begin striding through the streets, turning some of the dead into blank-eyed zombies (see picture at right for one of the sexier zombies).  The group struggles to survive, not just against the aliens and zombies, but against each other, thanks to internal discord. This B-film, only an hour long, seems like someone put VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a blender. It's not as effective as any of those films, but it has its moments. I would bet this was among the earliest of the "slow-walking zombie" movies (four years before LIVING DEAD), and they and the robots are generally effective, though the low budget hurts their look a bit. The acting is adequate with Willard Parker, a B-lead in Westerns and adventure films, stolid in the lead as Jeff (his real-life wife Virginia Field plays Peggy, Ed's mistress). The title overstates the drama—it’s more like "A Village Dies Whimpering"—but it's worth watching for horror and sci-fi buffs. [DVD]

Thursday, October 11, 2018

MAN BEAST (1956)

Trevor Hudson has accompanied his fiancée Connie Hayward on a trek to the Himalayas in search of her brother James who may unwittingly be in need of medical attention. James is on an expedition with Dr. Erickson in an attempt to discover a Yeti (better known then as an Abominable Snowman), a beast that's been seen by others but never captured. They get handsome Steve Cameron to lead them into the mountains where they run across Erickson and his guide Vargas (less handsome than Steve but striking, with albino-like looks). The groups join together, but when they reach camp, the tents have been wrecked and Connie's brother is gone. After some long scenes of rock climbing and short scenes of interpersonal conflict, Connie becomes disillusioned with Trevor and begins to fall for Steve. At one point, we see a Yeti peering over rocks observing the squabbling people, and we (and not the other characters) see Vargas make motions toward the Yeti indicating that he and the monster are friendly. As it turns out, Vargas is half-Yeti himself, and his ultimate plan is to mate Yetis with human women—of course, this means Connie.

This intermittently enjoyable B-film falls down on the action and terror but the characters keep it interesting, especially Vargas who becomes a bad guy you're sorry you have to dislike. Most of the exteriors were shot in what appear to be actual snowy conditions in some California mountains, with stock footage of the Himalayas thrown in here and there. Interiors were shot on cheap sets, and nighttime scenes were filmed in darkened artificial sets, giving these scenes an almost surreal tone. The acting ranges from terrible (Virginia Maynor as Connie acts like she's auditioning for community theater, and whoever let her wear her perky make-up in every scene should have been fired) to OK (Tom Maruzzi as Steve, George Wells Lewis as Erickson) to pretty good (George Skaff as Vargas who is, by default, the most interesting character in the movie). An actor named Rock Madison is listed in the credits, but IMDb says that's a made-up name to make the cast seem bigger. The Yeti costume is not bad, but the Yeti itself is underused. Critics call this the best work of schlockmeister Jerry Warren, best known for the truly awful WILD WORLD OF BATWOMAN. It's short (just over an hour) but still feels padded out with scenes of rock climbing and dialogue that goes nowhere. Still, not a painful October experience, especially if you see the cleaned-up widescreen print from VCI. [DVD]

Monday, October 08, 2018


11 Crescent Lane has been boarded up for years since its owner, the Commodore, died, but people insist they've seen a shadowy figure in the house from time to time, and one foggy night, an old housekeeper sees strange goings-on through the window, and then is attacked and killed a few streets over in Salem Alley. A young boy witnesses most of this from his window in 10 Crescent Lane. The next day, Elizabeth Howard (Gail Russell) arrives at #10 to take over the job of governess to the two Fielding children, Ellen and Barnaby (the boy who saw the murder). Their father David (Joel McCrea) is distracted and stand-offish and irritated that the family has not been able to keep a governess for long. The children, like their father, are distant, and Barnaby in particular still has a strong and perhaps unwholesome attachment for the previous governess Maxine. Ellen lets it slip one day that Barnaby is getting paid "wages" by someone, and after Elizabeth hears footsteps in the house one night, figures out that the boy is unlocking the door for someone to come in to the house. He also takes phone calls from an unknown woman, and soon Elizabeth suspects that Maxine has a sinister hold on the boy, though for what purpose is unclear.

The plot meanders a bit from there, but this remains a half-baked stew of elements from Gaslight and the classic Henry James story Turn of the Screw. (I even thought of The Sound of Music in its depiction of the slowly-building attraction between the governess and the distant father). Paramount undoubtedly wanted to conjure up a connection to its earlier hit The Uninvited (with which it shares a star, Russell, and a director, Lewis Allen), but they have little in common except for a shadowy house with a sinister secret. The film starts slowly and builds to a decent middle section, but it falters in the last third as it slows down again. The performances are bland, especially from the two leads; better are the two child actors, Richard Lyon and Nona Griffith. Herbert Marshall, Phyllis Brooks and Norman Lloyd give OK support. Raymond Chandler co-wrote the undistinguished screenplay. There is some spooky atmosphere present in fits and starts, but overall this is disappointing as Halloween month viewing. I do like the choice of incidental music ("There'll Be Some Changes Made" and "Beautiful Dreamer"). There are also several references to Disney characters, with a doll of Dumbo playing an important part. [YouTube]

