Cinema Sunday: Dr Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)

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Title: Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors

Distributor: Amicus Productions/Regal Film Distributors

Writer: Milton Subotsky

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, Michael Gough, Ann Bell

Released: February 1965

MPAA: UR

 

As I promised recently, I wanted to take a look at another Amicus film, to give them their due! In this anthology film, we get a cast that rivals just about anything else in the genre at this period in time. And not just well established guys either, you get a few fresh faces that ascend to rather steep heights.

Although Amicus didn’t have the sheer volume of films as say, Hammer Studios, but their impact certainly made them the main rival to Hammer, especially for the simple fact that they were able to steal most of their actors and actresses (not really steal; the actors weren’t under exclusive contracts and didn’t make a ton of money and simply had to make a living). Seeing the faces of the perennial favorites will easily get you in the mood as soon as they appear on-screen. Well, let’s get down to business!

 

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As the scene unfolds, we see a busy train yard in England. One man is already aboard, and looking at a doll that he’s purchased for his daughter. Just then, another man enters the car, followed by four more. The last man, who introduces himself as Dr. Schreck (Peter Cushing), is a bit odd but friendly nonetheless. One of the men to enter the car, is renowned musical critic, Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee). He seems very uptight, and quite like a curmudgeon. Dr. Schreck falls asleep, and his carry-on bag falls over. The contents fall all over the floor, and the men help him gather his things. One man notices his a deck of cards, and Marsh identifies them as Tarot cards. He tells the other men that the cards can tell the future, and that he’s willing to use his talents to show them theirs!

 

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The first one to volunteer, Jim Dawson  (Neil McCallum), is shown how he’ll  be trying to buy back an ancestral home that has fallen out of the family. There are a couple of mysterious figures about the house (a couple of familiar faces in Katy Wild – The Evil of Frankenstein, and Peter Madden- Frankenstein Created Woman, Kiss of the Vampire), and they act very suspiciously. Jim eventually wants to see the basement and after procuring the key from the old man of the house, he heads downstairs. He bangs on the walls with a crowbar (yeah, that is weird), and accidentally bashes in some plaster. He finds a coffin and the old man tells him that it’s the coffin of Count Cosmo Valdemar, a nobleman that owned the house previous to Jim’s family, and swore vengeance against them if he was ever revived!

 

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The second tale is about Bill Rogers (Alan Freeman), and his family. He and his family are living the mundane life until one day, while doing yard work, they attempt to cut down a mysterious vine that’s begun growing along the house. The vine seems to “fight back,” and Bill is flabbergasted. He takes his story to a couple of scientist friends of his who initially seem skeptical. Eventually though, one of them comes to the house after not only a dog, but a friend is seemingly murdered by the vines.

The third story involves Biff Bailey (Roy Castle), who’s a musician that gets a gig in the West Indies. He’s doing his thing one night, and a local who sings at the same club tells him of the voodoo ceremonies that go on at night. Biff is intrigued, and sets out to watch. He does just that and attempts to write the music to use for his own personal gain. The voodoo priest stops him, but Biff remembers the tune. When he goes back to London, strange things that cannot be explained begin to plague his life.

 

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The fourth installment features Franklyn Marsh (Christopher Lee) who has shown great disdain for the good Doctor and the notion that any of this is plausible. We watch as Mr. Marsh, who’s pretty much a self-centered jackass, rips apart an artist, Eric Landor (Michael Gough). Landor gives it right back to Marsh and gets some slight revenge by showing Marsh for the conceited jerk he really is and making a monkey out of him. Marsh gets so angry, that when he sees Landor in the streets, he runs him over with his motorcar! Landor’s one hand gets severed, but lets just say that it isn’t the last we or Marsh see of it!

 

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The penultimate act (but the last “story” in the film) is about Dr. Bob Carroll (Donald Sutherland) and his new bride, Nicolle (Jenifer Jayne – The Trollenberg Terror). The area that they live is being terrorized by a vampire, and it’s up to Dr. Carroll and his friend, Dr. Blake (Max Adrian), to find the culprit and put an end to its reign of terror! That might prove to be quite a problem though when Dr. Carroll finds out who the vampire is!

The last scene in the film is a very good twist, so I’ll stop here, but needless to say, it involves Dr. Schreck and the men in the train car.

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Listen, I’ve stated many times that anthologies really aren’t my cup of tea. That said, this is one that is so good, I’d recommend it to anyone. The beginning and ending sequences in the train car is very solid with dialogue and mood. As for the stories, I’ve already gone into enough detail about them individually, so I’ll just say that the voodoo story and the disembodied hand are the better of the lot. Not to dismiss the others (Donald Sutherland is also very good), but those are tops.

