Thursday, October 31, 2019


Three young men are climbing the Trollenberg mountain in the Swiss Alps when they are overcome by a thick fog. One of them falls and the other two try to save him but discover as they try to pull him to safety that his head has been torn off. This is only the latest in a series of strange climbing disasters on the mountain which have coincided with a huge unmoving, radioactive cloud surrounding the peak, and Prof. Crevett, who runs a small research observatory near the mountain, has called in his former colleague Alan Brooks, now an investigator for the United Nations. Brooks stays at a hotel in the small Swiss village along with two sisters, Anne and Sarah Pilgrim, who perform a mind-reading act, and Philip Truscott, a reporter. It develops that Anne is actually gifted with powers of extrasensory perception, and she begins to sense a strong force of some kind coming from the mountain. Two more climbers run into trouble that night and don't return to the hotel. A search party finds one of them dead and decapitated. The other climber, Brett, returns that evening, disoriented, and later tries to kill Anne. He is subdued, gets a gash in his forehead which doesn't bleed, and eventually has to shot to stop him from attacking Anne. A doctor determines that Brett has been clinically dead for 24 hours, and Brooks and Crevett make a connection to a similar case in the Andes some years ago which involved a mountain, a mysterious cloud, a woman with psychic powers, and a killer who was already dead. What's going on? Well, it turns out that there are alien creatures in the cloud in the shape of gigantic eyeballs with tentacles, and they consider Anne an enemy. Soon, the cloud moves down the mountain and the entire village is evacuated by cable car to the observatory, which is considered safe. But the eyes manage to converge and attack anyway. Can anything stop them?

This was the first movie I ever saw on Chiller Theater (on Friday nights on WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio), in January of 1964 when I was 7. I was already a monster movie fan, and after some pestering on my part, my parents let me stay up until 11:30 at night to watch Chiller Theater. In the beginning, it was a family affair, with Mom and Dad making popcorn and staying up with me. Eventually, they must have decided that I could handle these movies alone, but the memory of this first one remains strong, both for it being scary and for the family bonding. Seen now, it feels awfully talky in the beginning, but the last half-hour works pretty well, with the eyes threatening a little girl and eventually crawling all over the observatory—pretty good use of miniatures. The full-sized tentacles, however, are less effective, slow moving and obviously operated by wires. Forrest Tucker (as Brooks) and Janet Munro (Anne) are fine and the only real standouts in the cast. The film is based on a British TV mini-series called The Trollenberg Terror, and the movie does feel a little overstuffed with plot details that may have come from the original TV show but weren't given room to be developed here (Anne’s ESP powers, the earlier Andean incident with the aliens). But even to my sixty-something eyes, this still works as an archetypal Chiller Theater movie, and a climactic entry for my Chiller Theater month. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 30, 2019


Dr. Frankenstein (Whit Bissell), a visiting lecturer on organ transplants, tells his medical colleagues that even dead tissue can be "revitalized" and transplanted. This causes uproar and scoffing, with one doctor saying that even his teenage son would laugh at that theory. So the doc decides to show everyone by creating a being composed of dead body parts. Frankenstein gets Dr. Karlton to agree to help him in his experiment. Moments after he says that he intends to use fresh and, more importantly, young body parts, they hear a fatal car crash outside and a teenager's body is thrown from the car. It's like an answer to a prayer, and Frankenstein is able to grab the body before an ambulance comes. The torso is in good shape, but he has to wait until he hears of a plane crash that kills some young athletes before he can gather other body parts. Any parts he can't use he tosses to an alligator in his cellar that can be counted on to eat the remains. Meanwhile, Frankenstein proposes marriage (rather unpassionately) to his assistant Margaret (Phyllis Coates) in order to get her to work with him and keep anyone from prying. She's not in the know about his project until she enters his locked lab one day when he's gone and is shocked to meet up with the pieced-together monster, alive and restless. When she confronts Frankenstein, he orders his monster to kill her, then feeds her to the alligator. Now, the final step is getting a face for the teenage monster (the one he has is grisly and mangled with one bulging eye), and a visit to Lover's Lane takes care of that; the monster grabs the handsome teenager Bob (Gary Conway) out of the clutches of his girlfriend and Frankenstein grafts Bob's face on the monster, who winds up being quite taken with his new looks. But we all know that there's no happy ending for those who tamper in God's domain, so don't be surprised if the alligator is the only satisfied character at the end.

