Monday, October 31, 2022


In the early 60s, B-level horror movies based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe were consistent moneymakers, mostly for Roger Corman and American International Pictures. This anthology film is an attempt by independent producer Robert Kent to turn Nathaniel Hawthorne's stories into a similar money-making machine, going as far as featuring the star of most of the Poe films, Vincent Price. In the first story, "Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment," Alex (Price) and Carl (Sebastian Cabot) are old friends who have gathered to celebrate Carl's birthday. Chief among the memories brought up is the tragic death of Carl's fiancée Sylvia on the eve of their wedding almost 40 years ago. When the two visit her crypt, they discover that some water which has been seeping onto her coffin has kept her body preserved. When they drink the water, they grow 40 years younger, and Carl decides to inject Sylvia with the water. She returns to life and the ecstatic Carl makes plans to marry her right away. What Carl doesn't know is that Sylvia and Alex had been carrying on an affair, and Alex poisoned Sylvia before the wedding so she couldn't marry Carl. When Carl overhears them talking, the urge for revenge leads to an unhappy end for all three. The second story, "Rappaccini’s Daughter," features Price as scientist Giacomo Rappaccini whose wife ran off with a lover years ago, leaving him alone with their daughter Beatrice. In a misguided attempt to save her from the disappointments of love, he injects her with a serum that makes her very touch poisonous to other living things, plants as well as people, and she grows up essentially a prisoner in her father's home. But when Giovanni, a new neighbor, sees her wandering in her garden (careful not to touch plants lest they wither and die), he falls in love, and when he discovers her sad secret, he gets a scientist to come up with an antidote to the serum. Things go well for a minute or two, but....

These two sequences work fairly well, although in their staginess and lack of visual style they have the feel of episodes of a TV anthology series. The third story is a drastic condensation and reworking of Hawthorne's novel The House of the Seven Gables (which had been filmed a bit more faithfully in 1940 with Price in the lead). Though this has a nice gothic feel and some OK shock effects involving blood and skeletons, it's too long and has a too-leisurely pace. The narrative, about family curses and hidden property deeds, is deadly dull. Price is fine, and Cabot's solid performance helps Heidegger stand out as the best of the three. In Rappaccini, Brett Halsey is fine as the would-be hero and Joyce Taylor acceptable as the damsel in distress. In Seven Gables, Price has the support of Beverly Garland and Richard Denning, but the sequence is just too sluggish to sustain much interest. Actually, the entire film (two hours) could be trimmed by quite a bit. As other online critics have noted, Corman would have produced a lean 90 minute movie with much better pacing. Imagining that I was watching something produced for live TV (which it sometimes looked like) helped me get through the rough patches. Pictured are Halsey and Taylor. [DVD]

Sunday, October 30, 2022


Antonio Margheriti, billed as Anthony Dawson, made Castle of Blood in black & white and remade it very faithfully seven years later in color. The plot summary here covers both films. Edgar Allen Poe is drinking in a tavern, telling his drunken buddies a story about a dying woman and a man's obsession with her teeth. He seems to be passing this off as a real occurrence, but reporter Alan Foster recognizes it as the plot to his short story "Berenice," though Poe rebuts him by claiming all of his fantastic stories are pieces of reportage. When Foster is skeptical, another listener, Lord Blackwood, bets Foster that he can't spend a night in his abandoned and haunted castle. Blackwood and Poe drop Foster off and plan to pick him up in the morning, with the promise that Poe will give him an interview. As Foster wanders the dusty castle, he begins seeing visions of people dancing and hears harpsichord music. He soon discovers that the castle is not abandoned, but that Blackwood's sister Elizabeth still lives there, as does another woman named Julia. Also present is Dr. Carmus, an expert in metaphysics, who expresses his theory that the self has three distinct parts—body, spirit and senses—and the death of one part does not necessarily kill off the other two. As the evening goes on, a few more folks pop up, and a romantic tangle develops with Julia lusting after Elizabeth, Elizabeth cheating on her husband with the hunky stable boy, and Foster himself turned on by Elizabeth. But soon, these folks start killing each other in bloody ways, and Foster realizes that he’s witnessing the annual All Souls' Day return of damned souls of the undead who are doomed to replay the circumstances of their death. When another couple enters the scene, Foster learns they are a newlywed couple that Blackwood sent here last year who have joined the undead. Eventually, all the ghosts all turn vampiric and start chasing after Foster as they need fresh blood to finish their ritual. Elizabeth agrees to help him escape; will he defy tradition and make it to morning alive?