Cushing doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but his ability to creep people out is on full display in this flick. The make-up is kind of cheesy, and unnecessary in my humble opinion, but whatever. The music score is moderate, the sets are very mediocre, but the film is about atmosphere, mood, and pacing, which are all top-notch as far as they can be on a limited budget as was the case with Amicus Productions.

Any horror fan needs to cross this one (sorry, can’t help it with the puns now and again) off their list. Even if you’re like me and don’t love anthologies, the film certainly deserves a viewing or two.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: And Now The Screaming Starts! (1973)

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Title: And Now The Screaming Starts

Distributor: Cinerama/ Amicus productions

Writer: Roger Marshall

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham

Released: April 1973

MPAA: R

 

Another week and another movie from Amicus Productions! Forgive me, but this one is going to be quite shorter in length than most of my reviews for two reasons. First, the original film I was going to review was taken down from a popular website that houses tons of movies, cat videos, etc. The second reason  being it’s getting late, and I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow! I’ll be visiting the resting place of H.P. Lovecraft, and if all goes well, I’ll be commanding the armies of Cthulhu by mid-week, so wish me luck!

This week’s film is one that I’ve never viewed before now, but heard positive things about over the years. Most Amicus films have a solid reputation, but I was slightly skeptical about the premise for this one. The names Peter Cushing and Herbert Lom (Hammer’s version of Phantom of the Opera, 1962) put me at ease though, and they should do that for anyone! Alright, let’s get to the movie!

 

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As the film begins, we see a couple (engaged to be married) on a carriage ride to their new home (1795). It’s the ancestral home of the groom, but his bride is about to find out it holds a dark secret! Charles (Ian Ogilvy), and Catherine (Stephanie Beacham), stroll around until they see a portrait of his grandfather (Herbert Lom). Catherine is all but hypnotized by it, and we get the impression his spirit may still dwell in the house. As she’s looking at the portrait, a hand comes bursting through it at her! As she dives away, screaming, Charles comes to her aid. Of course, the portrait is fine, and Catherine thinks she imagined the whole thing.

 

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After the wedding, the two head for the bedroom. Outside in the hallway though, is a severed hand, crawling about the house! As Charles excuses himself for a minute, Catherine closes the drapes, and is startled by a howling wolf. She dismisses it and jumps into bed, awaiting her new groom’s arrival. As she waits, the door suddenly locks by itself, and the candles go out. Catherine is then attacked by the severed hand, and perhaps someone else! Charles races downstairs and grabs an axe from the mantle, then hurries back upstairs to the locked room. He chops his way into the room, but as before, the hand is gone. A maid comes into the room, closes a window, then leaves. Charles glares at her, but says nothing to her. Later, downstairs, he tells the maid that his wife imagined the scenario.

 

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The following day, Charles tells his lawyer that he wants to leave everything to his wife in the case of his demise. That evening, Charles and Catherine are about to get busy, when she sees the face of a man with no eyes in the window. She stops for a moment, and Charles asks what’s wrong. Afterward, she goes out into the hallway and is scared stiff at the portrait that scared her earlier. The next day, Catherine heads out to the burial area, and sees a man with scars on his face, staring at her. She runs away and asks Charles who he is. He’s very vague in his response, so Catherine asks one of the servants. She’s also not in the talking mood apparently, and Catherine gets angry.

 

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Catherine then sets out to the cabin nearby, where this man lives. She confronts this woodsman (Geoffrey Whitehead), Silas, and asks to see his hands, thinking maybe it’s his hand that is crawling around the home. He shows her both of his hands, then she asks a few more questions about him and his relatives. She finds out that Charles’s family gave land to this man’s father, and that’s why he lives on the grounds of the estate. Catherine then turns to the family lawyer for answers but he’ll not give them to her before speaking to Charles first. In the evening, Charles and Catherine are both giving each other the silent treatment. We also see someone outside with an axe, creeping around. Charles then heads out to find the town people who were to come over for dinner this evening, as they’re long overdue. He finds an abandoned horse, and then one of his friends (the family lawyer) with a huge gash in his forehead. as he topples over, and dies.