The title of this movie may have been instrumental in solidifying the cultural confusion over whom or what the name Frankenstein refers to. Clearly, the doc is not a teenager, the monster is, but technically the monster has no name, unless the doc is prepared to adopt him as his son. Anyway, this American International film was a sequel of sorts to their earlier hit I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF which featured a young, pre-Bonanza Michael Landon as the title character and Whit Bissell in a similar monster-empowering role. I saw this at the age of 7 on a double bill with the Werewolf movie, and two things made an impression on me: 1) the black & white movie's sudden switch to color very briefly at the end when Frankenstein and his monster meet their fates; 2) Gary Conway and his very snug t-shirt. Viewed now, the color bit at the end (for an electrocution scene) is disappointing, but Gary Conway still holds my attention. The movie is fairly mild as horror, though the mangled face make-up is quite good, as is the scene where the horny monster spies on a girl in her room. Bissell is a rather mild mad doctor; the movie would have benefited from an over-the-top performance. I appreciate the occasional humor more now, especially the doc's line to the monster, "I know you have a civil tongue in your head, I sewed it there!" (though Bissell's delivery could have used one more take). This movie is hard to find; apparently, the widow of one of American International's founders owns the rights but has not let it be released on DVD. I know I'd buy a double bill of this and Teenage Werewolf in a heartbeat. Prints occasionally show up on YouTube but are often yanked off quickly. Good luck.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019


One night in a desolate area just outside a small Texas town, Pat and Liz are necking in a car when, yes, a giant Gila monster attacks, wrecking the car and, one assumes, eating the couple. Meanwhile, the most wholesome gang of teenagers in Texas (played mostly by actors who are closer to 30 than 20) are meeting at the malt shop, and when Pat and Liz don’t show up, they inform the sheriff. We meet Chase, the good-natured leader of the group who writes songs and is devoted to his little Polio-stricken sister. We meet Lisa, a French exchange student, who is dating Chase much to the anger of her adult sponsor. We meet Pat's dad who is a rich old bastard who can't stop complaining that the sheriff isn't doing enough to find his son. The Gila monster keeps attacking hitchhikers and truck drivers, but is never seen by anyone except the town drunk who, of course, no one believes. Meanwhile, Chase finds an out-of-town drunk with his disabled car by the side of the road and helps him out; the next morning, we find out he’s a big-city DJ who offers Chase career help. The various storylines, such as they are, converge at the big sock hop that the big-city DJ helps host, when the Gila monster crashes the party.

This Texas-made monster movie has a certain cheap charm, though it is rarely ever scary. That's partly because the monster is just a regular-sized Gila monster wandering around some miniature sets. The first shot or two are fairly effective, but repetition weakens the illusion. Aside from the monster angle, the movie almost feels like a Disney story with its goody-goody teens, a cutesy old drunk, a friendly sheriff, the little girl in leg braces who never stops trying to walk unassisted, and some pop tunes, including the truly awful "Laugh, Children, Laugh" which is performed about 40 times (or seems like it). There's also Chekhov's nitroglycerine stash, introduced out of the blue early on to be forgotten until the climax. I wanted to like Don Sullivan, who plays Chase, but he is so clearly 30 years old that he's not effective at all as a teenager. The drunk is played by Shug Fisher, who actually was an old-time country singer. The DJ is Ken Knox who actually was a Dallas DJ, and he's not bad. It's weird that the two alcoholic characters almost steal show from the Gila monster and the personable, moderately attractive lead kids. If the monster effects had been a little better, this might have been more fun to sit through, but it's a prime example of Chiller Theater fodder of the 60s. [Amazon Prime]

