Cinema Sunday: The She-Creature (1956)

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Title: The She-Creature

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writer: Lou Rusoff

Director: Edward L. Cahn

Producers: Alex Gordon, Israel M. Berman, Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Chester Morris, Marla English, Tom Conway, Cathy Downs, Lance Fuller

Released: August, 1956

MPAA: Approved

 

After a tumultuous month of June, I’m going to try to tackle two movie reviews this month to make up for that loss! This B movie might not be on the radar of some but definitely give it a chance. The original casting included horror stalwart, Peter Lorre, but he ended up pulling out for whatever reasons. Don’t worry though, AIP has always delivered in the genre, and whether it’s a solid film or so hokey it’s good for a laugh, Samuel Z. Arkoff knows how to get a reaction!

This film was part of a craze that had a scorned/enraged female monster-type character that would get revenge on men or just society. Of course, like everything, it was run into the ground after a while, but there are some good ones out there for sure (check out this one- Night Tide). Alright, let’s get on with the show!

 

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The film begins with some underwater shots, then topside we see a man thinking to himself. Doctor Carlo Lombardi (Chester Morris) is wavering about something he’s brought to life, something hideous, and “the world will never be the same!” He’s then approached by a barking dog that snarls as if it wants to attack. Lombardi stares at the beast, and within seconds, it turns tail and runs away, as if scared of him.

 

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Nearby, at a house party, Dr. Ted Erickson (Lance Fuller), and Dorothy Chappel (Cathy Downs) flirt with each other, then go for a walk along the shoreline. Dorothy’s mother worries that she’ll miss the appearance of Dr. Lombardi at the party, but her father shrugs it off, believing he’s just a two-bit, carny hypnotist. Dorothy’s mother says that Lombardi warned that tonight something sinister was afoot, and that an unspeakable horror would arise. As Ted and Dorothy walk along the beach, we see Lombardi enter a beach house. It’s been ransacked pretty bad, and then we see a woman, bound and quite dead. A man inside the home is dead as well, but there doesn’t seem to be any trace of what happened. As Lombardi leaves the home, Ted and Cathy see him leave. They investigate, and find the bodies as well, then call the police.

 

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As the police show up, they remark about how they’ve never seen a murder like this before, because the victims have had their neck’s snapped like a twig. For some reason though, the cops are letting Dr. Ted walk around, contaminating the crime scene. They ask him what he saw, but he can only tell them he was walking on the beach, then saw Lombardi walking out of the house, just before he got there. They also find a strange footprint, but cannot identify it. The one cop remarks about how Lombardi said something was coming from the distant past to kill.

 

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Lombardi returns to the carnival, and is approached by another guy that works there. He tells Lombardi he heard a scream coming from his house a while ago and went to see if everything was OK. Lombardi warns him to stay out of his business, but the man was worried about a certain female carnival follower that Lombardi has taken in. Lombardi then threatens the man and walks away. We see a poster telling people about the girl and how Lombardi, using his hypnotism, can make her remember a former life from hundreds of years ago.

 

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Inside the home, we see a beautiful woman, asleep on a couch. Lombardi walks over and we see he has her hypnotized, and in a deep sleep. The woman, Andrea Talbott (Marla English), looks as if she’s dead., but then he revives her. As she does, Lombardi looks out to the ocean, as if to see someone or something. Andrea finally comes to, and tells Lombardi that she hates this place and him, and that she wants to get away. At that moment, the police show up and arrest Lombardi. Ted seems smitten with Andrea, and as the two walk out together, he asks her to have a cup of coffee. At first, she seems very interested, but then she can see the piercing eyes of Lombardi in her mind. She then tells him that she can’t go with him, and walks off.

 

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The next morning, Dorothy’s father, Timothy Chappel (Tom Conway), is trying to persuade Ted to back him and some friends that want to hire Lombardi and make money off of his “talents.” Ted stoutly refuses,  and walks off in a huff. That evening at the carnival, Tim Chappel visits Lombardi, who knew he was coming and who he is already. The two discuss making a deal to make lots of money, but Lombardi seems a bit reluctant especially when Tim makes fun of his abilities. He warns Tim that tonight the monster will return , and murder again!

Will Lombardi be held responsible for this? Can Andrea get away from his slimy grasp? Which beautiful woman will Ted choose? Watch and find out the answers to these burning questions!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

This film is one of the hidden gems of the era. No, it’s not Oscar worthy or anything, but anyone that is into B movies needs to see this one. The hypnotism angle, using a woman as the scapegoat, the occult, etc. are all tropes that were big at this time. The film has a great atmosphere, and utilizes dark, shadowy scenes well. The soundtrack is standard fare but pretty good. Marla English (image below) is absolutely beautiful in this one, too.

As far as the acting goes, you get a couple of solid performances by Chester Morris and Lance Fuller. Both show that they’re above the rest of the cast. The actual monster is pretty cool, and we have legendary designer Paul Blaisdell to thank for it! His work is nothing short of cool, and for his time, he was a visionary.

Get out and watch this one for all the reasons that maker B movies awesome!

 

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Click here for the trailer!

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Black Sunday (1960)

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Title: Black Sunday (A.K.A. The Mask of Satan)

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writer: Mario Bava (screenplay)

Director: Mario Bava

Producer: Massimo de Rita, Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani

Released: August 1960

MPAA: UR

 

I always try my best to keep my promises, so here we go with another film by the great, Mario Bava! After reviewing Planet of the Vampires a few weeks ago, I slowly began searching through his catalog for more films that I knew would be gems. It didn’t take long for me to settle on this one. This being Bava’s first credited film as director (he had apparently done a couple of others uncredited), and the film that put Barbara Steele on the map (she’d done a couple of films, but small roles before this)!