 

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Back at the house, a window flies open and as Catherine attempts to close it, that ghastly figure with no eyes surprises her, and smashes the window. She quickly runs into the next room, and is frightened by one of the maids. She screams about the window, but when the maid checks it out, there’s nothing wrong. As Charles returns he grabs her hand, and she sees that his hand is bloody, and she faints. The following morning, the family doctor informs them that they are going to have a baby. They seem less than thrilled, and then Charles and the good doctor have a private conversation. The doctor (Patrick Magee), threatens to tell Catherine about the secret everyone is hiding. After a look from Charles, he then informs Charles that he wont tell. That same day, the authorities are at the woodsman’s cabin, questioning him about the murder. He denies he did it, and then Charles shows up out of the blue. He tells them he wouldn’t do this, because something he deserves is going down soon.

 

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Back at the house, Catherine is being tortured again, and one maid offers to show her what the secret is about the house. As the maid attempts to bring something to her, the pictures begin to rattle, and a spectral image of the severed hand reaches out, and chokes her. She then falls backwards down the stairs. She’s apparently dead. Catherine goes to check on her and confirms this. She also finds a book that she was bringing to her, so she scoops it up before anyone can see. When she’s alone, she begins to read about the family history. Charles confronts Silas, and tells him that if he leaves, he’ll be compensated nicely, but he refuses. Shortly thereafter, another doctor is brought in, by the name of Dr. Pope (Peter Cushing). He seems to be the only one except for Catherine that wants to find answers to this haunting, before it kills anyone else!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

The film is a decent one overall but definitely does have some slow spots. Most films do mind you, but these were a bit more noticeable. Cushing doesn’t show up until 2/3 of the way through the film, and there was even less screen time for Lom (he was quite a scoundrel). Both played good parts, but definitely deserved more screen time.

The music score was definitely a low point for this one. The settings were a bright spot, as a few different locations were used. The special effects were just mediocre though, and that was something that should’ve been better for 1973. Yeah, the budget was low, it was Amicus after all, but there definitely should’ve been a better effort in that department.

If you get the chance, sit down one evening and give it a watch. Cushing and Lom’s performances are strong enough to carry you through the other slow spots and mindless nonsense.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Torture Garden (1967)

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Title: Torture Garden

Distributor: Columbia Pictures, Amicus Studios Production

Writer: Robert Bloch

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Burgess Meredith, Peter Cushing, Jack Palance, Michael Ripper, Barbara Ewing, Beverly Adams

Released: November 1967

MPAA: Approved

 

As my regular readers know, I’m a humongous fan of the legendary British film company, Hammer Studios. They ruled the genre for quite some time, but definitely had rivals. The biggest, was probably Amicus Productions. This upstart company was a little different in one aspect though, as their movies weren’t period pieces, but rather in contemporary settings. This was about the only thing  that set them apart though, as they used the same actors, producers, and a lot of the same tropes in their films.

The cast is key in this one, and by the ending of the film, you’ll be surprised, no doubt about it! And let’s be honest, is there a creepier setting than a carnival? The bearded lady alone is enough to scare the pants off me! Alright, now, to the movie…

 

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The film begins with a side-show carnival barker trying to entice people to see his “torture garden.” A sign shows that the host, Dr. Diablo (Burgess Meredith), will have you screaming at these disturbing images. A small crowd shuffles in, and Diablo shows them an electric chair with what appears to be a man strapped in it. He throws the switch, and the “man” is fried. It obviously looks like a  dummy though, and some in the crowd aren’t impressed. Diablo then encourages the crowd to join him in his secluded area, where the real thrills are to take place. He tells them it costs £5, and most are skeptical. Diablo then uses basic high school peer pressure to get a few to pay up and go inside.

 

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Five people (Michael Ripper, Jack Palance, Michael Bryant, Barbara Ewing, and Beverly Adams) go inside, and Diablo does something very strange after they leave the first room. Diablo takes the money that the people gave him, and he throws it into the fire pit in the middle of the room! Awfully sure of himself, isn’t he?  One man, Colin Williams (Michael Bryant), pulls a curtain away, and sees a wax figure that resembles a fortune-teller. They all seem let down, but then Diablo appears and tells that this is no ordinary fortune-teller, but one that will reveal something ghastly about your future if you peer into her eyes. As Diablo lulls him into a sense of safety, the adventure begins.

 

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We see a scene where Colin drives his motor car to see his uncle, who’s very rich, but also, very ill. The door opens, and a woman walks out, and looks like the fortune-teller. He shakes his head in disbelief, and when he looks again, it’s just a regular woman. She’s apparently been taking care of the old man. Colin goes inside and tries to pry some money from his uncle, but he’s very dodgy about where he gets his money. Colin tells his uncle that he’s been asking around town how his uncle pays for things since he hasn’t worked in thirty years.  He wont tell, but then begins to have a heart attack, and needs his medication. Colin wont get it for him, and the old guy keels over right there on the spot.