Monday, October 21, 2019


Space Operations has sent astronaut Lockhart to the moon, landed him, and gotten him back to Earth’s atmosphere, but on reentry, they lose contact with him and calculate that, as his oxygen supply ran out 20 minutes ago, they've lost him. Steve (Peter Breck) and Max (Kent Taylor) are mystified, as this is their second moon mission mishap and they're afraid the administration will give up on future trips, thinking of space travel as a "conveyer belt to oblivion." Suddenly Lockhart's face appears on their monitor. He's drenched in sweat, he has huge dark circles around his eyes, and he's begging the two men to push a self-destruct button at Mission Control that he himself cannot press on the ship. He's mostly ranting, implying that he is possessed by something, and the men reluctantly put him out of his misery, blowing up the craft over the Pacific Ocean near California. That night, science major Paul (Rod Lauren, at right) and his girlfriend Marta (Sirry Steffen), the granddaughter of his mentor Prof. Farnstrom, are having a moonlight frolic on the beach when they discover a severed arm. She screams hysterically, but Paul, noticing the space suit sleeve on the arm, returns to the beach later that night and takes the arm back to his room in the home of Mrs. Hotchkiss. He hides it in a cupboard, but it comes to life, crawls around the house (hence the movie's title), and strangles the landlady. Whatever force has reanimated the arm slowly begins to possess Paul, turning him into a sweaty, hollow-eyed fellow with an urge to kill. Meanwhile, the local sheriff (Alan Hale Jr.) discovers that the fingerprints on Mrs. Hotchkiss's neck belong to Lockhart, the dead astronaut, and Steve and Max arrive to help the cops figure out the case.

I first saw this widely ridiculed B-movie on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and quite enjoyed it for its badness, but seen on its own, it's actually not all that awful—it's not very good, but it has its moments. The story is a decent one, even if the whole "possession by alien life form" plot, a staple in 60s sci-fi TV shows and movies, isn't fleshed out very well. The acting is all over the place. Breck (at left) plays every scene with balls-out bombast, which is fun at first but gets tiresome. Taylor, clearly thinking he's slumming, doesn't make much of an impression. Hale, the skipper on Gilligan’s Island, is stuck doing both comic relief and serious acting. Rod Lauren, however, is good as the possessed college student. Like Breck, he sometimes goes over the top in a James Dean "You're tearing me apart" kind of way, but he also gives a grim tone to the movie that makes you feel for the character. The effect of the arm is a little amateurish, and the direction is lackluster. Mrs. Hotchkiss's long scene of being stalked by the hand is silly, and a later scene in which Lauren is trying to spell a person's name over the phone to an operator is unintentionally laughable. There's some minor fun to be had with the character of the old soda shop owner who, early in the movie, tries to stop his young customers from dancing, though in a hypocritical moment later, he warns them all, "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!" A later scene in which Lauren attacks him and he falls against a jukebox which plays the novelty hit "The Bird’s the Word" is one of the few (intentionally) comic moments that works. Rob Lauren has an interesting backstory. He had a top 40 pop hit as a teenager, appeared in a few B-movies, married a famous Filipino actress, and was later charged with her gory murder—go to IMDb for more details. Some may see this as scraping the bottom of the Chiller Theater barrel, but if you’re in the right mood, it's more than watchable. [YouTube]

Friday, October 18, 2019



The wicked Count Regula (Christopher Lee) has been found guilty of murdering twelve virgins, largely based on the testimony of a thirteenth woman (Karin Dor) who managed to escape him. As Dor and the judge (Lex Barker) watch, he's put into a spiked mask, then drawn and quartered. 35 years later, lawyer Roger Mont Elise (also Lex Barker) and Baroness Lillian von Brandt (also Karin Dor) are separately sent invitations to the castle where Regula lived: Roger has been promised knowledge about his ancestors and Lillian is in line for an inheritance. Once Roger arrives, he has problems getting anyone to direct him to the castle. In the woods, he sees seven riders dressed in black attack Lillian's carriage. He comes to her rescue and they proceed together through a very spooky part of the forest where dead bodies and human arms hang from trees. Once at the castle, Lillian goes into a trance-like state, being controlled by Anatole, a servant and seemingly the only inhabitant of the castle. But soon Anatole reveals the reason they have been summoned: Roger is a descendant of the judge who sentenced Regula, and Lillian is a descendant of the thirteenth virgin, and both are there to watch the ritual Regula could not complete in his lifetime: using the blood of thirteen virgins to achieve immorality.