There's the potential for a really good ghost movie here, and the way the narrative is laid out in the first half-hour or so is promising. The shadowy, Gothic look of the castle is great and the fluid camerawork is impressive. Barbara Steele (pictured above), always an asset in 60s horror films, looks fabulous and gives a solid performance as Elizabeth. But style overwhelms substance; the plot and characters stop developing after a while and the events grow repetitious. Individual scenes are well done: the death of a man while he's making out with Steele; shots of the dusty, cobwebby sets; a dead body in a coffin that we suddenly realize is breathing. The predictable ending is handled well. But I still felt its overall force was blunted from a lackluster screenplay (and it doesn’t help that the film is supposedly based on a Poe story—it isn't), The notes I made while watching the remake were almost identical to the notes I made while watching the original. Anthony Franciosa (at right) gives a more solid performance as Parker than Georges Riviere did in the original, though the sexy Michele Mercier isn’t quite up to Barbara Steele's level. Klaus Kinski, a little less unhinged than usual, has the small role of Poe, and Peter Karsten makes a more effective Dr. Carmus than Arturo Dominici in Castle. Apparently, Margheriti regretted remaking the film in color, but I thought the color worked fine, even if the black & white imagery was more atmospheric, and the sets are more elaborate than in the original. Though I'd hesitate to call either film a classic, both would work nicely as Halloween season treats. [DVD/Streaming–the streaming version of WEB on Amazon is a fairly poor pan-and-scan print, but there is a lovely widescreen version available on YouTube]

Friday, October 28, 2022


After a wild party at the Wiley house, the family psychiatrist David Sorrell (Louis Jourdan) is called there in the dead of night by retired actress Jolene Wiley (Anne Baxter) because she's concerned that her niece Aline has disappeared. The next morning, Aline is found dead on the beach by folk singer and recovering addict Larry Richmond, who was living at a beach house rent-free thanks to Aline. The death is presumed a suicide, though Larry can't believe it. Aline's somewhat fragile younger sister Loey (Belinda Montgomery) feels guilty because she thinks that an attempt by her to conjure up demons caused Aline's death. Soon, demons start popping up all over. Larry mentions that Aline and her friends were involved in devil worship. David meets fashion photographer Leila Barton (Diana Hyland), who was present at the party and she possesses a small statue of a satyr (referred to as Priapus but looking more like Pan), and refers to herself as a witch. Loey starts having visions of a scraggly bearded man being sacrificed at the party. Then Larry dies when his small house goes up in flames, and we see someone using photographs of people in rituals involving the Pan statue whose eyes glow red before bad things happen. As David investigates, he begins feeling lustful urges toward Lelia, who is sure the two of them were lovers in a past life. There's also Jolene's partner and would-be fiancé Edward Bolander (John McMartin) who may be more involved in hedonistic parties and rituals than he has let on. Did I mention the dead dog? 

This TV-movie sequel to FEAR NO EVIL isn’t as interesting as the first film, but it has its pleasures. It takes its devil worship fairly seriously, though specific plot points are rather messy. As in FEAR NO EVIL, the Satanists seem to be in it for decadent fun, not realizing they may be tampering with things they can't control. It's unclear who is the driving force in getting the demonic rituals going, and even what exactly the point of the ritual is. Without going into spoilers, the connection between Leila and the Wileys remains murky. Loey is the focus of the story for a while, until she isn't. The movie's conclusion seems to be a case of the writer hitting a deadline and giving up, though in some ways, it's satisfying enough. Jourdan provides another anchoring performance as the relatively rational psychiatrist who also believes in occult powers. Hyland is quite good as a sexy witch and Anne Baxter is fine, if a bit underused. Wilfrid Hyde-White repeats his role from the first movie as Jourdan's mentor, though he only has one short scene. Georg Stanford Brown, later known for TV roles in The Rookies and Roots, is good enough to make you wish his character had stuck around a little longer. The tone of the proceedings borrows a bit from the Charles Manson vibe of the era. Not quite up to the standard of the first movie, but more than watchable. [DVD]

Thursday, October 27, 2022


It's around midnight on a big city street. We hear spooky voices chanting as a sweaty man races out of an apartment building and bangs on the door of a closed antique shop. The owner is still there so he lets the man in. Disoriented (the shopkeeper later describes him as "high on something"), the man heads for a large mirror. As he stands there, he sees a creepy image of himself dressed in black against an infinitely regressing background. He pays $300 for the mirror and has it delivered to his apartment. The next day, we learn the man (Bradford Dillman, pictured at right) is a physicist, he has a semi-live-in girlfriend (Lynda Day George), and is friendly with a coworker (Carroll O'Connor). The three go to a late-night cocktail party where psychologist Louis Jourdan touches on the topic of the occult, one of his areas of interest, and is surprised that Dillman has knowledge of an obscure demon named Rakashi. The party doesn't break up until dawn, and later that morning, Dillman and George are on the road when Dillman sees the black-clad image of himself in his car's side view mirror. He freaks out, wrecks the car and is killed. George moves in with his rich mother and takes the mirror with her. One night, while brushing her hair, time seems to stop (the clock stops ticking) and she sees the black-clad Dillman in the mirror beckoning to her. They embrace, seemingly with Dillman entering the real world, and make love, and afterwards there is blood on her neck. These experiences keep happening so she goes to see Jourdan. Though she's disturbed by them, she admits that she doesn't want them to stop. Jourdan investigates and discovers Dillman belonged to a Satanic group that bit off more than they could chew when they tried to conjure up Rakashi in order to find him, in the words of one character, a "chalice of flesh."