 

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The coroner comes to pick up the body, and this leaves Colin to loot the house. Eventually, he finds a door in the floor of his uncle’s bedroom. He heads down into the secret compartment (basement?), and gets more than he bargained for. He uses a shovel to dig around but initially finds nothing. After some time, he finds a casket of sorts, and opens it using the shovel. Inside, he finds a skeleton, and a cat! The cat scurries away, and he continues to dig around.

 

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We then see him awaking on the couch upstairs, and the cat  growls at him. He then seems to go into a bit of a trance, and we get the impression that the cat is somehow communicating with him (possessed?). It tells him that he needs to do some favors for it, and he’ll be rewarded. The door then opens and the cat runs away, with Colin following. It leads him to a hobo sleeping in the barn. The cat begins to assert control over Colin, and forces him to pick up a pitchfork and murder the man. Again, Colin wakes up on the couch and believes it all to have been a dream. He sees the basement opened up and heads down to see what was real and what might be fantasy. As he gets down in the room, the cat is waiting for him, and once again claims to be ready to reward him for helping with whatever it needs. He picks up a shovel and digs up a chest full of gold coins.

Next, he quickly runs out to the barn, and sees that indeed he did murder the hobo, as the cat willed him to do. He dashes back into the house and down the steps into the basement, horrified at what he’s done. He begins to bury the gold, but the cat once again forces him to stop, and then tells him to murder the hospice worker that’s about to enter the house. As she enters through the back entrance, Colin picks up a shovel, and murders the old woman. Later that night, Colin is putting his trunk of gold into his car, when a policeman happens by, to warn him about a man who the police are looking for in the area (the hobo?). He tells him he’s seen no one, and the officer offers to help with the trunk, only to realize there’s blood on the handle.

 

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In the next scene, Colin is being locked up in jail, and tries to explain what’s been going on to a lawyer. He tells of the demonic cat, and how it forced him to do these terrible things. The lawyer looks at him as if he’s loony, and then asks him what happened to the heads of the victims. Colin tells him that the cat feeds on them, and if he doesn’t get to feed, he’ll come for his head. The lawyer leaves, and of course, everyone thinks he’s insane. A few minutes later, the cat appears on the ledge by the window. Colin begins screaming and the guard comes in to see what’s going on. By then, the cat has disappeared, but Colin is still hysterical. The guard tells him to calm down, and leaves the room. As he does, the cat returns, and takes Colin’s head as recompense!

One by one, the others are led to the fortune-teller, and see atrocities that they may be a part of in the future or maybe have already! Watch to find out the gruesome fate of these seemingly ordinary people, and the secrets they bear!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

The film is one that houses an idea that’s been put on the screen and in books before, there’s no denying that, but when these actors and actresses put their personal spin on the characters, that’s when the magic happens. I honestly think this is the best performance I’ve ever seen by Burgess Meredith. Now, before anybody goes ballistic on me, I haven’t seen many of his films outside of Clash of the Titans, and the Rocky franchise. All good performances, no doubt, but by the end of this film, you’ll believe he’s the devil himself! Now, to the others. Jack Palance and Peter Cushing share the final “future sequence” together, and it’s one for the ages. Not only do they do the film justice, but the scene also is about Edgar Allen Poe and his fantastic works!

Each of the dream sequences are different but the same. Not in a monotonous way really, but nothing really sets them apart so that you can single one out over the others in terms of better or worse. All of them have a charm to them in one way or another, but obviously I’m partial to the Cushing scene! The ladies in this film are absolutely gorgeous (Beverly Adams- image below, Barbara Ewing- even though she has a terrible hairdo or wig, and Nicole Shelby in her skivvies), and this era of woman is not only beautiful, but very commanding as well.

The music score was by two veterans of the industry, in James Bernard and Don Banks. These two gentlemen were stalwarts in the biz back then and really know how to get the music to match the scene. The writer, Robert Bloch, is another man who really shouldn’t need any introduction, but if you’re not familiar with his work, definitely Google him (you should at least know him as the man who wrote the story Hitchcock used for Psycho in 1960).

Definitely give this one a viewing, you’ll not be disappointed, I guarantee it! It’s one of those hidden gems of the era that you never hear about outside of circles that are hardcore fans of the genre.