According to the credits, this is based on Poe's story, "The Pit and the Pendulum"; although there is a scene in which Barker is threatened with death by a swinging, sharp pendulum, it seems more inspired by the stories of the 16th century serial killer Elizabeth Bathory who supposedly bathed in the blood of virgins to stay young. Despite Lee's name listed among the leads, he plays a relatively small part in the proceedings, vanishing after the brief prologue and not returning until near the end. Barker and Dor handle their roles well, but because Lee is absent so long, most of the villainy is enacted rather blandly by Carl Lange as the servant. But two supporting players give the film some energy: Vladimir Medar as Fabian, a priest (or is he?) who joins Roger for the ride to the castle, and Christiane Rucker as Babette, Lillian's buxom companion. None of the titles under which this movie was released quite fit. There is a torture chamber, but that's misleading—this is not an S&M movie. Regula is revived by blood and needs virgin blood to stay alive, but he's not really a demon. As for the walking dead, it's pretty much just Regula who doesn't start walking around until late in the game. Perhaps the Canadian title, Blood of the Virgins, fits best. By far the best scene is the creepy forest of the dead. Not bad, if no lost masterpiece. I've illustrated this post not with a photo of the stars, but with a nicely atmospheric landscape shot that reminded me of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy album.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


Young Emily de Blancheville, who turns 21 in just a few days, is returning to her family castle in Northern France after spending years away at school. Accompanying her are her dear school friend Alice and Alice's handsome brother John who is sweet on Emily. On arrival, they are met by their host, Emily's considerably older brother Roderic whom Alice is half in love with just from reading his letters to Emily. But things are rather gloomy at the castle. The Blancheville patriarch died a while back in a chapel fire on the grounds, and all the servants that Emily knew have been replaced. The two most notable replacements are Eleanora, an attractive but severe-looking housekeeper, and Dr. LaRouche, the new family physician. The atmosphere is uncomfortable: Roderic seems tormented by something, and Eleanora and LaRouche are constantly exchanging secretive glances. When Alice hears a scream in the night, she is unnerved, and traces the scream to a tower room in which Eleanora is restraining a horribly disfigured man. Alice faints, and the next morning is told she must have been dreaming, but before long, Roderic comes clean: the disfigured man is his father, not dead but badly injured, and he has escaped into the nearby woods. He poses a threat to Emily because he's convinced that an ancient prophecy (if any Blancheville female reaches the age of 21, the family line will die out) is true, and Roderic says that the father will try to kill Emily.

Why Emily and her friends don’t just leave at this point is beyond me. Nevertheless, they stay as a number of Gothic complications pile up. The scarred "monster" gets into Emily's room and hypnotizes her into taking midnight strolls to the family crypt to prepare her for her coming death. Over the next day or so, she seems to lose the will to live. Can she be saved? And who besides the father is in on this plot? Eleanora comes off like a younger Mrs. Danvers (from Rebecca), and she and the doctor continue exchanging glances, but later the doctor proclaims his love for Alice, and says he wants to help save Emily. Roderic and John are both sympathetic but neither is very effective at helping, and finally Emily is found dead the night before her birthday. However, as her glass-covered coffin is carried to the crypt, we realize that she is not dead, but paralyzed (apparently through the earlier hypnosis) and is desperately trying to signal to someone that she is alive.

You may have figured out by now that this story is influenced by Poe, in particular by "The Fall of the House of Usher," which involves the end of a family line, a sister who may or may not be dead, and a main character named Roderick. But while "Usher" dabbles in the supernatural, this film is at heart a Gothic thriller with fairly traditional trappings. The mystery of which characters are good or bad is sustained to the end, and the dark and gloomy atmosphere adds to film's appeal. The English dubbing of this Italian film is not great, and makes judging the actors reliant pretty much on their looks. Gerard Tichy (Roderic) and Leo Anchoriz (the doctor) don't exactly look alike, but they feel interchangeable, which leads to some confusion along the way. Even the two young ladies (Joan Hills as Emily and Iran Eory as Alice) seem a lot alike. Richard Davis (real name, Vanni Materassi)as John is handsome but not energetic enough to inspire faith in him as a hero. This leaves Helga Liné as Eleanora with top acting honors as she keeps us on our toes as to her role in the scheme. The word "monster" isn't really accurate in the title (an alternate title, HORROR, is equally wrong) but for an October night's viewing, this should suffice. Pictured at right are the doctor, Eleanora, and John; the monster is pictured at left. [Amazon Prime; disappointingly, the Amazon print is pan-and-scan, but there is a good widescreen print available on YouTube.]