The film caused quite a stir when it was released in 1960, as it was a bit over-the-top for the times. Bava took chances, and really amped up the shock value in this film. The opening scene is one of legend, and really sets the tone for the entire film. Now, let us traverse back in time to the year 1630…

 

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The film opens with a duo, Asa Vajda (Barbara Steele) and Javuto (Arturo Dominici), being put to death for witchcraft. The man leading the charge is Asa’s own brother! He puts his feelings aside and condemns the two to die for their crimes. The first thing he does is brand them with an “S” so that they are marked as Satan’s worshipers.  One of his minions places a mask with metal spikes on the inside over Asa’s face, while another man (wearing an executioners hood) uses a large hammer to pound in into her face! Just before this though, Asa puts a curse o her brother, and all that will follow in his bloodline. She is then burned at the stake, as a violent storm rages on. However, the storm puts out the flames before their bodies are burned.

 

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Fast-forward two centuries, and we see a carriage heading through the same woods where the  two were executed back in 1630. The two men inside, Dr. Thomas Kruvajan (Andrea Checchi), and Dr. Andre Gorobec (John Richardson), are on their way to a medical conference. The carriage breaks down, and the two doctors explore the area because they hear a strange sound emanating from an old cathedral. They find a tomb, and Kruvajan tells Gorobec that it is the tomb of the witch. Suddenly, the coachman asks for help repairing the carriage, so Gorobec leaves to help while Kruvajan continues searching the cathedral (a family crypt, actually). Kruvajan is attacked by a huge bat, but manages to kill the beast with his pistol.

 

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As the men are leaving, they are approached by a strange young woman who asks what they are doing there. Princess Katia (Barbara Steele), and Gorobec have an enchanted moment, then the good doctors leave, as the carriage is fixed. While Kruvajan was fighting the bat though, he was cut on some glass, and his blood seeped into the tomb of the witch. We see it seems to have an effect on her that might resuscitate her. Over at the castle of the Prince Vajda (Ivo Garrani), he and his two children, Katia, and her brother, Constantine (Enrico Olivieri), are on edge on this very eerie night. The Prince is staring at a painting of Asa (their ancestor), and then believes it moves! The servant, Ivan (Tino Bianchi), is then told about the curse of Asa. Ivan tells him to cling to the cross, as it will protect him against evil.

 

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As the evening wears on, we see the body of Asa, as it begins to transform from the blood of Kruvajan. She then telepathically summons her former accomplice, Javuto, and sends him on a mission to attack Prince Vajda. Javuto rises from the grave, and does indeed come upon the Prince in the castle, but Vajda has enough wherewithal to grab his crucifix, and it frightens off the ghoul. The conflict leaves him mentally unstable though, and very vulnerable. They send a servant to get Dr. Kruvajan, but he’s intercepted by Javuto. Javuto then tricks Kruvajan into thinking he’s the servant, and takes him instead to the crypt, where he’s bitten by Asa!

 

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Now that Asa has a servant to carry out her devious deeds, things get very interesting. She also has plans for Princess Katia, as well. She believes that her blood will revitalize her completely, and then she’ll make everyone pay!

Can Gorbec and a few others stop Asa and Javuto before they can turn all the villagers into their slaves? Tune in to find out!

 

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I’ve been aware of this film for quite some time now, but put off viewing it for some unknown reason. Now that I’ve seen it a few times, I really love it, and anyone that’s a fan of horror films from this era will as well. The only thing that was off was the voices that were dubbed. It bothered me for the first few minutes, but wore off after that time. The film (for its day) has a couple of violent scenes that moviegoers must have shrieked at. Bava really sets a creepy tone from the on-set of this film, both visually and mentally. For his first directorial credited film, it’s no wonder why studios were willing to give him some money to make films.

The musical score was very good too, and although the name Roberto Nicolosi is unfamiliar to me, he did a great job. Bava is also credited as the cinematographer, which makes perfect sense knowing his reputation for wanting to be in total control over that aspect of his films. And let’s be honest, it was probably for the best because he quite good at it. Barbara Steele is nothing short of gorgeous in this film, and you will want to see more of her films after you’ve seen this one, I guarantee it!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

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Cinema Sunday: Night of The Eagle (1962)

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Title: Night of the Eagle (A.K.A. Burn, Witch, Burn!)

Distributor: AIP (U.S.)

Writers: Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Baxt (screenplay)- Fritz Lieber (novel- Conjure Wife)

Director: Sidney Hayers

Producers: Julian Wintle, Leslie Parkyn

Starring: Peter Wyngarde, Janet Blair, Margaret Johnston, Anthony Nicholls, Colin Gordon

Released: May 1962

MPAA: Pg-13 (est.)

 

This week’s film will be a quick dip back in the pool of American International Pictures (AIP) library (by way of the U.K.’s Anglo Amalgamated)! I don’t recall how I found out about this film, but I’m glad I did! The pluses outweigh the minuses by a long shot in this one, and for a budget of $200k, they did an admirable job! The cast was relatively new to me and that can sometimes but slightly off-putting to me, but not this time around. I’ll grant you that the name of the film doesn’t sound very scary, and this might be a case of the Americanized name being better, but who knows. Alright, now that the intro is over, let’s hit the pavement, or eagles nest, I guess…

 

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At the ritzy medical college of Hempnell, we see an instructor, Norman Taylor (Peter Wyngarde), telling his students that superstitions are nothing but a bunch of poppycock. One student in particular, Margaret Abbott (Judith Stott), seems to be quite smitten with him, and asks about personal superstitions, like walking under a ladder, and the like.  He dismisses them as well, and tells the students not to believe any of it. Class ends, and then that same female student stays after class for a moment. Another student, Fred Jennings (Bill Mitchell), doesn’t hand in his paper, and Taylor threatens to have him thrown out of the class. Later, out in the hallway, Jennings threatens Margaret, because of jealousy.

