Cinema Sunday: The City of The Dead (A.K.A. Horror Hotel – 1960)

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Title: The City of The Dead (U.S. Title- Horror Hotel)

Distributor: British Lion

Writer: George Baxt (screenplay), Milton Subotsky (story)

Director: John Moxey

Producers: Seymour S. Dorner, Milton Subotsky, Max Rosenberg, Donald Taylor

Starring: Christopher Lee, Dennis Lotis, Venetia Stevenson, Betta St. John, Patricia Jessel

Released: Sept. 1960 (U.K.)

MPAA: PG-13

 

It has been a couple of months since I spotlighted a film starring the late, great Christopher Lee. His contributions to the industry are nothing short of legendary, and rightly so. This week I’m going to showcase a lesser-known film that stars Sir Christopher, called “The City of the Dead!” With the two men responsible for the creation of Amicus Studios at the helm (Subotsky and Rosenberg), this film is impressive because of its atmospherics, and some solid acting.

In 1960, the age of Hammer Studios was just starting to blossom (Cushing and Lee were just beginning their conquering stride through the medium), and everyone else was scrambling to catch up. Most other companies (as a whole) never caught up, but some did produce some very good films that live on! Anytime you mix witches, Christopher Lee, and Massachusetts together, you know you’ve got a winner! Alright, and away we go…

 

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The film begins with a witch, Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) being burned at the stake for her unholy actions. One man in the crowd (Puritans?), Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall), seems to have a connection to her, and calls out to the devil to help her. It doesn’t seem to help much though, and she’s apparently toast. Fast forward to modern times, and Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee), is lecturing some students about these very matters. One student in particular, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), is very receptive to the subject. Her boyfriend, Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor), thinks it’s a bunch of nonsense, and this angers Driscoll.

 

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Nan then asks Driscoll if he knows of any place where she can visit to help with her term paper on the subject. Driscoll suggests she stay in his ancestral town of Whitewood, Massachusetts, where she can get a first hand look and get some real perspective. Her boyfriend, Bill, isn’t too happy about this, but lets her go without much trouble. Just then, Nan’s brother, a professor of science at the same school walks in, and has a go with Driscoll about witchcraft. We see that although Driscoll may look like a wuss, he has a temper, and also a sinister look about him.

 

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The following day, Nan heads out to the town of Whitewood, but seems to get lost in an eerie fog. She happens upon a gentleman and asks him for directions. He tells her the way, but warns her that the town is evil. She continues on, even after he warning. As she gets to a fork in the road, a man is walking nearby. He introduces himself as Jethrow Keane (Valentine Dyall – image below)  and asks for a ride. She invites him in, and he begins to tell her a little about Whitewood. They eventually arrive in town, and their destination, the Ravens Inn. As Nan turns around to get her luggage, but then the man disappears! She heads inside and meets Lottie (Ann Beach), but before she can even try to communicate with her, the owner of the inn appears. We then are introduced to Mrs. Newless (Patricia Jessel – image below), who has a striking resemblance to the witch, Elizabeth Selwyn.

 

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Later that night, Nan heads out to take a walk around town. It’s very dark and dreary, and the townspeople, who are few, don’t seem to care for strangers. She then heads over to the old church. It seems unoccupied, and in an obvious state of closure. As she attempts to enter, her way is blocked by a minister, claiming to be the leader/caretaker of the church. She questions him about the church and town, but he’ll only remark that there is an evil presence here, and that she should go immediately. She returns to the inn, and settles in for the night.

 

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After a short time, she thin ks she hears some noise below her room. She gets the attention of Mrs. Newless, but after they investigate, there is nothing to be found. Later, Mrs. Newless invites Nan to come out to join the others, who are dancing in the hall. She eventually does, but by that time, no one is around anymore. We are then made aware that this date is of significance for those who worship Satan, which unfortunately is bad news for Nan. At the very stroke of midnight, she again hears some disturbance, and as she looks outside of her window, she can see robed figures walking through the cemetery. She then finds a handle that fits into the trap door in the floor of her bedroom, and uses it to open the door.

 

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Next, Nan decides to head down into the dark basement, but is instantly accosted by two men in robes. They drag her, kicking and screaming to an altar, where we see the townspeople, Mrs. Newless, and Jethrow Keane. They begin a count, and when they reach the number thirteen, the knife is plunged! Over at a party, Nan’s brother, Richard, and her boyfriend, Bill, haven’t heard from her in days, and are worried. They attempt to call the inn, but are told that no such place exists.

 

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Will Bill and Richard find out what happened to Nan and stop the cult from killing again? And what does Professor Driscoll have to do with all of this chicanery? You must watch to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Any time you get a black and white film full of atmosphere and incredible sets, count me in. Even if Lee wasn’t in this picture, it would still be quite good. He does add his normal power and presence, but his screen time is somewhat sparse. His scenes are very important, but I’m used to seeing him as the big star, and not a lesser part. The rest of the cast does a solid job though, and really plays up the scary! Patricia Jessel is especially creepy, and does a fantastic job as the witch. Not lost in the crowd is Dennis Lotis (Nan’s brother), who really takes charge once his sister disappears.