Monday, October 14, 2019


Sailor Richard Derr wakes up a desert island beach; his ship foundered and he's the only survivor. He is taken in by Francis Lederer, a doctor, and his wife (Greta Thyssen) and nursed back to health. Though Lederer seems pleasant enough, Derr soon realizes that something strange is going on: villagers make reference to an "it" that has escaped, two people are killed by a beast in the night, and the next morning, a horde of villagers leave the island in their canoes, leaving only Lederer's housekeeper and her little brother. Derr is effectively stranded on the island as it may be months before a boat arrives. Derr is treated amiably by the doctor and receives an even warmer reception by his wife—warm enough that she confides in him that she is frustrated with Lederer and the two begin an affair to which Lederer remains oblivious. The "it," apparently a panther, is captured, wrapped in bandages, seemingly in pain (the growling sound the creature makes is effective), and taken to Lederer's basement laboratory where Derr sees the doctor and his wife operating on it.

Of course, if you know any horror and sci-fi tropes, you've caught on to what's happening here—this is a version of H.G Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau, in which a mad scientist, tucked away on a mostly deserted island, is using science and surgery to turn animals into humans, or something close, ignoring the moral problems of tampering in God's domain. In the Moreau films (the best of which is still the 1932 ISLAND OF LOST SOULS with Charles Laughton) there are several pitiful creatures, confused and in pain and not fully human; here, there's only the one panther man, who remains mostly hidden, wrapped up like a mummy. What we see of his face (pictured) is impressive, but he rarely comes across as a true figure of menace, or even of pity. The other main difference between this movie and other Moreau versions is that the relationship between the mad doctor and the shipwrecked sailor is rather cordial. Make no mistake, Lederer has a few screws loose, and he has neglected his beautiful wife (as the stereotypical mad doctor does) but he has a rational demeanor and never actively threatens either the wife or the boyfriend. The most antagonistic relationship in the film is between Lederer and his assistant (Oscar Keesee), who tries to assault the wife and is the catalyst for the tragic ending. This is one of a number of horror films of the era that was shot in the Philippines; most of them are fairly junky Z-movies (see THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE and any movie with the words “Blood Island” in the title—this movie's alternate title was Creature from Blood Island) but this is nicely shot and generally well acted—both Lederer and Derr are a little lackluster but they're professionals, and Thyssen is good. Some critics praise this film, but mostly because it's not as bad as they were expecting it to be. Still, it's certainly worth watching on a Chiller Theater night. [TCM]

Friday, October 11, 2019


In a graveyard at night, a young man has been put into an open grave and a man in a ski mask pours cement into the grave, causing the guy to scream himself insane—literally. We later learn that the boy, Joey, brother to Marge, survived but is in an asylum, and the culprit is still at large. College-aged Marge (Tracy Olsen) works as a hostess at a diner run by Mr. Blake, a kind-hearted boss who has looked on her like a daughter ever since her parents died. The place where Joey was terrified almost to death is an abandoned part of town known as Ghost Town, and one night, Marge decides to head out there to talk to the cemetery caretaker, Crazy Bill, to see if he remembers anything about the night Joey was found. Marge's two boyfriends are with her at the diner. One is Ken (Rod Lauren, pictured), a college student, who seems intellectual and sensitive, and was close to Joey—his upsetting description of what happened to Joey is that "his mind snapped; he turned from a man to a slobbering oyster." He's writing a midterm paper on terror, in individuals and in societies (the Holocaust, the atom bomb). Her other boyfriend, David (Steve Drexel), is a more friendly, grounded guy—who looks about ten years older than her. He agrees to go with her to see Crazy Bill; they make their way through the creepy, empty buildings of Ghost Town only to discover Bill's dead body, impaled on the spikes of a fence. Ken winds up out there, too, and agrees to stay while they go back and get the sheriff. I was sure that Ken himself was the ski-masked terrorizer, but we hear that Joey has escaped and, in a long and somewhat repetitive sequence, we see Ken stalked through the empty street by Ski-Mask, who is trying to scare him to death or insanity, by threat of hanging and drowning. Ken's pretty sure it’s Joey, but we soon learn that Joey has been apprehended. So who’s the prowling villain and what is his motive?