 

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Norman arrives home and his wife, Tansy (Janet Blair), greets him after she’s just returned home from spending some time at their cottage. She complains about having to spend the evening with the others. but Norman convinces her it will be fine. Later that night, as the game of bridge is underway, as a couple of others have joined. One person in particular seems to be very interested in the new couple (Norman and Tansy are new to the school), and why everything seems to go their way. Norman remarks that Tansy is his good luck charm, and again, Flora Carr (Margaret Johnston) gets a peculiar look on her face.

 

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The evening ends, everyone leaves, but Tansy seems troubled. She begins to rummage through the home as if she’s lost something. When Norman asks her about it, she claims she’s looking for the grocery list, but it’s obviously a lie. Norman heads upstairs for bed and Tansy promises to be up soon. She stays to keep looking for something though. As Norman opens a drawer he discovers something in the corner. A small box he doesn’t recognize is in it, and when he opens it, a dead spider falls out. Tansy bursts in the room, and Norman wants an explanation. She tells him that last year when they were on holiday in Jamaica, a local gave it to her for a souvenir. He accepts her story, then they go to sleep. Tansy awakens though, and you can tell that something is bothering her. She finds a type of voodoo doll tied to a lampshade, and immediately takes it down, pulls it apart, then burns it, in some type of ceremonial act.

 

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The following day, Norman is typing away, and the dry cleaner comes a knocking. He lets him in and grabs a few articles of clothing. He pricks his hand on something inside a shirt, and after searching, he finds a small envelope of some substance. He immediately heads upstairs to search the rest of the bedroom. The entire house is then searched and he finds dozens of relics, charms and all sorts of the things he teaches against in his classroom. It finally hits him, his wife is a mystic.

 

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Tansy then returns home, and sees that one of her charms by the front door is missing. Upon entering the home, she sees that all of her things have been laid out on the table. The couple argues, as they’re both on opposite sides of the fence on the subject. She explains that she did it for him, and it was for protection. He can’t believe it, and tries to force her to destroy the items. She warns him that the reason she got into all of this was because when they were on holiday in Jamaica, he almost died from an accident, but a local shaman showed her how to revive him. Norman refuses to believe such rubbish, and then tells her she must give it up. She watches in disbelief, as Norman throws all of her charms, protections, etc. into the fireplace. He asks her one last time if that’s everything, and she then pulls out a locket, that has his picture, along with a charm of some sort. He even tosses that in, including his own picture! Tansy freaks out, and then after she calms down, a bit, she goes upstairs to bed. Norman then receives a phone call, and initially the caller says nothing, but then he hears someone breathing and then the female voice begins to talk dirty to him. He demands to know who it is, but the woman just keeps on going. He slams the phone down, and then heads up to bed.

 

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Almost immediately, things begin to go awry for Norman (like almost getting run over by a truck, being accused of raping a student). Was Tansy and her magic protecting them from sinister forces that lurk around everyone? Or is someone behind the events that are just beginning to plague the happy couple? Watch to find out!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This one flew under my radar, as I’m sure it has for most, but let me tell you something. Get it on your radar now! The two leads (and the villain), are absolutely fantastic! Not a lot of bells and whistles with this film, and the “special effects” are just moderate at best (there are only a couple). The sets are average as well, but again, that’s not the driving force behind this one. The cinematography (Reginald Wyer), did an outstanding job, and should be praised. The music score (William Alwyn) was also very good, bringing the viewer up and down like a roller-coaster.

The screenplay has three credits, but when you see the name Richard Matheson (Last Man on Earth, The Night Stalker),  you should know it is one of legend. His written work along with his TV and film work is also full of solid stuff. The usual gang from AIP was involved as well, and those guys, even with their cheesy reputation, always manage to get it done. Definitely look this one up around the web, because you’ll enjoy it!

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: The Haunted Palace (1963)

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Title: The Haunted Palace

Distributor: American International Pictures

Writer: Charles Beaumont (screenplay), based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft

Director: Roger Corman

Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Roger Corman, James H. Nicholson

Starring: Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., Debra Paget, Frank Maxwell

Released: August 1963

MPAA: Approved

 

Once again, I’m strolling down the halls of the horror hall of fame! Not only does this film have Vincent Price, Lon Chaney Jr., but it also has Roger Corman directing! This is the first American film to introduce the works of H.P. Lovecraft to moviegoers. The film is based on a story called “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and not off of an Edgar Allan Poe story (a common misconception because of the way the movie was promoted as being part of the set of movies Corman had previously done). For fans of the film that don’t know about the story behind it, definitely read up on Lovecraft, he was an interesting writer.

Alright, well, you can see from the movie poster, that this film is a wild one that involves all sorts of creepy elements. Murder, black magic, and beautiful ladies are what classic horror movies are made of…or so I’m told. AIP (American International Pictures) and Roger Corman made a lot of films together with this formula (8-9 I believe), and it worked out brilliantly. Price, along with people like Karloff, Lorre, and so on, had so much talent and an eeriness about them that vault these films from flimsy to fantastic! Now, without any further delay, here’s the film!