There is a general consensus that this was the first made-for-TV horror movie, and it was a pilot for a show called Bedeviled that would follow Jourdan's adventures in the paranormal. (His character name is David Sorrell, and there was a sequel, RITUAL OF EVIL, which I’ll review tomorrow, but no series ever came of it.) I have a great fondness for the horror TV movies of the 70s, and this one holds up pretty well with good performances, an interesting storyline, an inventive visual style, and one of the more memorable Satanic ritual scenes in any devil worship movie. Jourdan is handsome and oozes European charm as the doctor, and Dillman brings a nice intensity to his role. In our first glimpse of Lynda Day George (going by Lynda Day), she looks a bit like a human-sized Barbie, but she's fine as the confused girlfriend who doesn't quite want to lose contact with her fiancé. It's difficult not to see Archie Bunker in Carrol O'Connor, but eventually he disappears into his character and has a great scene near the climax. The wonderful Wilfrid Hyde-White is Jourdan's old friend and mentor. Marsha Hunt, a classic-era actress who died earlier this year at the age of 104, is very good as Dillman's mother, who has a surprise up her sleeve near the end. This would have to rank highly on any list of black magic movies of the 60s and 70s, TV or otherwise. [DVD]

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

I EAT YOUR SKIN aka ZOMBIES (1964/1971)

This film opens with a girl in a bikini doing some stripper moves around a campfire while voodoo revelers revel around her. Eventually a man with what I can only describe as a face drape (dangly strings that cover most of his face) orders the slaughter of a goat as the climax of the proceedings. Cut to Tom Harris (William Joyce, at left), a playboy writer of adventure novels whom we first see entertaining a gaggle of bikinied women poolside at a hotel in Miami Beach by narrating a scene from his latest book. When one horned-up fan gets into a kissing clinch with him, her husband menacingly intrudes. Luckily, Tom's agent Duncan arrives to spirit him away on a small plane, along with Duncan's ditzy wife Coral, to Voodoo Island, privately owned by the wealthy Lord Carrington. The natives practice voodoo, the women are mostly virgins as most of the males were lost at sea years ago, and a scientist is doing work on irradiated snake venom—and there may be zombies roaming about. Duncan thinks the visit will kickstart Tom on his next novel, but things go downhill quickly. First, the plane runs out of gas on the approach to the island and they land hard on a beach. Then while looking for help, Tom sees a bug-eyed monster man menace a beautiful young woman who is skinny-dipping in a pond. He manages to warn her away, then finds a fisherman who tells him of the zombie cult on the island, after which the bug-eyed man cuts his head off with a machete. Charles, the island overseer, comes upon Tom and takes him and the others to his house where they meet the scientist who is working with snake venom; the skinny-dipper is his daughter Janine. Janine, being blonde and a virgin (though with the horndog Tom around, she might not be for long), is thought to be wanted by the cult for a human sacrifice. The travelers prepare to leave the island with Janine, but a zombie carrying a box of explosives heads walks into the spinning propellers, blowing up himself, the plane, and the pilot. Soon we find out the secrets behind the snake venom experiments (which are causing the zombie plague) and the identity of the face-draped cult leader, but is it too late for our adventurers?

Information about the tangled background of this film can easily be found through a Google search. Suffice to say that Del Tenney, low-rent director of the notorious HORROR OF PARTY BEACH made this black & white cheapie in 1964 under the title Caribbean Adventure or Voodoo Bloodbath, but a distribution deal was canceled and the film gathered dust for years until it was dug up, retitled I Eat Your Skin—though in fact no skin is eaten, at least not on screen—and paired with a much grosser film called I Drink Your Blood for a fairly successful run at drive-ins around Halloween of 1971. (It later appeared on home video as Zombies.) By then, I imagine audiences were disappointed, not just because it's black & white, but because there is very little gore (just the split-second decapitation). But if approached as a mid-60s horror cheapie, it's fairly entertaining. The soap-opera handsome William Joyce does a nice job as the hero, and he's more fun if you imagine him as an Ian Fleming stand-in, but his performance is pitched a little higher than those of other cast members. Heather Hewitt (Janine) is lovely and pairs well with Joyce. Most everyone else, however, comes off a little amateurish in comparison. Dan Stapleton (Duncan) and Betty Hyatt Linton (Coral) are mostly obnoxious, and the overdubbed exaggeration of Coral's voice is downright grating. Walter Coy (Charles) is a rather bland villain, though the scenes of the cult rituals work up some atmosphere. The scene with William Joyce flirting with the ladies was filmed at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach where an early scene in the James Bond movie Goldfinger was shot. This feels a little long at 90 minutes, but I have to say I enjoyed it as a mid-60s B-movie. [YouTube; the widescreen print available here is in pristine condition]