This is one of five B-movies that teen-idol singer Rod Lauren (he had a top 40 hit with "If I Had a Girl") made in 1963. He’s broodily handsome and does a good enough job with the material, here and in THE CRAWLING HAND, but his career didn't last long—he married a Filipino movie star and left the business. (Years later, she was murdered and he was a suspect, but he skipped the country, and several years afterward, killed himself.) The movie is interesting in its concept of a killer who kills by instilling fear rather than using a gun or a knife, but the script is full of holes and the other actors are a bit disappointing, especially the dull Drexel. Most of it takes place in what seems like real time and the chase/catch/release scene between Ken and the killer goes on too long. The film does have a very good score by Michael Andersen. Lauren is the main reason to watch this, and when the focus is on Olsen and Drexel, your mind wanders. My favorite line: when David and Marge almost hit a jackrabbit on the road, Marge says it must have seen the headlights and froze; David replies philosophically, "Yeah… like most of us." [YouTube]

Thursday, October 10, 2019


In Tibet, botanist Wilfred Glendon (Henry Hull) and his young assistant Hugh Renwick are hunting at night for a rare flower that blooms only during the full moon. The natives accompanying him are skittish, and go running when they see a strange figure come over a hill—from a place the natives call the Valley of Demons—but it turns out to be a priest who gently warns them about going any farther. They continue anyway, and soon Renwick pauses, saying he feels paralyzed. Glendon sees the flower and reaches for it, but is attacked by a wolf-like creature; he is bitten but manages to wound the beast and take the flower. Back in London, Glendon becomes completely absorbed in his work, trying to use artificial light to make the moon flower bloom. At a party, with Glendon distracted, his young wife Lisa is chatted up by her former flame Paul (with a busybody society matron seemingly encouraging the pair to "hook up," as we might say today). Another botanist, Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland), shows up, claiming to have met Glendon in Tibet and is very interested in the moon flower, claiming that it is an antidote to "werewolfery." This tidbit may interest Glendon, as he finds that, under full moon light, the bite from Tibet sprouts hair and the nectar of the plant changes it back to normal. In short order, we realize that both Glendon and Yogami are afflicted by werewolfery (or lycanthropy as the condition is better known) and both need the antidote of the moon flower to ward off a transformation under the full moon into a savage, murderous werewolf—who is driven to kill that which he loves.

This was the first werewolf movie of the sound era and, as such, set a template that lasted for years: the transformation into a beast happens due to a bite or wound from another werewolf, is triggered by the full moon, and might be avoided by a natural cure. The story and makeup work well, and the opening scene is lovely and atmospheric. But Hull was not a terribly demonstrative actor and he's a bit of a letdown, especially if you’ve seen Lon Chaney Jr.  (1942's THE WOLF MAN) or Oliver Reed (1961's CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF) who both give stronger performances. This may seem like mild stuff to those raised on the more modern monsters in The Howling or An American Werewolf in London. But still, this manages to be an effective entry in the Universal classic horror series of the 30s. There are interesting readings of the film that highlight themes of drug addiction (the need for a plant serum injected into the body) and homosexuality (Hull and Oland sharing a secret subculture). The supporting characters are mostly uninteresting, though I enjoy Spring Byington a comic-relief biddy. Even though this is a very different movie from Chaney’s Wolf Man, it's difficult not to compare them. This one will lose out just a bit on most points, but it is still well worth watching. Pictured are Oland and Hull in combat. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 09, 2019