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Madhouse (1974)

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Title: Madhouse

Distributor: AIP (American International Pictures) & Amicus Productions

Writers: Greg Morrison, Ken Levison

Director: Jim Clark

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky, Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Linda Hayden

Released: March 1974

MPAA: PG

 

After a couple of wild black and white films, I thought it was high-time that two of my favorite horror film stalwarts were plunged back in the spotlight! As you well know, one of the most masterful horror film actors of all-time passed away recently, and next week, I’ll be showcasing a film starring Sir Christopher Lee, but for now, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing will share the stage. Both men had already built a huge catalog of films by this time, and really were still at the peak of their powers! So now, without further interruption, I give you, Madhouse…

 

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The film starts out with a room full of people watching a new movie that’s ready to hit the theaters (a flashback). It’s a cheesy horror flick starring a character named “Dr. Death (Vincent Price),” that shows the good doctor unleashing a monster in a well to kill a damsel in distress, while the townspeople wielding their torches and pitchforks attempt to stop him. A man then stops the film, and tells the guests about how Dr. Death killed many of his beautiful co-stars in different ways, but now, he’s marrying his latest co-star, Ellen Mason (Julie Crosthwait). He (Paul Toombes) introduces the writer, Herbert Flay (Peter Cushing), and gives him full credit for his contributions. As he introduces his bride to be, one of his old flames (and old co-stars), Faye Carstairs (Adrienne Corri) approaches him, visibly upset, and gives them her two cents. Shortly thereafter, a man, Oliver Quayle (Robert Quarry), introduces himself to Toombes, and remarks about how his new bride used to make adult films before he knew her. Toombes is quite upset with him, and his fiancé, and she runs off, embarrassed by the situation. She runs upstairs as Herbert tries to comfort Toombes. After crying for a minute or so, Ellen is brutally murdered.

 

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Paul awakens after having fallen asleep apparently, and heads upstairs to apologize to Ellen. As he enters her room, her head falls off, as she’s been decapitated! Paul scrams, then the story fades to a hospital room, where he’s been injected with some kind of drugs, and being questioned about the murder. He keeps insisting that he can’t remember what happened. We next see a shot of London (present day), as Paul has completed a rehab program (after a nervous breakdown), and his old nemesis, Oliver Quayle, is now a big-time editor of a newspaper, and he’s telling his underlings the story of Toombes’ history, and how he’s planning an exposé on his life.

 

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Next, we see Toombes being awakened by a gorgeous woman, Elizabeth Peters (Linda Hayden). She’s a young actress that wants a break, but Toombes tells her to hit the road. Toombes is on a ship coming to London (he was previously in Hollywood, apparently), and is greeted by Julia Wilson, one of Quayle’s stooges. She takes him to the home of his life-long friend, Herbert Flay, and the two then reminisce about old times, and how the two will now be working on a television show together. Herbert tells Paul that he’s now become a successful actor, but that he wants to work with Paul again. Paul is terrified to revive the character again, as he thinks it’s bad luck. They then watch one of the Dr. Death films together, but as it drones on, Herbert creeps out of the room, and Paul seems to be going into a trance.

 

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Outside the house, the girl from the ship, Elizabeth, is prowling around, and eventually makes her way into the house. She calls out to Paul, but gets no answer. She heads back outside, and sees a figure walking through the garden. She calls out but gets no response. As she follows the figure further and further away, she begins to realize she might be being led away intentionally. Just as she’s ready to give up, the shadowy figure pops out of nowhere and shoves a pitchfork into her neck! Back inside, Paul awakens, after seemingly falling asleep on the couch. He lights a candle, and heads out to find Herbert. He can hear someone talking, and investigates. He finds a phonograph in the basement, along with a glass enclosure full of Tarantulas. Before he can even move, he’s accosted by a woman (image below). At first he doesn’t recognize her, as she’s terribly disfigured, and seems to have had a mental breakdown. Eventually though, he recognizes that it’s Faye (from the opening scene).

 

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The following day, two boys are fishing, and discover the corpse of Elizabeth. The police are baffled but see a pattern with these two killings. Both were done in the same fashion as portrayed in two of the Dr. Death films. Of course, they immediately wonder where Paul Toombes is, but he isn’t a suspect yet. Over at the house, Paul asks Herbert why he never told him that he ended up marrying Faye. As they meet up with Oliver Quayle, and then later they begin to film the first scene. Toombes isn’t thrilled but is doing Herbert a favor, so he endures the hardship. He’s also not excited about finding out that he’ll have a pretty assistant, something he never had in any of his films. Toombes yells at her for not following his lead, and they call it a day.

later that evening, Quayle is throwing a costume party for the launch of the filming, and again, Toombes is less than excited. Herbert attempts to change his mood, but Toombes is anything but happy. He then has a run in with is co-star, but tells her off. Quayle then shows some old film clips of Toombes work (actually films that Price had made, and not “Dr. Death” films), and everyone sits down for the show. Everyone except his new co-star, that is, as she’s gone upstairs to check out some of the props that Quayle has collected over the years. In mere moments, she’s murdered, and a few minutes later, Quayle’s assistant, Julia, finds the girl hanging by her neck, dead. Toombes heads back to Herbert’s home, packs his bags, and attempts to leave. He’s stopped by the police, and they bring him in for questioning.