Monday, October 24, 2022


We're in a small Western frontier town where a plague seems to have settled in: black wreaths are present on several doors as young women are sickening and dying from some mysterious illness whose only physical sign is puncture marks on the neck. Dr. Carter, his daughter Dolores, and his son Tim are frustrated by their inability to save the victims, and also by the behavior of Buffer, a neighbor who is trying to get ahold of their land by damming up the water that would normally flow onto their property, hoping to drive them off their ranch (as it's a Western, there's also a touch of cattle rustling). The sheriff and Preacher Dan try to talk sense into Buffer but to no avail, and that night, Doc Carter is killed by the side of the road (with bite marks on his neck that no one seems to notice). Tim, sure that Buffer is to blame, gets drunk, confronts him, and in a showdown, is killed by Buffer. Dolores is fed up and advertises for a hired gun to take out Buffer. The man who responds is Drake Robey, dressed in black and claiming an allergy to sunlight (though practically speaking, being in the sun doesn't seem to bother him in the least). She hires him and invites him to stay at her ranch. His initial contact with Buffer and his men results in a brief gunfight in which bullets appear not to harm Drake. Preacher Dan, who is sort of dating Dolores, manages to work out a compromise with Buffer, but Drake stays around anyway to protect her, despite having a visceral reaction to a small crucifix badge that Dan wears that is supposedly carved from wood found in the Holy Land at Calvary. As Drake (who, if you haven't put the clues together, is a vampire), begins feeding nightly on Dolores, Dan finds some old documents that show Drake Robey is actually Drago Robles, a long-dead descendent of the family that used to own Dolores's ranch. From here, things move rather quickly to the final confrontation that you just know is going to end with Preacher Dan's Calvary cross being deployed as a weapon.

This B-film, the first vampire Western, doesn't get a lot of love from critics, but for me, it's another case of adjusting expectations. Go with the B-flow, remember that it was forging a new genre, and watch a restored widescreen print of it (new on DVD from Kino Lorber). In vampire movies, much depends on the actor in the main role, and Australian actor Michael Pate, with whom I was not familiar, is about perfect: he has the craggy face of a Western villain and the manner of a vampire. He even has just enough rough charm to pass as a potential romantic figure. Eric Fleming (a star of Rawhide, a long-running 1960s TV Western) is a less solid hero, though he's acceptable. I can't put my finger on why I feel that way; partly his looks, his uncertain manner, and the way the character is written. The always dependable John Hoyt is good as the doctor, but he's killed off too soon. Kathleen Crowley and Bruce Gordon are fine as Dolores and Buffer. As other critics have said, the film seems to be going for the feel of a Universal classic horror movie, but the direction is drab and the script could stand some punching up. For me, the biggest problem was the issue of sunlight. If they had already decided to shoot many scenes, including the climax, in broad daylight, why bother to even bring the issue up in dialogue? There is an excellent nighttime scene involving the shadow of a cross on a church steeple, so why Drake couldn't be confined to darkness is hard to understand. Still I found this generally enjoyable and a good October viewing choice. The audio commentary by Tom Weaver is good, even he can't resist an occasional silly snarky comment. Pictured above from left are Fleming and Pate. [Blu-ray]

Thursday, October 20, 2022


On the outskirts of a desert town in Arizona, we see a bloated, disfigured mutant collapse and die. The police identify the man as an associate of Dr. Deemer (Leo G. Carroll), a research scientist who works in relative isolation outside of town. Deemer tells Matt Hastings (John Agar), the local doctor, that the man had an advanced case of acromegaly, a progressive disease that causes body tissues to grow abnormally. Matt is suspicious because normally the disease takes years to progress whereas Deemer says the man's condition had begun only a week earlier. In Deemer's laboratory, we see giant animals (a rabbit, a hamster, a tarantula), all as big as or bigger than dogs, kept in cages. It's Deemer's work on a growth nutrient that has caused this, and also caused his assistant's condition, and we soon see that a second assistant, Lund, is suffering from the same problem. In a rage, Lund begins destroying the lab by setting a fire. Most of the animals are killed but we see the tarantula escape. Just before dying, Lund injects the growth serum into Deemer as he lies unconscious. The next day, graduate student Stephanie 'Steve' Clayton (Mara Corday), arrives as a live-in assistant to Deemer. Matt takes a shine to Steve, and vice versa, and soon, when people and cattle start dying, they investigate, with a sheriff and a local reporter, what Deemer has gotten up to. As per the title, there is a giant tarantula on the loose—electricity and guns can't stop it, but maybe the military can.

This is one of my favorite monster movies, partly because I saw it in my youth, and photos from it were featured frequently in the monster movie magazines I read—the tarantula is definitely scary, but Leo G. Carroll in what looked like flesh-melting make-up was even scarier. All these years later, it still holds up pretty well, with the effect of the giant tarantula stalking the desert still generating chills. Even the giant rabbit and hamster are done well. The screenplay doesn't get particularly philosophical in terms of the "God's domain" aspect of Deemer's experiments, and the characters aren't fully dimensional, but neither of those aspects harm simple enjoyment of the movie. Agar is a little stiff, Corday is quite appealing, Carroll is a little sluggish; in support, Nestor Paiva and Ross Elliott are good as the sheriff and the reporter. Clint Eastwood has a couple of lines of dialogue as a bomber pilot in the final scene. Even though it has its weaknesses, this is fun, and in my mind, along with the giant ant movie THEM!, the archetypal 50s monster movie. A must-see. [DVD]

Tuesday, October 18, 2022


On his way to a vacation in Paris, journalist Claude Marchand (Jean-Pierre Aumont) gets orders to fly to Spain to do a photo story on Franz Badulescu (Boris Karloff), a sculptor who toiled most of his life in obscurity until he was left blind and crippled from a car accident caused by his wife Tania (Viveca Lindfors). Claude uses Valerie, a local woman (with whom he eventually has an affair) to get access to Franz. The artist has continued to sculpt, using life-sized skeleton armatures, dug out of graves by his wife, who seems more concerned with her husband's career than his comfort. What we soon learn is that Tania, with some help from her lover, local bar owner Shanghai (Milo Quesada), is killing animals and humans, then dipping their bodies into an acid bath in the cellar to provide the skeletons for Franz. As young, attractive women continue to vanish, a local gypsy woman has a vision that Franz is behind the disappearances and predicts that someone close to Claude will die that night at 3 a.m. Since the only person close to Claude is Valerie, he goes rushing to the mansion to save her, where she is indeed about to become the latest person to take a bath in acid.