As stated above, the atmosphere in this one is incredible. Even though the film is a little too dark at times, it does add a level of fright that is welcomed. The one and only thing I can say that was pretty bad, was the music score. During a couple of the scenes (mainly driving scenes), the music was a ridiculous upbeat tune that seems more appropriate for a Doris Day/Rock Hudson film. Take that away, and this is an excellent film that should be viewed by any serious fan of the time/genre. Oh, and Venetia Stevenson (image below) is stunning in this film!

 

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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: I, Monster (1971)

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Title: I, Monster

Distributor: Amicus Productions/British Lion Films/Canon Group

Writer: Milton Subotsky (screenplay)

Director: Steven Weeks

Producers: John Dark, Max Rosenberg, Milton Subotsky

Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Mike Raven, Richard Hurndall

Released: November 1971

MPAA: PG

 

 

To cap off the two Amicus films I promised to review, I give you the adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, from 1971. Now, this film was supposed to be filmed in a newer, more experimental 3-D way, but the money ran out half way before completion, and it was abandoned. Honestly though, the performances still shine through, and with this cast, you kind of knew it had a chance.

When you say Cushing and Lee together, the names carry a weight that cannot be denied. Both men (even back then) had extensive careers, and proven credentials, especially in the horror/sci-fi genres. They carry this film, no doubt about it. Lets get right down to the movie!

 

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The film opens with a man, Dr. Charles Marlowe (Christopher Lee), working in his lab. He has all sorts of animals for his experiments, and a brilliant mind. We next see a club, and a few socialites, one of them being a friend of Marlowe’s, Frederick Utterson (Peter Cushing). The men are discussing the inner-workings of the mind, and how human behavior is either influenced or as it is from birth. Marlowe believes that people’s minds house both good and evil persona’s, and aren’t really influenced. Utterson and the other chaps believe that influence makes men evil. Marlowe is working on a serum that can separate the good and evil persona’s, but is keeping his results to himself, for now.

 

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Later that evening, Marlowe returns home, and decides to use the serum on his pet cat (after contemplating trying it on himself). The animal goes berserk, and even attacks him! He uses the poker from the fireplace to kill the cat, and does show a huge amount of remorse. Just as this is concluding, a woman shows up at the door. It’s one of his patients, a Miss Diane Thomas (Susan Jameson – image below), looking for some guidance. Marlowe tries to talk to her, but she cannot bring herself to tell him what’s on her mind. She begs him to try something new, and he persuades her to let him use the serum on her (not being 100% honest about what it might do to her).

 

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After Marlowe administers the drug, Miss Thomas loses all her inhibitions, and attempts to sexually seduce Marlowe. He goes to his lab to retrieve some sort of antidote, and when he returns, she’s completely naked. He apparently controls his urge, and administers the antidote. She’s shocked to find out how she acted, but Marlowe tells her that it’s part of her mind, and just normal to have these thoughts. Later on, back at the club, two other colleagues talk about the behavioral acts of people once again. One man, Enfield (Mike Raven – middle of image below), asks if Marlowe has had any success with his experiments. Marlowe admits to trying the drug on his lab animals, and one of his patients. His lawyer, Utterson, advises him to use legal precaution.

 

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The following day, another patient shows up, and demands to get some sort of results out of his sessions with Marlowe. At this point, Marlowe convinces him to let him use the serum on him, and he does. We see that this man was beaten as a youth, and that his anger now stems from those incidents. It’s at this point, that Marlowe decides to use it on himself. We see an immediate change in his attitude. Instead of being stuffy, he acts more wildly and carefree. He decides to cut the head from one of the lab rats, but the chimes of the wall clock throw him off. He then takes the antidote, and calms down. He visits one of his friends from the club, and gets some advice from him.

 

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The next evening, Marlowe uses the drug once again, and it drives him even more mad. He heads out for a walk, and intentionally bumps into a young man. As the man confronts him, he pulls out a scalpel, and threatens the man. He then walks by a window of a shop, and sees a cane he wants to have. Instead of buying it the following day, he smashes the window and steals it. He visits a boarding house, and rents a room. He then bumps into the same man that he threatened earlier, but this time, the other man has a razor. The two fight, and Marlowe almost kills the man, but doesn’t, because for now, the thrill of almost killing a man is enough to satiate his curiosity.

 

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Eventually, Utterson, Enfield, and the others begin to figure out that there’s a connection between a mysterious, new fiend named Edward Blake, and their friend, Marlowe. Will they find out the real secret their friend is hiding, before he goes completely over the edge?

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one I saw for the first time about a decade ago. For some reason, I didn’t make the Jekyll/Hyde connection right away, but eventually found out through other sources. The quality of the film overall is less than desirable, but Cushing and Lee pull the film to a better than average standing. The supporting cast wasn’t anything to write home about, but Cushing and Lee definitely helped out a ton.

The sets were sub-par, and certainly were something the budget wasn’t aimed to help out with at all. Again, it isn’t a deal breaker or anything, but you can notice the low quality with that aspect of the movie. The music (Carl Davis), actually elevated a few scenes. The filming is kind of odd at a few parts where the 3-D was supposed to be, and that does stick out a bit.

If you get the chance to view this one, don’t hesitate. Cushing and Lee do more than enough to entertain for an hour and a half. You know they will always put forth their best effort!

Click here for the trailer!

 

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!