 

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Is Paul Toombes consciously or unconsciously acting out murders from his movies? Or is someone else trying to drive him insane? Check out this classic to find the answers!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

I wouldn’t consider this film in my personal top few films in the career of Vincent Price or Peter Cushing, but don’t be fooled, it’s definitely worth a watch. Price gives a solid performance, as to be expected from a consummate pro like him, and so does Cushing. The rest of the cast isn’t on their level, but then again, not many are. Robert Quarry plays a good, sleazy producer, and Linda Hayden (only a small part, image below), is very easy on the eyes.

 

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The sets were good, and the soundtrack was good enough to help move things along here and there. There were a couple of parts that bogged down the film slightly, but nothing to terrible. The cops being portrayed as a couple of boobs is a bit of a tired trope, and really didn’t help. One cool angle was the scene where they were showing some of Paul’s work, and it actually showed some of the films Price did during that era, with fellow horror legends Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.

Check this one out if for nothing than to see these two legends, as their careers were certainly winding down (compared to before this time), but not over yet!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Skull (1965)

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Title: The Skull

Distributor: Amicus Productions (Paramount Pictures – U.S.)

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay), Robert Bloch (short story)

Director: Freddie Francis

Producers: Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Patrick Wymark, Jill Bennett, Peter Woodthorpe

Released: August 1965

MPAA: NR

 

 

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The Amicus Films Production company gets very little press outside of the horror community, and that should not be! The company was only around (making films) for about fifteen years, but it made an impact nonetheless. With perennial stars of the horror genre, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in a few of the films, they knew that had bankable “stars” to get some people into the theaters. Throw in  stalwarts like Michael Gough, and Peter Woodthorpe, and you have a solid cast that delivers.

This film was one that dove into the “cult” fascination of the time, but not too heavily. Certain things were shown/talked about, and others mildly insinuated. Either way, you’ll be excited to see the cast, and the crazy scenes with Cushing. He really is over-the-top in this one, and any fan of the genre or the cast must watch it! let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with a couple of guys robbing a grave. A young man then returns to his apartment with something wrapped in a cloth. He enters his bathroom only to find a beautiful woman bathing. She’s apparently a love interest, but he tells her to get out. She can’t understand why, but he doesn’t care, and tells her to hit the road. She gets out of the tub, and asks why, but he tells her that he must be alone tonight. We then see him boil something, and when he pulls it out of the pot, we see a skull. Suddenly, a fog envelops the room, and when the woman returns to see if he’s changed his mind, she screams in horror. We then cut to the credits.

The next thing we see, is an auctioneer (Michael Gough – image above), pounding his gavel. Two men then get into a bidding war over four stone statues of evil. The first, Christopher Maitland (Peter Cushing), and the other, Matthew Phillips (Christopher Lee), go back and forth until Phillips doubles Maitland’s bid, and it ends. Afterward, they discuss the bidding war, and Matthews cannot recall why he bid so high. He seems to have been hypnotized by the statues, and couldn’t control himself.

 

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The next evening, another man, Anthony Marco (Patrick Wymark), heads over to the home of Maitland, to sell him something. He has a book from the infamous Marquis de Sade, and it’s actually bound in human skin! Mr. Maitland is so intrigued, that he buys the book for £200. Marco tells him that he’ll be back tomorrow with something even more wild. Upon his return the following evening, he brings a skull, and tells him that it is the skull of the Marquis De Sade himself! Maitland doesn’t believe him at first, but then he tells him a story (one that connects to the pre-credits scene, and shows the murder of the girl), and then after dropping the price a bit, Maitland agrees to think about purchasing it. Marco gives him his address, and tells him to come over the following evening.

 

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Maitland then goes to his friend’s house, and Matthews Phillips and he have a pool game, while discussing the skull. Matthews tells Maitland that the skull is genuine, and that it was stolen from him, days earlier. Maitland encourages Matthews to come with him later when he goes to see Marco, but Matthews refuses, and tells him that he’s glad it’s gone. He states that the skull is evil, and that occultists use its powers to some sadistic means. He begs Maitland to not buy it, but you can see he’s still very interested in it.