 

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The movie opens with a few men hanging out at a local pub (around 1765, somewhere in New England). One of them, Ezra Weeden (Leo Gordon – image above), sits by the window, as if he’s on watch. Another man, Micah Smith (Elisha Cook Jr. – image above) urges him to chill out and have some fun, but he refuses, citing that there’s foul play about, and he knows who’s behind it. Suddenly, amidst the fog, we see a young woman walking alone. Through the town, and up to the old house at the end of the town. The door opens, and she’s met by two people. Joseph Curwen (Vincent Price), and Hester Tillinghast (Cathie Merchant), welcome her in, and then proceed to take her to the bowels of the old palace. Once there, they chain her up over a pit, and after reciting some kind of incantation, a hellish creature begins to rise from the fiery pit.

 

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Meanwhile, the villagers have grabbed their pitchforks and torches, and are heading to the house. They hear her scream and begin to pound on the door. Curwen answers, and tells them to get lost. They question the girl, and she seems to be in a trance, so they agree that he’s a warlock, and drag him off to be burned at the stake. They initially grab the woman as well, but Curwen tells them to leave her alone because she’s been “hexed.” After they drag Curwen away, he tells Hester that once he’s dead, they’ll be able to be together again. They all march towards town, and then condemn him, and he warns them that he’ll return to seek revenge against the town leaders. They light the straw, and burn him anyway.

 

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Sherman set the WABAC machine 110 years into the future in New England. We see a man, Charles Dexter Ward (Vincent Price), and his wife, Anne (Debra Paget), arrive at the docks, and head into the town of Arkham. They are very excited to see a house that Charles has inherited, but cannot find it initially. They stop at a local pub, and ask the inhabitants of the home’s whereabouts. The townspeople are very frigid toward them, and even refuse to tell the location of the house. Ward and his wife are about to give up, when one of the men, Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell), tells them how to get to the house. As they leave the pub, they run into some people with terrible deformities, and they wonder why so many in the town have this affliction. Back at the pub, the descendants of the original townspeople argue over the curse that Curwen laid on them, and the fact that Ward is a dead-ringer for him.

 

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As Charles and Anne near the home, they get an uneasy feeling, but enter once they arrive.  Ward then sees a painting of the previous owner, his great-grandfather, Curwen, and is struck into a momentary trance. Anne asks what’s wrong, and he tells her nothing. Anne attempts to open a cabinet, but then a poisonous snake pops out. Ward grabs a hatchet and chops its head off. Anne then moves towards another room, but Charles tells her that it doesn’t lead anywhere. She asks how he knows this, and he replies that “it’s just a guess.” As they search through the dark house, they’re surprised by a man, Simon Orne (Lon Chaney Jr.). He tells them that he’s the caretaker of the old palace, and that he has been so for a long time. Anne is frightened out her skin, but Charles seems to be OK with the creepy old guy. She wants to leave, but Charles insists that they stay the night.

 

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Over on the other side of town, we see one of the villagers, Edgar Weeden, and his wife. Edgar feeds a beast/person, that’s locked up behind a huge door. The thing grabs Weeden, and almost tears his arm off, but he uses the flame of the candle he’s carrying to burn it. Weeden then tells his wife that the beast knows who’s come back to Arkham, and that is why the beast is upset. Back at the palace, Charles has a cigar, and stares at the painting of Curwen. It seems to be driving him mad, but then he suddenly turns around, and has a sinister look on his face. The next day, Anne is ready to leave and asks Charles if he’s ready to leave. He tells her he’s decided to stay, so he can fix up the place and sell it. His demeanor is completely different, and he suggests that if she doesn’t want to stay, she can go home without him. She’s shocked by his abrupt attitude, but he then apologizes.

 

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That night, they head into town, but everyone seems to be gone, and the pub is closed. As they turn around, they’re surrounded by the deformed people in the town. As the church bells ring, they walk simply away. The two have Dr. Willet over, and have dinner with him. He explains to them why the other townspeople don’t like them, and all about the warlock, Joseph Curwen. He tells them that Curwen’s wife, died in labor, so Curwen selected Weeden’s betrothed for his new “woman.” He tells them that young woman began to disappear and Curwen was suspected. They then learned the rest of the gory details, including the curse. He also mentions that Curwen was rumored to have gained possession of a book called the Necronomicon (there’s your Lovecraft reference), and that it supposedly could give a man ultimate power, by being able to summon the Old Ones (Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, etc.).

 

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Later that night, Anne wakes up, and finds Charles out on the balcony, in the middle of a storm. He hears wailing from the town below, and it seems to intrigue him. As he walks downstairs, some unseen force leads him outside, and he begins to hear the events of the night his ancestor was burned. He’s surprised by Simon, and he tells Charles to ask Curwen about the voices he heard. Simon then  follows him inside the house, and Curwen then possess the body of Charles Dexter Ward. Simon then brings him the Necronomicon, and another servant pops up as well. Curwen then tells them that Ward is fighting him, and that he wont be able to gain full control for a while yet. Anne finds him downstairs but he cannot explain how he got there or why he cannot leave.