That plot summary is short and mostly coherent unlike the movie itself which, at nearly 100 minutes, is too long and often incoherent, And, frankly, not very interesting on any level. This is one of Karloff's last movies and he doesn't really have much to do, partly because, due to illness, he isn't very mobile. He keeps an aura of seriousness about him, but that doesn't make this cheap, messy movie any more entertaining. Plotwise, it's a riff on the Mystery of the Wax Museum/House of Wax story, except here the statue maker is unaware of the horrific deeds that are being performed in the name of art (and money). Aumont, Lindfors and Rosenda Monteros (as Valerie) have the most to do here and generally do it fairly well, but in service of a weak screenplay, for a rather incompetent director. Milo Quesada is handsome but he's stuck playing an unmotivated villain. Ruben Rojo is interesting for a while as a drunken former reporter (I think) who hangs around being obnoxious to everyone, but honestly I lost track of the character, and I couldn't tell you if he lives or dies. In a climactic battle between Tania and Valerie, the score suddenly turns into spy-movie music—I liked it, but it didn't fit. A mess you can avoid unless you're a Karloff completist. Not released in the States until 1971, after Karloff's passing. Pictured are Lindfors, Karloff and Aumont. [DVD]

Sunday, October 16, 2022


I'll warn you: this is not the kind of movie I usually review here. First, because I generally consider the early 1970s a cut-off point for classic-era movies. Second, because it is a graphic sex and horror film. Though the sex is strictly soft-core and the violence is not especially graphic by today's standards, the combination of the two would surely have gotten this film rated X back in 1976; as it stands, it's unrated, and I can find no evidence that it ever got a theatrical release in the U.S. When it came out on video in England in the 80s, it was banned for twenty years. The reason I'm writing about it here is because of the Bob Behling connection--he is the actor whom I discovered had been miscredited in LAND OF THE MINOTAUR. Anyhow, be forewarned about the possibly offensive content below. Also there's a major spoiler in the last sentence.

Attractive young couple Chris (Bob Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle, both pictured at left) arrive for a vacation on the Greek island of Mykonos. Chris likes the island because it's full of God-fearing people and Chris hates anyone he considers a "pervert." However, we soon discover some unsettling facts about these two. First, Chris insists on dragging Celia into a phone booth for a quickie while talking long distance to his mother and telling her what he's doing. Next, we learn that a British cop is after the pair for some reason. The next morning, when Celia refuses sunrise sex, Chris goes out and buggers a goat which he kills immediately afterward. Celia flirts with a hunky islander who is painting a small church, and when they have al fresco sex, Chris attacks him, nails his hands to the ground and pours paint down his throat, while the whole time the two are snapping pictures of the deadly incident—it doesn't matter to them that he was coerced into immorality. Later the two masturbate to the pictures of the man dying. And so on as Chris, clearly styling himself as an avenging angel, kills off anyone he thinks is a pervert (gay men, lesbians, hookers), while himself getting a sexual charge out of the killings. Celia gets tired of their spree but Chris insists they continue. In the end, they run into a grungy shepherd who rapes Celia and throws Chris into a lime pit. [SPOILER] When Chris cries out for help, Celia decides she likes the shepherd and leaves him to die. And then we find out that Chris and Celia are brother and sister.

This is definitely a movie for specialized tastes. As I noted above, the sex is soft-core and the violence is not as gory as it could be, though the death scenes are all rather prolonged and excruciating. Behling is good, I guess you could say, since he is believable as the misguided killer; Lyle is less evil but no more likable. The gay male character is portrayed as a shrieking, caftan-wearing stereotype, and there is virtually no one here who has our sympathies, except maybe the poor housepainter. An abrasive rock song is played periodically, the chorus of which is "Desperation, Understand, Destination isn't ending. Get the sword!" (Chris uses a sword in one killing). It was filmed on location, so the island backgrounds are nice, but "nice" is not a word I’d use for this movie. [Amazon Prime]

Wednesday, October 12, 2022


On the nighttime streets of Las Vegas, Arnold Kramer (Peter Arne) is creating a disturbance by lying on the sidewalk and listening to "them" moving around underground like ants (a callback perhaps to the classic 1954 giant ant movie THEM!). He's assumed by police to be a mental case and is institutionalized. Meanwhile over at the Office of Naval Research, Commander Jonathan Shaw (Kerwin Mathews, pictured at right) has seen the literal collapse of his ocean floor Sealab experiment when what he assumed was an earthquake destroyed the facility. Because a quake had not been reported, Shaw is assumed to be wrong, but a similar disaster in an Oregon mine in the absence of a detected quake (and the strange discovery of a Chinese coin in the rubble) make Shaw certain that something strange is going on. Kramer's sister Susan works at Shaw's office and when she asks Shaw for help, he is able to meet with Kramer and discovers that, with his own sensitive equipment, Kramer has detected traces of man-made activity under the Pacific Ocean. What could it possibly be? Why, it's Chan Lu (Martin Benson), a rebel Chinese general who has, with his small army of followers, managed to use laser-equipped vehicles to tunnel under the ocean and the United States mainland with a plan to set off atomic bombs under various sites. In this very Dr. Strangelove apocalypse, Lu and his men (who are doing this without the knowledge of the Chinese government) plan to live underground for years until aboveground is safe. In the craziest plot point of all 1960s SF, the American government gets all flights grounded and all construction projects and most transportation traffic stopped long enough to be able to detect where Lu's army is, so they can try to stop his progress and disarm the bombs. 