 

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Over at Marco’s place, he rushes in to get ready for Maitland’s visit, but finds that the skull isn’t where he left it. He searches the closet vigorously, but to no avail. Suddenly, he turns around, and comes face to face with the skull! Holding it, is the building manager, Bert Travers (Peter Woodthorpe – image above), and he questions Marco about his “artifacts” that are strewn about the room. Marco tells him that nothing is of any value, and Travers leaves the room. Meanwhile, Maitland is reading his skin-bound book, that he purchased only days ago. He then gets a knock at the door, and when he answers it, two men, dressed as police officers tell him he’s under arrest, and must come down to the station.

 

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On the way to the police station, Maitland notices that they aren’t stopping there, but some other undisclosed location. He’s lead into a room, with a judge sitting at a bench, with a gavel and everything else. The two men that brought him in have a revolver, and load a bullet into it. They also load their own pistols, and point them at his head. The judge motions for him to play some Russian roulette (image above). three successful attempts, Maitland is allowed to leave the room under escort. He’s placed in a hallway that closes on both sides, and a gas begins to fill the room. Maitland passes out after seeing the skull moving towards him through the gas, and ends up in the apartment building of Marco, the shady antiquities dealer (not knowing where he is though). He goes home, and finds the address of Marco, and sees that it was where he was after the crazy roulette/gas chamber scenario. He tells his wife (Jill Bennett) what happened, and he thinks it was a nightmare.

 

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Later that night, Maitland sneaks out, and heads over to Marco’s place. The door is open, so he proceeds inside, looking for the skull. He finds it in the closet, but as he attempts to leave, he’s knocked over by the dead body of Marco. He hides the skull in the hallway closet, then calls the police.  Bert is then brought in by the police, but doesn’t have a clue about what’s going on. They ask if there are any pets in the building, such as a large dog, but Travers tells them that they aren’t allowed. The next night, Maitland is over at Matthews house again, playing pool. He once again begs Maitland to disavow anything to do with the skull, and then gives him a crucifix to protect him against evils. Maitland then returns to get the skull from the closet, but is confronted by Travers. Maitland tries to push by him, but he wont let him pass, and threatens to call the police. Maitland then shoves Travers, and the railing breaks, and Travers plummets to his death.

 

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured, this doesn’t end happily for Maitland, and those that surround him!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Of all the Amicus films I’ve seen, this one holds the most water. The story is good, you have four really strong players in this film (six if you count the few moments Michael Gough is on-screen in the beginning), and some good special effects. The sets are very good too, well, except for the Russian roulette scene where everything looks vanilla. Now, that may have been the choice to not give Cushing’s character anything to go off of if he went to the police, but that’s kind of doubtful. Although Lee isn’t in more than a few scenes, he does add his normal macabre atmosphere even though he’s the voice of reason in this film. You get what you expect from a pro like Cushing. His character delivers a believable performance, and mixes well with Lee, Woodthorpe, Wymark, and his on-screen wife, Bennett (who died tragically from suicide in 1990).

The musical score is good, but not anything super exciting. It does add some intensity to the last chapter, and for that, we have Elisabeth Lutyens to thank. The film does give you that Hammer film feel, but it is set in modern times, not the previous century (or earlier) that Hammer typically used. The film holds up well for one that was released fifty years ago (wow, 50 years!), and I can’t see it losing any of its charm in another fifty years. Get out and see this one, you wont be disappointed!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: The Beast Must Die (1974)

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Title: The Beast Must Die

Distributor: Amicus Productions (British Lion Films)

Writers: James Blish (short story), Michael Winder (screenplay)

Director: Paul Annett

Producers: Max Rosenberg, John Dark, Robert Greenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Peter Cushing, Calvin Lockhart, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray

Released: April 1974

MPAA: PG

OK, I know this isn’t a film most will recognize, but it was one (maybe THE one) that got me interested in werewolves! I remember seeing it on T.V. when I was a little kid, and it scared the crap out of me! Yeah, the “werewolf” doesn’t hold up really well as an adult viewing it, but it still has a good cast, including the horror icon, Peter Cushing, and a couple of unique things about it that no other werewolf movie has that I’ve personally ever seen! So, without further interruption, let’s get to it!