 

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The next evening, the villagers are discussing what they might have to do, but Dr. Willet tells them to stop being foolish. Ward/Curwen then has his two henchmen dig up a corpse, and bring it back to the palace. Anne asks what’s going on, and he tells her to mind her own business. Ward then tries to fight Curwen’s influence, and he catches Anne spying on him. He shouts at her and tells her that tomorrow she must leave for Boston. Upstairs in the bedroom, Anne hears some wailing, so she gets up to investigate the noise. A door creaks open, and she heads inside. Down to the lower depths of the old palace she descends, rats pop up, and then she finds an old wooden door, and opens it. As she’s creeping around, she’s surprised by Simon, and faints. We then see that Curwen exhumed his dead wife, and uses a spell to resurrect her, but it seems that she might be dead for too long and the spell wont work. Simon rushes him upstairs, as Charles is trying to take control. Anne explains to a bewildered Charles that he hasn’t been himself, and he agrees to leave the next day.

The next day arrives, and they attempt to leave, but Simon holds them for a moment, and Curwen takes control. As Anne is waiting with the coach, Dr. Willet arrives and tells Anne about the grave robbing incident, and that the villagers blame her husband. Ward/Curwen appears and tells Willet and his wife that he wont be leaving, and that the villagers might as well give up, because he’ll never leave…

 

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Will Charles Dexter Ward be able to re-assume control of his body, or will the soul of his evil relative keep control and get his revenge against the villagers?!? Watch this one to find the answers!

OK, here are my thoughts:

As a mild fan of the Lovecraft mythos, I can’t claim to know much about the film’s influence from the story (I’ve never read it). I will say this though, that even if the influence isn’t exceptionally strong,it still will intrigue you (and it has me) to seek out Lovecraft’s work. Corman did his usual magic with virtually no money, and it’s his forte. He’s literally the only director I can think of that time and time again made solid films with very little money. Sure, some of them weren’t so great, but the majority of them have very solid scripts and/or acting.

Speaking of acting, Vincent Price delivers a performance for the ages in this one. I liken it to House of Wax or The Last Man on Earth. It’s that good. Debra Paget is great as the frightened wife, and really puts on a great performance. Her hatred for Curwen but love for Ward is incredible. Chaney isn’t in very many scenes, but adds his usual luster and presence to the film. The sets are small but effective, and of course, the budget had a lot to do with that. There wasn’t anything overly exceptional about the music score, but it was sufficient to get you riled up a time or two.

Solid acting, sets, and a story that is eerie, creepy, and all around evil! Get this one on the watch list sooner than later, because you’ll enjoy it if you’re a Price fan, Lovecraft fan, or just a classic horror fan in general!

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

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Title: The Town That Dreaded Sundown

Distributor: AIP

Writer: Earl E. Smith

Director: Charles B. Pierce

Producers: Charles B. Pierce and Samuel Z. Arkoff

Starring: Ben Johnson, Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells, Bud Davis

Released: December 24th, 1976

MPAA: R

 

By the time everyone reads this review, I’ll have been out in Pittsburgh, at my first ever Monsterbash! The Bash is a horror/sci-fi convention for nuts like me that grew up on old-school horror and sci-fi movies. You know, those flicks shown either late at night or on a Saturday after noon by some “horror host” such as Uncle Ted, the one I watched host a show called “Monstermania,” that showed everything from Godzilla movies to the classic Universal films from the 1930’s and 1940’s. I remember staying up late (past the time I was allowed – sorry, Mom!), on Friday night, or on Saturday afternoon, and watching these scary flicks.

OK, now let me just say that I’ve wanted to check out this movie for quite sometime, and thanks to Netflix, I can now say that I have. I won’t get into the specifics until after the review, but I will say that any film with Mary Ann from Gilligan’s Island, is OK by me. Alright, on to the movie…

 

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The film begins with some narrative by a voice (Vern Stierman), that informs us that the town of Texarkana is a quiet little town that has many men returning from WWII, and trying to live a normal life. We watch across town, as people live their lives, and in one case, we see a wedding ceremony ending. In this year, 1946, there is also something sinister walking the streets. We then see only the legs and feet of someone (presumably the killer), as he makes his way to a scene downtown, where some young people are congregating. As two of the young people (Linda Mae Jenkins, Sammy Fuller)  leave, they head to a remote area to go “parking.” As they arrive, the young lady is less than cooperative, but we soon see that someone is creeping around the car. Suddenly, a hooded figure appears, and pops the hood of the car, then rips out the distributor. The young man tries to start the car, but no go. The woman shrieks in fear, and the hooded man pulls the young man out of the car through the window (after smashing it with a crowbar). He beats the young man savagely, and then pulls the woman out of the car.

 

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The next morning, we see the young woman, bloody and beaten to a pulp, trying to get to the freeway. A car drives by and sees her, then the police arrive, along with te ambulance. We see Deputy Ramsey (Andrew Prine – image above), as he radios back to the station to give them some info about the incident. We then see the sheriff and Deputy Ramsey at the hospital, attempting to get some answers from the victims. The doctor tells them that it’s too early for that, because of sedation and trauma. The doctor does tell them that the victims were beaten badly, and that the woman was even bitten several times!

Later, the Captain asks the Deputy and the sheriff what they have, and they tell him they’ve got nothing. Another night falls, and our narrator explains the lives of two more young people. The two have an argument, but settle their differences quickly. The two then head to a spot to “get it on” and we see  Deputy Ramsey patrolling some of the local haunts. As he leaves the vehicle for a moment, he hears two gunshots nearby, and heads in that direction. He calls for backup, and parks near a car stopped on a gravel road. He approaches it with caution, but finds no one inside. Two more shots ring out close by, and he runs towards them (after calling for backup again). As he checks out the nearby brush, he finds the young man from the car, with a gunshot wound to the head. Close by, the young woman is tied to a tree, also shot dead. As Deputy Ramsey looks on in horror, he hears footsteps, and pursues the person. He only sees a dark figure, as it jumps into a car, and flees the scene.