Most critics who enjoy this do so on a comic book/camp level like the Thunderbirds or Batman TV shows of the 1960s. Indeed, this approach does have its appeal. You can almost ignore the ludicrous plot points of tunneling under the ocean and of having an entire county go silent—the first point feels pulled from a 40s serial, and the second point seems very much like an event from a 1960s DC comic book story. But the movie's drab look and low budget don't allow it to have a colorful comic book look, and the special effects, such as they are, aren't very special. I'd like to be a champion of Kerwin Mathews because his 1962 movie JACK THE GIANT KILLER was one of favorites in my youth, but he lacks a certain energy that would make him and his situation believable. Two supporting players out act Mathews easily: Peter Arne as the slightly squirrely Kramer and Benson as the chief villain. Arne comes close to going over the top in his early scenes, but Mathews could have used some of his spark. Benson, a prolific British supporting actor, is in yellowface but he's an effective bad guy, a bit like a low-key Bond villain, even having a sinister-looking pet falcon (Benson played a minor baddie in Goldfinger). Viviane Ventura plays a geologist who becomes part of Mathews' team near the climax in the Hawaiian islands; she's good but doesn't have much to do. It’s a British movie with several British actors set in the U.S. with a handful of Chinese characters so there’s a hodgepodge of accents to go around. OK for a Saturday afternoon spin. [YouTube]

Monday, October 10, 2022


In a REBECCA-like opening, Catherine casts her mind back to 1795 when she married Charles Fengriffen and moved into his large family estate. As she takes in the family gallery of portraits, she is spooked by a painting of Sir Henry, Charles' grandfather, with fierce glowing eyes. She thinks she sees a bloody hand burst through the painting, but Charles assures her she's just tired. After they leave, we see a disembodied hand fall to the floor from the painting and crawl toward their bedroom. As Charles prepares for their wedding night, Catherine is attacked in bed by a figure unseen in the dark except for its hand which presses against her mouth as it assaults her. As she tries to settle into life as mistress of the estate, things just get stranger: mysterious winds blow through the house, blood stains are found on the floor, and Catherine has visions of a man with empty eye sockets and no right hand. She is also unsettled by an encounter with Silas, an unfriendly woodsman with a disfiguring facial birthmark who lives in a small cabin on land bequeathed to him by Sir Henry. There are hints of family backstory but whenever someone seems about to explain things to Catherine, they wind up dead. Eventually, however, we do get the whole sordid story in which Sir Henry drunkenly raped the newlywed bride of Silas' father (also called Silas), then cuts off the man's hand as punishment for daring to try and stop him. Silas puts a curse on the family involving the next virgin bride brought into the house—and of course, that's Catherine, who by now is pregnant—but by whom (or what)?

This 70's British horror film is probably one of the few that might stand up to the expectations of current-day audiences, as it's full to the brim with death and blood and scares, though not quite as explicit as it might be today. The plot plays out nicely, but there is, to my mind, at least one fairly gaping plothole: Charles is not a bad guy, and he doesn’t really believe in the curse, so why didn't he try to set Catherine's mind at ease early on by telling her about the legend? Of course, it turns out the curse is real after all, but still, his refusal to share the story as his wife becomes more and more freaked out (and engages in a fair amount of the titular screaming) seems odd. Performances are a notch above B-horror standards. Stephanie Beacham, who later played Sable Colby on Dynasty and The Colbys, makes a top-notch scream queen; Ian Ogilvy is appealing as her husband; Geoffrey Whitehead is effective as both Silas and his father. Three name actors, though top-billed, have what amount to cameo roles: Herbert Lom makes the most of his few minutes as the sadistic Sir Henry in a flashback, the always welcome Patrick Magee plays a doctor, and Peter Cushing sleepwalks through a small part as a psychiatrist. Recommended for fans of the Gothic horror era of the 1970s. [Amazon Prime]

Friday, October 07, 2022


Several years ago, Linda Kirkland's husband died, apparently by suicide (he may have been being blackmailed), in the Blue Room of their seaside mansion. There have been rumors that the house is haunted by the man's ghost, but since then Linda has remarried and her husband Frank has agreed to reopen the house for a big party. As the guests mingle, a newcomer arrives: a ghostly shape with a disfigured face. Surprise! It's just Larry, a young admirer of Linda's daughter Nan. Nan's stepfather Frank isn't especially happy that Larry refers to the mansion as the ghost house, since Frank wants to dispel any such rumors, but just as Larry makes a joking reference to claps of thunder and lights going out, there's a clap of thunder and the lights go out. Later as the party breaks up, Larry decides he wants to spend the night in the supposedly haunted Blue Room. Another guest, mystery novelist Steve Randall, decides he'll do the same the next night. The next morning, Larry has vanished and the police are called in. When Steve vanishes the next morning and Larry's dead body is found in the room, the ghost rumors don't seem so fantastical.