Margaret, the daughter of Egyptologist Julian Fuchs, is haunted by dream-visions of stars and caves and of the execution of an Egyptian queen—her hand is cut off and thrown to the dogs, but it comes to life and crawls away. We soon discover, in flashbacks, that her father led the expedition that opened the tomb of the executed Queen Tera, and he brought her body back to England where it remains in his basement. Margaret, who was born on the day of the tombs desecration, has turned 21, and when she accepts the gift of a rather gaudy red ring (which came off of Tera's amputated hand) from her father, she becomes possessed by Queen Tera and, helped by the slimy Corbeck, another expedition member, she plots to regain all her missing grave relics in order to attain full resurrection. The mechanics of this remained a bit murky to me, but all we need to know is that she and Corbeck are willing to kill to get the articles they need. Based on Jewel of the Seven Stars by Bram Stoker, this movie may not always make strong narrative sense, but it's fairly fun viewing thanks to some decent acting and a few stylish visual flourishes. Valerie Leon as Margaret/Tera isn't called upon to compete for an Oscar, but she does a fine job of using her physical charms—especially as the scantily-clad Tera—to keep our interest. The familiar faces of George Coulouris and Aubrey Morris show up, and Mark Edwards is Margaret's boyfriend, who despite being handsome and likeable, is ineffective in keeping Tera at bay. There is no dusty, wrapped-up mummy here—Tera, despite missing a hand, is alluring and voluptuous lying in her sarcophagus waiting to brought back to life—and the gore is limited to shredded throats, but the movie manages to be atmospheric in the Hammer style, and quite watchable. Pictured are Leon, Edwards, and Tera's feet. [TCM]

Monday, October 07, 2019


Thorne Sherman (James Best) and his first mate Rook are making a scheduled delivery of goods to the small private island of Dr. Craigis, but a coming hurricane forces the two to anchor the boat near the beach and stay the night, Rook staying with the boat and Thorne on the island. Craigis, who is, with a couple other people, conducting some kind of experiments involving population control, is upset because he wanted to send his daughter Ann back to the mainland with Thorne because of some vague possibility of dangerous animals on the island. As the storm comes in, Thorne can sense tension among the handful of folks sharing the small house, including Bradford, an obsessed, absent-minded researcher, and Ann's surly boyfriend Jerry, a disillusioned assistant who drinks too much. It turns out the group has been doing experiments in genetics, and the upshot is that a bunch of shrews that were lab subjects, have grown to the size of dogs and escaped, and now that they've killed off most of the prey on the island, the giant shrews have been trying to get at the humans during the night. As dusk settles in, Rook is chased up a tree by a pack of the shrews, falls to the ground, and is eaten—the next morning, they find just his skeleton. Soon, the shrews get hungrier and bolder, and begin to dig and gnaw their way into the house. The group also discovers that even getting a surface bite from a shrew is poisonous. How many members of our tense gang will survive to escape by boat once the storm has gone through?

This notorious B-movie actually has a decent premise—though shrews might not have been the best pick for the monsters. When the beasts aren't being actively threatening, Jerry is having a breakdown, threatening everyone, especially Thorne and Ann (who, of course, become an item), and the cheap sets add to the claustrophobic tension of the film. But it's those shrews that gave this movie whatever fame it has. They are actually dogs with some kind of costume on them that looks like a chunk of carpeting. For the most part, they are filmed from a distance or in motion, but they still look more silly than scary. We are told there are some 200 of the creatures on the loose, but we only see a handful at a time. In close-ups, puppet shrew faces with big teeth (see photo) are used, sometimes effectively, sometimes laughably. The actors try but, with the exception of Best as the hero, no one is especially satisfying. Ken Curtis, best known as Festus on Gunsmoke, is completely colorless as the villainous Jerry; Ingrid Goude, a former Miss Sweden, is almost as bland as Ann. It’s hard to hate this movie because it’s so goofy, but it’s just as hard to like it. [DVD]