 

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Within a few days, gun stores are sold out of weapons, and hardware stores cannot keep up with the sales of locks. Deputy Ramsey and the Sheriff call the capital for help, and they’re told that they’ll send the best investigator in the country. Captain J. D. Morales (Ben Johnson – image above), of the Texas rangers is on his way, and they head out to meet him. They meet him at the train station, and then head over to the station to discuss the operation. Ramsey teams up with Morales, and the two begin a whole new investigation into the murders.  Speaking of the murders, they seem to have taken place exactly 21 days apart, and Morales thinks this might be something the killer is doing intentionally. They head out to the crime scenes to check for anything they might have missed. They also set up curfews, warn citizens of the trouble. Of course, they get a bunch of nuts that confess to the killings, but Morales knows they’re full of it.

The cops get an idea to set up some decoys to try to catch the killer. They have male officers dress in drag (yes, really – image below), and sit in parked cars with other officers, trying to tempt the killer. Morales tells them to stay alert, and be ready for anything. Meanwhile, in town, the local students are having a dance, but the police don’t seem to be worried about them for some reason. The dance will go on until two or so, and they figure they can wait until then to make sure they get home OK. A couple leaves a bit later than the others, and this will of course be their undoing. They pack up the car, as the girl is in the band (a trombone player), and then head for a “make out” session before curfew. The two are interrupted by the “Phantom” as he brutally attacks them both. He beats the young man to a pulp, then chases the girl into the woods. He drags her back to the car (and her boyfriend), and ties her to a tree. He then fastens a knife to the end of her trombone, and belts out a “tune,” stabbing her countless times.

 

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The next day, Morales, Ramsey, and a few other policemen, along with some local government officials, are having dinner, and discussing the case. A psychiatrist tells them that they don’t have much of a chance to catch him, but Morales isn’t having any of that nonsense. As the men continue to discuss things, someone gets up from the table, and leaves. The others don’t even give the person a look, but we see the boots of the person, and they look like those of the killer. The following day, a man tells the police that a man jumped in his car, and threatened to kill him, just as he had the others in the area, if he didn’t give him a ride. The police then get a call from a store owner that it was robbed, and the perpetrator matches the description that the man gave earlier during his talk with the police. The police speed to the scene, and see the man leaving. A chase scene follows, and then they eventually catch him. The guy claims to be the “Phantom” but he’s obviously not (he seems like an imbecile).

 

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A few weeks later, and a woman, Helen Reed (Dawn Wells), is leaving the grocery store, and a man pulls up next to her car, and stares at her. She nods at the man, looking at him quizzically, then leaves. Later that day, she’s brushing her hair, while her husband is reading the paper by the window. In an instant, we see the hooded man by the window, aiming a pistol at his head. He pulls the trigger twice, shooting the man in the head. Helen screams, and then sees the hooded man by the back door of the house. He bursts through the screen door, and shoots her twice as well. She manages to survive though, and she crawls to the neighbor’s house for help. The hooded man follows, but by then, the neighbor has a shotgun, and tells his wife to call the police. The hooded man pursues, grabbing a pick axe on his way through the house. He gives up the chase as the dog, plus the neighbor with the shotgun are enough to deter him this night.

 

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The police then ramp up their patrols, but the next scheduled attack comes and goes without any disturbance. One day, Morales and Ramsey are driving around and get a call that a stolen car was found nearby, so they check it out. It’s the car that Deputy Ramsey saw the night of the second murders, and the two men grab shotguns and head out into the wooded area nearby. A nearby sandpit shows some tracks made from boots, and they get the feeling that they’re on to something. As they move around the pits, they see the hooded man atop a hill. Morales shoots at him, but misses. Ramsey and he then take off after the man, but he dives across some railroad tracks just as a train comes by. They shoot between and under the cars and manage to hit him in the leg, but by the time the train passes, he’s gone.

 

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There’s no need to go any further, because essentially, that’s the end of the movie.

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

Alright, this movie has its good points and bad points. First things first, is that they had some foolish comedic scenes in this movie that were just awful. This is part because it’s fact, and partly because I can’t personally stand when horror/suspense films attempt to shoe-horn in comedy. Secondly, the film basically has no ending, and it’s kind of understandable, because this film is loosely based on a true story, where the killer was never caught. Also, the director/producer, Pierce, was in the film as the “keystone cop” Sparkplug. This was a terrible idea, for more than one reason, and his acting was the biggest reason.

The good points were good enough to make the film enjoyable though, and those mostly revolved around the scenes with the killer doing his thing. The scenes were pretty creepy, and when you realize that these murders really happened, and the guy was never caught, it’s even more terrifying. I love when films don’t overdo costumes, like in this one. A simple shirt, pants, and hood, make this guy really menacing, and you won’t even want to imagine coming face to face with this guy. Think about it; most of the really scary horror villains don’t have an overload of make-up in these types of films, they just keep it simple and let the situations creep out the viewers. Speaking of types of films, I think this might be one of the first films you could classify as a “slasher” film. It has all the elements of the more modern films of that genre, for sure. Ben Johnson did a fine job and should be lauded for bringing this film to a higher place than it would have without him. Andrew Prine turned in a pretty good performance as well, so kudos to him.

 

Click here for the trailer!