This B-film is a remake of the 1933 mystery SECRET OF THE BLUE ROOM. The plot is altered a bit, and the villain here is not the same character it was in the original. But the biggest change is that it's sort of a musical comedy, and the surprise is that it actually works. Despite the top billing that Anne Gwynne (Nan) and Donald Cook (Steve) get, the real stars are Grace McDonald, Betty Kean, and June Preisser who play a singing trio called the Jazzybelles. They are invited by Nan, who used to be a singer, to sing at the party and even though they don't stay the night, the police inspector (Regis Toomey) insists that they return to the house for the duration until they catch the killer. So the three gals end up being the audience-surrogate detectives, snooping around, seeing a ghost, and singing a sprightly tune every so often. My favorite number is "The Boogie-Woogie Man" which they sing in a darkened room to a frightened butler (the reliable Ian Wolfe, who almost gets to crack a smile here).

There are lots of nice spooky touches, like a secret passage, a piano that suddenly starts playing itself, and a creepy taxi driver. There is an actual ghost that pops in from time to time but has no real role in the story. A few lazy plot holes crop up, the biggest of which is that Toomey can come up with no real reason why the Jazzybelles should return to the house, just that the plot demands it. I also wonder why the Blue Room wasn't thoroughly searched by the cops after Larry vanished—again, a plot demand, because if the most cursory search had occurred, the movie would have been over in half an hour. A favorite line: when the taxi driver arrives for the Jazzybelles, he says, "I've come for the bags," and Betty Kean replies, "Not only is he gruesome, he's insulting!" The acting is fine, though Gwynne and Cook get overshadowed by the three singers. Bill Williams as Larry is handsome but a bit weak in the acting department, though he would go on to a long career in movies and TV (and he married Barbara Hale and is William Katt's father). I was surprised how enjoyable this was. Currently unavailable on region 1 home video, Universal should put this out on a DVD or Blu-ray with the original film. At top right are the Jazzybelles singing to the almost frightened Ian Wolfe. At left are Donald Cook, Bill Williams, and John Litel as Frank. A good October night choice. [YouTube]

Wednesday, October 05, 2022


Richard Fountain (Patrick Mower), a young respected Oxford don, is unofficially engaged to Penelope Goodrich, daughter of Walter Goodrich (Peter Cushing), a influential Oxford professor. But while studying ancient Minoan rites in Greece, Fountain cut off all contact back home and more or less disappeared, with ominous threats of scandal in the air. Penelope and two of Richard's friends, Bob and Tony, go to Greece and get a British military attaché named Longbow (Patrick Macnee) to help investigate Richard's disappearance. It seems that Richard had fallen under the spell of a cult led by a mysterious woman named Chriseis, whose followers take drugs and engage in orgies. Tensions percolate within the trio, primarily between Penelope and Bob, a Black student whom Richard had been mentoring (and maybe sleeping with). But we learn that Richard has not consummated his relationship with Penelope due to impotence, and in fact has never successfully had sex with anyone. They trace Richard to the ruins of an ancient temple, and somewhat implausibly carry out a midnight raid to save him from the cult. Discovering him in a catatonic state, they fight off the other cult members. As Longbow pursues Chriseis, he is caught in a rockfall and falls off a cliff to his death. Back in England, they put things together, with the help of an anthropologist (Edward Woodward), and figure out that Richard had joined a group of vampires, but psychosexual rather than supernatural ones, as the drinking of blood causes an orgasm which they cannot achieve any other way. A celebration is thrown for Richard's return at an official dinner, but he gives a rabidly anti-establishment speech, accusing the Oxford dons of being vampires themselves, leeching off of their students and society. When Chriseis shows up at Oxford, Richard seems doomed.

I watched this for its interesting title, though it's never explained, and in the States, it was released under the boring but more appropriate title Bloodsuckers. Frankly, it's a mess. The director, Robert Hartford-Davis, disowned the film when the producers changed the ending, throwing in a scene involving death by wooden stake which contradicts the non-supernatural explanation given earlier. But the ending (which I think works fine) is the least of this movie's problems. The storyline is murky, production and editing border at times on incompetent, and the direction of the actors is lackluster. Macnee is top billed, but his death halfway through feels almost improvised, as if he realized how bad the movie was and took off with little notice. Cushing's role amounts to a cameo. The handsome Mower (pictured) plays the same kind of role he did in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT as the passive would-be hero who needs to be rescued by his friends. He makes little impression until he gives his speech at dinner, but it's too little too late. Alex Davion (Ted Casablanca in Valley of the Dolls) is good as Tony but given little to do. The less said about the others, the better. Vampirism as sexual perversion is a unique theme—it has always had a sexual element, but here it effectively replaces sex—and had the movie been made a few years later, the sexual element might have given it a needed jolt. As it is, we only get one gauzy psychedelic scene of an orgy (which ends in bloody violence) and the barest hint of homoeroticism. An unusual movie, yes, but not a very good one. [YouTube]