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The opening scene shows a man, Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart), as he’s running through a wooded area, and being tracked by not only a helicopter, but also soldiers. They are all being directed by another man, Pavel, who is using advanced equipment to track Tom. Twice they catch him, but are directed to let him go. As Tom finally makes his way to an open area near a mansion, we see a few people sitting at a table outside, having a meal. As Tom gets closer to the people, the soldiers emerge from the woods, and shoot him in the back! A scream from one of the guests rings out, and they all come running to see if Tom can be saved. We quickly realize that the bullets were blanks, and Tom laughs at the situation. His wife, Caroline (Marlene Clark) is not amused.

Later that day, Tom is introducing everyone to each other, and we see his intentions on throwing this dinner party. He tells Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray), Jan and Davina Gilmore (Michael Gambon & Ciaran Madden), Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon), and Professor Lundgren (Peter Cushing), that death seems to follow all the guests, and that he believes one of them is a werewolf. He also states that the estate has been electronically bugged, so he can track and kill the animal for sport. Most of the guests don’t believe they even exist, but Professor Lundgren does, and has some expertise on the subject.

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Tom then meets with Pavel, who, coincidentally doesn’t believe him either, and tells him that he needs him to watch the estate, while he sleeps. Not long into the night, the sensors fire off that there is activity on the estate. Pavel wakes Tom, and then directs him to the nearby wooded area to track it. Tom eventually gets a quick look at it, but it evades him, then heads back to the house. Tom urges Pavel to get something silver to fight off the creature, but Pavel grabs a pistol instead. Before you know what’s happening, a large wolf is on the rooftop by a skylight, and Pavel attempts to shoot the animal. It either evades the shots or they have no effect, and then it dives through the glass, and Tom hears Pavel scream. By the time Tom returns to the mansion, he finds Pavel dead in his chair (nice shot of that scene below).

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The next day, Tom tells his chopper pilot that they’ll be on the hunt tonight, so be ready. He told the rest of the staff to go home for a few days, so that no one else will be in jeopardy. Tom then removes the rotary arm from each vehicle on the estate, so he wont have to worry about anyone leaving. As Tom is walking around the estate, he’s nearly shot with an arrow by Paul Foote. Foote tells him that he’s been “hunting the hunter”, and plays it off as a drunken joke. Tome berates him, and then shows him what he’s done to the cars. At dinner, Tom announces what he’s done, and that it’s twelve miles to the nearest neighbor. Bennington gets furious about this, but Tom doesn’t care. Foote also gets grumpy, and the rest of the crowd is growing aggravated as well. Caroline then grabs a candlestick and smashes a mirror with it, cutting herself.

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In the evening, Tom and his chopper pilot find the werewolf running around the property. After trying to shoot it from the chopper doesn’t work, Tom decides he’s going to get up close and personal with the beast. He follows it into a dark barn, but unbeknownst to him, Davina, Caroline, and Professor Lundgren have also followed out to the barn. Caroline’s dog rushes in and begins to fight with the werewolf. It loses that battle, and the werewolf bolts out the door before Tom can do anything to stop the beast. It then mauls the chopper pilot, and heads back towards the mansion. Meanwhile, Caroline is distraught about her dog. Tom steps in, and tells Professor Lundgren to take the two ladies back to the mansion. Tom then euthanized the dog. Tom then comes back to the house, and all are accounted for except Bennington. As Tom enters the room, he sees blood everywhere, and Bennington on the floor, dead from various wounds.

As the next day begins, the body count will rise even higher, and the question arises, can anyone stop the beast from killing again?

OK, here are my thoughts:

Are the “special effects” cheesy? Yes. Do some of the actors over act? Yes. BUT, listen to me when I tell you this the movie is still pretty good! If you can get past the wolf-dog, you can get through this movie, and enjoy it in the meantime too! Calvin Lockhart is a great protagonist, and when you throw in Peter Cushing (certainly a smaller role than we’re used to seeing him in), you get two solid actors that know how to play their parts. One of the things I alluded to earlier, is that this film has a couple of cool things that are a surprise. First off, with 3/4 of the movie in the can, you get the voice of the narrator telling you “it’s time for the werewolf break”. You get exactly thirty seconds to try to use the clues that were given to guess who you think is the culprit (pic above). Now, granted there are only five people left at this stage of the game, but it’s still a cool concept. Secondly, the story also has a unique twist ending, for Tom, and Caroline. I wont spoil it, but believe me, you wont see this one coming.

Overall, I’d give this movie a solid rating, because of Lockhart and Cushing, plus the twists I spoke of above. Again, the werewolf looks like a coked up dog running around, but it was 1974, and I’m sure half of the budget was blown on Peter Cushing and a few explosions. I’ll freely admit to giving this movie a higher score than most out of pure nostalgia as well. See you next Sunday for more movie madness!