Thursday, October 04, 2018


At Grimshaw's curio shop, the owner is trying to get an antiques dealer interested in a rare bust owned once by Genghis Kahn, but the dealer wants to buy a preserved monkey's paw. Grimshaw tries to talk him out of it by telling him that it supposedly has the power to grant three wishes for the person holding it, but that tragedy inevitably follows. Still, the dealer wants it, and he soon uses it as barter when he wants a painting owned by the Trelawnes. Mrs. Trelawne doesn't want to sell, but behind her back, Mr. Trelawne, fascinated by the story behind the paw, trades the painting for it. The family has money problems—he is behind in paying some gambling debts and their son Tom has just bought a new motorcycle so he enters a race to win the cash to buy a wedding ring for his fiancée. Trelawne's Irish assistant Kelly relates the story of what happened to the paw's previous owners: Mrs. Lang, upset in her miserable marriage to a drunkard, grabs the paw and wishes for freedom; the paw twists in her hand of its own accord, and shortly thereafter, her husband shoots her dead. She got what she wanted but at a price higher than she would have wanted to pay. It's noted that the lesson of the paw is that man's destiny is ruled by fate and cannot be changed. But the Trelawnes don't take the lesson to heart, and they wish for 200 pounds to cover their debt. That night, Tom takes a spill during the race and is killed, but they get the 200 pound prize in consolation. Mrs. Trelawne, understandably upset, grabs the paw and wishes that Tom would return to them. However, Mr. Trelawne realizes that if Tom returns, he will be a disfigured, decaying corpse. That stormy night, someone is approaching the front door—what can Mr. Trelawne do?

This is a modern adaptation of the classic 1902 short story by W.W. Jacobs, and as the story has been heavily anthologized and adapted, most viewers will be familiar with the plot and outcome, but with a running time of just one hour, this is worth seeing anyway. The tale has been fleshed out with the frame story of the antiques dealer, Kelly's flashback narrative of the unhappy wife, and some background of Tom and his fiancée, though I could have done without the silly comic relief of the Irish fellow. It's decidedly a B-level production, but some creepy atmosphere is provided by the night and storm scenes. None of the actors were on my radar, but the performances are fine (except maybe for the irritating prattle of Michael Martin Harvey as Kelly). [Amazon Prime]

Monday, October 01, 2018


This movie wastes no time with backstory as we jump right in with the kidnapping of adventure diver Matt (John Ashley) who is tied up underwater and pulled into a boat. The chief napper is Steinman who has a bright red-blond crew cut and an unwholesome aura, but it turns out he's working under the orders of Dr. Gordon. When Matt understandably objects to his situation, Gordon's voluptuous daughter Neva (Pat Woodell) retorts that her father is "one of the greatest, most dedicated scientific minds in the world," so Matt apparently should be happy that he's been kidnapped to help out in some unspecified way. On Gordon's private island, Matt soon discovers a lab filled with jars of glowing tissue (and one glowing human head) and it's not long before we realize that Gordon has been experimenting in human-animal mating. Among the creatures kept caged up in an underground chamber are a panther woman, an antelope man, and a man with the wings and face of a bat. Gordon wants Matt, as (supposedly) an exceptional specimen of humankind, to be the source of a new kind of superior species. Steinman, however, seems to be obsessed with Matt and wants him to escape so he can hunt him down. Eventually, Neva falls in love with Matt, and she helps him and the creatures escape, so Steinman gets his wish.

This B-film (sub-B, actually), based on H.G. Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau (with a little of The Most Dangerous Game thrown in) was one of a series made in the Philippines and co-produced by its star, former teen idol John Ashley, and directed by Eddie Romero.  You can feel the ambition to do something interesting, but the writing and editing and special effects can't live up to the director's intentions. The script could have used another draft, as many details (Matt's background, the how and why of the creatures) are glossed over or omitted altogether. I did like the odd intimation that Steinman (Jan Merlin) is gay; when he yells at Neva for getting "hot in the pants" for Matt, she replies, "I could say the same for you," implying that if Steinman can't have Matt, hunting him down will insure than no one else will, either. The movie is colorful but the direction is weak and there are frequent instances of choppy editing which, because the print I saw was in great shape, I blame on the original editing. The first half is fast-paced, but once the escape happens, the last half of the film bogs down with repetitious scenes of people making their way through the jungle. There is one great shot of a person with a gun, crouched and ready to fire at our hero, but it turns out that the would-be killer is already dead, frozen in position.

The creature makeup is fairly amateurish. Ayesa, the panther woman, is played by Pam Grier (the only one in the cast to go on to star status) and her makeup consists primarily of big teeth and hairy hands. Darmo, the bat man, must be seen to be believed (picture above left); he has what look like plastic trash bags taped to his arms for wings, and when he flies, he's clearly zipping along on wires—though I must admit he has a couple of effective scenes at the climax. Kuzma, the antelope boy, played by Ken Metcalfe (pictured top right), has a half-mask over his face with antelope horns. However, I appreciate Metcalfe's attempt at method acting when he tries to walk like a two-legged antelope. Honestly, even though he has no dialog, he is really the only appealing character in the movie; Ashley, the good guy, comes off a little woodenly, and Merlin, his antagonist, gives a more interesting performance. Woodell is sexy but a terrible actor. Charles Macauley as Dr. Gordon (who is referred to in a newspaper headline as Dr. Grimstead) should be rather manic but is so bland he practically vanishes before your eyes. I guess I had some fun with this one, but it's not one you need to track down unless you're a John Ashley completist. [TCM]