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Last Man on Earth (1964)

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Title: The Last Man on Earth

Distributor: AIP (American International Pictures)/ MGM

Writers: Richard Matheson (book and assisted with the screenplay), William F. Leicester, Ubaldo Ragona, Furio M. Monetti

Directors: Ubaldo Ragona, Sidney Salkow

Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff, Robert L. Lippert, Harold E. Knox

Starring: Vincent Price, Franca Bettoia, Emma Danieli, Giacomo Rossi-Stuart

Released: March 8, 1964

MPAA: NR

 

As many people know, Vincent Price was an outstanding actor. Of course he’s most known for his horror roles, and that was his best genre, without a doubt. I’ve covered his perennial classic “House of Wax“, on my blog before, and that will always be my personal favorite, but this film, is a close second! Post-apocalyptic movies are always intriguing to me, some obviously fall very short of being good, let alone great, but this one does not. A strong nod to the work of Richard Matheson, as he wrote the book and assisted on the screenplay for this one. If you don’t know his work, get cracking, because he’s one of the good ones! Alright, let’s get down to the movie!

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As the movie begins, we see that a worldwide devastation has left the planet in a barely livable state. We see some corpses lying around, buildings smashed to bits, and absolutely nothing happening. That is until we see a house in the suburbs, and an alarm clock that awakens a man, Dr. Robert Morgan (Vincent Price). His internal monologue pretty much sums up what we’ve already seen with our own eyes. We see him go about a mostly routine, but then we see a wall in his kitchen, and he has used a pen to create a monthly calendar, and he remarks to himself that he “inherited the world” in 1965. According to his home-made calendar, it’s 1967.

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He enters the garage, and readies his car for a trip. Outside, there are two dead bodies, and he kicks one of them aside, as if he tires of this routine. On the front door to his house, we see a ring of garlic, and a cross, and you can begin to formulate what’s happening. He next attempts to use a short wave radio to contact someone, but he gets no answer. He checks his supply closet, and realizes he needs more garlic. He drinks a cup of tea, and checks out a map of the city that he’s been searching, block by block. He also is fashioning some wooden stakes, as well. He remarks (internally) that “they want my blood”, and “how many more will I have to kill.”

As he loads the two dead bodies into his car (from outside his home), he remarks that he needs to stop for gas for the car. He does that, and then we watch, as he drives to a ravine where a fire is burning. He tosses the two bodies into it (after putting on a gas mask), and then throws a torch into the pit, and an explosion follows. Next, he enters a grocery store, and grabs what he needs, including the garlic. He drives to another area, searching for life, and also, more supplies. We watch, as this routine of gathering supplies, killing these “infected” with a stake and hammer, dumping bodies in that pit, and so forth, continues for the rest of the day.

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As night comes, he attempts to get some sleep, but a few of the infected gather around his house, and begin to try to smash their way in. They’re unsuccessful though, because he’s fortified it very well. A scream awakens him, and he plays a few records to try to keep his mind from going off the deep end. The next day, Morgan heads off to the church, and loses himself in his thoughts. Before you know it, he realizes it dark outside, and runs out in a panic towards his car. Two of them attack him, but are tossed aside fairly easy. He reaches his car, fighting off a few more of them, but as he returns home, his house is surrounded. He uses his car to knock some of them over, and as he leaps out of the car, he brandishes a mirror, to keep them off long enough to get into the house.

Then, he watches some home movies, to try to relax. The infected ruin that quickly though, and push him over the edge, and he begins to weep. He flashes back to a time before the plague came upon the Earth. We see Dr. Morgan talking with a relative about a plague that’s sweeping through Europe. Dr. Morgan doesn’t believe its’ as bad as people are saying, but he soon finds out differently. His daughter is the first to get ill, but his wife soon follows. Morgan talks with his wife about the hope of a vaccine, and he believes everything will be fine. As he gets to the lab, he and the other doctors mention the word vampire, but Morgan wont have any of that talk.

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Morgan is still holding out hope for his daughter, but his wife thinks they need to send for a doctor. As Morgan leaves for the lab, a neighbor is screaming, because the military is taking her child (or husband) away to be burned in the before mentioned pit. Morgan drives to his co-workers home to pick him up for work, but he wont leave the house. Morgan shows up at the lab, but everyone is gone, save for one doctor. He returns home later that day (in the evening), and a truck has just pulled away. He sees that his daughter is gone, and his wife tells him that she called a doctor, and then the truck came to take her away. Morgan quickly jumps into his car, and tries to follow the truck to the burn pit. After he arrives, he asks the driver if that truck was just in his neighborhood, and the man doesn’t know. We assume she was in the truck and is now dead.

He returns home, and his wife cries out that she cannot see. He finds her, lying on the bed, unconscious. He keeps her under his constant supervision, but she dies rather quickly. He removes her from the house (wrapped in a sheet), then drives to a remote location, and buries her. He returns home, but soon hears a voice whispering. Someone is at the front door, attempting to get in. He opens the door, and it’s his wife, not looking so good.

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We now flashback into the present, and the infected are trashing his car and house. They call to him the entire time, but get careless, and stay out until sunrise. Morgan awakens the next morning and heads outside to assess the damage. Morgan does some car “shopping” , and picks up a new station wagon. He returns home, and locks it in his garage. Seemingly out of nowhere, a dog appears, and seems to be fine. He scares it though, and it runs off. He chases it, but can’t seem to find it. He does stumble upon some dead bodies that were taken out with metal spears. He now knows someone else must still be alive. He heads back home and once again uses his radio to try to make contact with someone.