Thursday, October 03, 2019


Towering over the village of Vandorf is the deserted Castle Borski; according to lore, the castle is inhabited by a monster, with these tales given currency due to a recent string of mysterious deaths which occur during the full moon. In the latest incident, young Bruno is painting a portrait of his naked girlfriend one night when she tells him she's pregnant—he runs off through the woods to ask for her hand in marriage, and she follows, but the next morning, both are found dead. Bruno is hanging from a tree, but what only the local doctor Namaroff (Peter Cushing) knows is that the girl was found turned to stone—we see one of her fingers chip off of her hand while her corpse is on an autopsy table. It is assumed by the villagers that Bruno killed the girl and then himself, and the doctor doesn't say otherwise at the inquest. Bruno's father comes to town to clear his son's name but winds up turned to stone himself, and we learn that the monster haunting the village is the snake-haired gorgon Megaera, sister to the legendary Medusa, who turns people to stone with just a glance. Bruno's brother Paul (Richard Pasco) comes to the village to investigate, along with his mentor, Prof. Meister (Christopher Lee), and they begin to realize that whatever is going on, Dr. Namaroff knows more than he's telling, actively hiding the presence of this creature, and (maybe) his assistant Carla (Barbara Shelley) is in on it as well. Will our heroes crack this case before the next full moon? It was nice of Hammer to try something different for their monster, going to Greek mythology for inspiration, but ultimately the monster aspect of this movie leaves something to be desired—the gorgon is rather disappointing looking and a little sluggish, like a mummy. Overall the film works best as a mood piece, eschewing sensationalism and gore for an atmosphere of doom and a little sex appeal in the figure of Barbara Shelley. Pasco is a passable hero, and it's fun to see Lee and Cushing playing against type, with Cushing as the villain and Lee as the hero. Fans of fantasy and atmosphere will like this, while viewers wanting action and blood may not stick with it to the end. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 01, 2019


Though I frequently review horror and sci-fi movies in October, I'm making a special effort this month to view (or, more often, re-view) movies that ran on the Friday night Chiller Theater double feature here in Columbus, beginning in the mid-60s and continuing for many years. The first horror movie I remember seeing on Chiller (at the age of 7) was THE CRAWLING EYE, which ran in January of 1964—a fact I happen to know because I've been doing newspaper microfilm research on Chiller Theater in Columbus (the name was used by several TV stations around the country). The next one I remember was the Bela Lugosi DRACULA a few weeks later. Soon I had a subscription to Famous Monsters of Filmland thanks to my understanding and indulging parents, and a lifelong interest in these movies. Chiller aired the Universal classics and occaional big-budget films like FORBIDDEN PLANET or THEM, but mostly I remember the B-movies and foreign oddities I ran across, so that's my focus this month.

A narrator posits the existence of previous civilizations that wound up blowing themselves up as we see a meteor from space plunge toward Earth. A geologist (Robert Clarke) working in an isolated mountain cabin sees the meteor fall. Meanwhile, a socialite (Marilyn Harvey) is kidnapped by two guys and their older boozy, floozyish gal pal, and they take off into the same mountains where the meteor crashed. On a winding mountain road, a blurry-looking woman dressed in a skintight sliver space suit wanders about, scaring all the animals she comes across. Our narrator says, "Here is our stage—our characters." The action begins when the thugs encounter the blurry woman in the middle of the road. They avoid hitting the woman (who vanishes) but they end up crashing the car, so they take refuge at gunpoint at Clarke's cabin. The she-monster stalks about the woods and when our little group discovers that bullets don't hurt her, but that she can kill with just a touch (and that the corpses are radioactive), they decide to hole up in the cabin until morning. Of course, things don't go according to plan.

At times this feels very much like an Ed Wood movie (beginning with the goofy narration) with a bigger budget, location shooting, and slightly better acting. Robert Clarke, though no award-winner, is a pro—he's fine in THE HIDEOUS SUN DEMON and BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER—as is Kenne Duncan (one of the thugs) who had a long career in westerns, and the others are adequate. The effect of alien blurriness is more irritating, and the "she-monster" isn't very monstrous except for her ability to kill with a touch. There's even something of a surprise ending in which it turns she's not really a monster at all, just misunderstood. Shirley Kilpatrick as the alien (above right) is moderately sexy, but looks nothing like the poster which is the single best thing about this production—and you don't have to sit though the movie to enjoy it! [Amazon Prime]