Monday, October 03, 2022


In a brief opening scene, we see Father Michael Reynor (Christopher Lee, pictured) being excommunicated even as he insists that he is not a heretic. Twenty years later, Raynor has set up a kind of alternative abbey in Bavaria for his group the Children of the Lord, and he is sending his goddaughter Catherine, about to turn 18 (Nastassja Kinski) back to London to be with her father Henry. But before she arrives, Henry goes to occult novelist John Verney (Richard Widmark) and asks him to take charge of her. Henry acts dazed and frightened so Verney agrees and soon discovers that someone is trying to take control of her through supernatural methods. The big reveal (technically a spoiler I suppose but fairly obvious from early on) is that Reynor and his cult are Satanists who worship the demon Astaroth, and their plan is to sacrifice Catherine, who has been groomed since birth with the permission of her mother (who was sacrificed in childbirth) and father (who has since changed his mind), to bring Astaroth in the earthly realm. Can Verney and his friends subvert the diabolical plan?

I have a long history with Dennis Wheatley, the British author who wrote the book on which this is based. I read The Devil Rides Out in my impressionable teen years and loved it. I've read a handful more of his occult novels and been less impressed—they all tend to be padded out quite a bit. The movie of The Devil Rides Out is a kind of guilty pleasure; the budget is too small for the movie to be as atmospheric and effective as it should be, and it occasionally borders on camp, but I enjoy it. I haven't read this book, but Wheatley essentially disowned this film, released the year before he died. It has, I imagine, the same problem that Rides Out has: a budget that is not adequate to the ambitions of the original story. It also may suffer a bit in comparison to movies like THE OMEN and the various 1970s Exorcist rip-offs. The set-up works fairly well, but as the movie goes on, the cheap effects and Richard Widmark's hammy performance hurt the film. (My handwritten notes tell me that at about the 75-minute mark, the movie pretty much stops making sense.) Lee is fine, Kinski (who, though only 14, has a brief scene of frontal nudity) isn't called upon to exercise her acting skills much; she seems to have been directed to just look sexy and vulnerable. Honor Blackman and Michael Goodliffe provide good support as friends of thee hero in the same way that several supporting actors do in THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, and the best performance, because of its relative subtlety, is given by Denholm Elliott as Henry, the passive, frightened father. A particularly poor demonic special effect in the home stretch is laughable. This was the last Hammer horror film for many years, and it's telling that it doesn't feel much like a Hammer movie, maybe because Hammer's better movies (including DEVIL RIDES OUT) were set in the past and had colorful visuals—this one isn't and doesn't. [Streaming]

Sunday, October 02, 2022


In a nicely creepy opening, we see Charles Sand (Peter Haskell) walking through a dark room, empty but for candles and a coffin. As he approaches the coffin, the body inside sits up, glares at him with white eyes and points menacingly. Charles wakes up in a cold sweat from this nightmare to a ringing phone. It's his aunt Alexandria (Joan Bennett) calling him at 3 in the morning to tell him his uncle Edward has died—and she knows about his nightmare. It turns out that with the death of Edward, Charles has inherited the psychic gift of "the Sight," a rather ill-defined ability to have paranormal visions. He has no control over it and can't avoid the visions. At his uncle's funeral, he sees a mummified corpse standing outside the mausoleum of the Parkhurst family. He also sees a frantic woman in a fur coat trying to get his attention. She's not a supernatural figure, but Emily Parkhurst, and Charles gets drawn into her family drama. She is convinced that her brother-in-law Jeffrey has killed her brother Raymond, but Jeffrey and his wife, Katherine, tell Charles that Jeffrey is in Europe. They're concerned enough about Emily to be on the verge of committing her to an asylum. What follows is a series of events that make us wonder if Emily really has gone off the deep end (especially when Charles meets Raymond at the Parkhurst house) or if she's being gaslighted. But as Charles keeps having spooky visions, he's sure that something's wrong, and that he can help Emily somehow.

Another October, another month of reviews of horror and sci-fi films (if I can dig enough up for the whole month). This TV-movie, from the classic era of such things, was a pilot for a show that didn’t get picked up. As a stand-alone, Emily’s story is wrapped up, but Charles' story is left open. If it had gotten a spot on ABCs schedule, it likely would have shown Charles using his sight to help a different person each week, with maybe some slight development of his character over time. Haskell, who resembles a more traditionally handsome Malcolm McDowell, is fine as Charles, generally a stoic figure in the face of his paranormal experiences. Sharon Farrell as Emily overdoes the hysterics a bit, but Barbara Rush and Bradford Dillman are effective as Katherine and Jeffrey. Adam ("Batman") West has a relatively small guest star role, but his first line of dialogue is to refer to Charles as a "boy wonder," which made me chuckle. Many boomers who saw this in their youth were mildly traumatized by its spooky opening, but overall it's got more of a thriller vibe than flat-out horror. The DVD from Warner Archive looks nice. I had a bit of a crush on Peter Haskell, pictured above, when he was on Bracken's World in the late 60s, when I was still young enough to not quite know what was going on with that, so it was especially fun for me to see this. [DVD]