As he does, he hears the dog whimpering outside the house. The dog is injured, but how, is unknown. The usual band of infected return and start beating on his house once again. Morgan sees the dog is frightened, and he assures it that things will be fine. It hits him just then, that maybe the dog was infected, so he checks out its blood under a microscope. It was indeed, so then he’s shown burying the dog (that has a stake through it). He looks up, and sees a woman walking through the field. He calls out to her, but she’s afraid. After running her down, he convinces her that she should come with him, and they can fight together.

I’m going to leave off  now, and let the rest to your imagination, but rest assured, this is one you must see!

OK, here are my thoughts:

You’d think that a movie dominated by one actor wouldn’t be something excellent, but Price delivers such a great performance, it’s proof that it can happen. His inner monologue is the driving force for this movie. He really has you convinced there is no hope and that the world is doomed. How then can he carry on everyday? That’s the question everyone would have to answer if they were in this situation. Most people would go insane, no doubt, but a select few would soldier on, no matter what the circumstances.

The ending is quite good, and holds some very dramatic scenes. This story has been remade a few other times- The Omega Man (Charlton Heston, 1971 and I Am Legend (Will Smith, 2007), but don’t hold the power that this film does. Let’s be honest, most remakes don’t touch the original material they’re based off of, and this one is no different. Definitely see this one in black and white, because even though it was redone in color, its way more creepy the way it was intended. Vincent Price isn’t known for being one of the greatest for no reason!

Click here for the trailer!

 

Cinema Sunday: Blacula (1972)

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Title: Blacula

Distributor: AIP/MGM

Writers: Raymond Koenig & Joan Torres

Director: William Crain

Producers: Samuel Z. Arkoff & Joseph T. Narr

Starring: William Marshall, Denise Nicholas, Vonetta McGee, Gordon Pinsent, Thalmus Rasulala

Released: August 25th, 1972

MPAA: PG

Greetings friends! This week is a special one indeed! I’ll be taking a look at the first blaxploitation film that ever piqued my interest, and has become a favorite of mine over the years. Listen, one Halloween, my family and I just stayed in rather than go out, we all sat on the couch together, and as I flipped through the channels, guess what was on? You bet, it was Blacula! Of course, no one else was as excited as I was, but hey, it was an experience! OK, enough reminiscing, let’s get to this awesome piece of 1970’s gold!

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Our story begins in 1780, as we see Castle Dracula in the mountains. Inside, Count Dracula is entertaining two guest that are seeking his help. Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), and his bride, Luva (Vonetta McGee), have come to the home of Count Dracula to meet with other dignitaries, and try to persuade them to help stop the slave trade. Dracula doesn’t seem to think that’s a good idea, so he and Mamuwalde are at odds. Dracula does tell the prince that he would pay a good chunk of change for his “delicious” wife. Mamuwalde takes offense to this, and the next thing you know, Dracula’s lackeys are fighting with Mamuwalde. They use superior numbers to knock him out, and then Dracula bites him, and curse him to become, Blacula! He also locks Luva in the crypt with the coffin that holds Mamuwalde, so she’s helpless to save him, and he’s also helpless to save her.

Fast forward to modern times (1972), and we see two interior decorators in Transylvania, bidding on the contents of Castle Dracula. They buy everything, including the coffin. They then have everything transported back to Los Angeles. As they rummage through their buys, suddenly, the coffin opens, and out pops Blacula! He bites those two guys, and then heads back into the coffin. As the funeral for the two dead guys is taking place, Dr. Gordon Thomas (Thalmus Rasulala), Tina Williams (Vonetta McGee), and her sister, Michelle (Denise Nicholas), enter to pay their last respects to their friends. Lurking in the next room, is Blacula, and he sees Tina, and she’s an exact mirror image of his dead wife, Luva. He decides she must be his dead wife reincarnated, so he then sets out to win her over. They leave the funeral home, and Tina heads home. On her way, she’s approached by Mamuwalde, but gets frightened, and runs away. She drops her purse, and then bolts for her apartment.

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The next scene shows up the local night club, and Tina, Michelle, and Gordon are having a good time. The next thing you know, Mamuwalde shows up, and brings Tina’s purse to her, and apologizes for startling her the prior day. He then joins their dinner party, but is quickly turned off by the flashes of a photographer, and one of the club’s regulars. The photographer tries to snap a pic of Blacula, but when she heads to her house to develop it, she sees Blacula is missing. Before she can even blink, she’s accosted by him, and left for dead.

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As the body count rises, Tina falls in love with Mamuwalde. She even wont give him up after he kills a cop! As you can imagine, things escalate, and a crazy battle at a warehouse breaks out, followed by the final war between Blacula and the cops at a chemical plant! Death, destruction, and the greatest vampire to ever appear in a blaxploitation movie!

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Alright here are my thoughts:

Listen, I know its sounds silly, but this movie really does have a decent story! Not only that, but the scenery, clothing, lingo, and all around atmosphere are groovy! William Marshall does a great job at playing a vampire. His incredible voice commands the set every time he speaks! And of course, Vonetta McGee (below) and Denise Nicholas are very easy on the eyes! The music score is good too, and definitely reflects the times. The title sequence has the best music for sure! The sequel, Scream, Blacula Scream, is a decent flick, but not quite as good as the original. We do get to see 70’s icon Pam Grier in that one, so it’s worth a look! Overall, if you’re a fan of anything 70’s, you need to see this one, and you can grab the double pack for around $5, so there’s no excuse! And remember, “His bite was outta sight”!

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