Cinema Sunday: Devil Doll (1964)

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Title: Devil Doll

Distributor: Associated Film Distribution Corp.

Writer: Ronald Kinnoch (screenplay)

Director: Lindsay Shonteff

Producer:  Richard Gordon, Kenneth Rive

Starring: Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain

Released: September 1964

MPAA:  Approved

With Christmas in the rear-view mirror, I thought I’d take a look at something a bit more odd than I usually review. This little-known film has one of the creepiest things in it that can make a lot of people freak out. A ventriloquist dummy is one of those things that looks harmless enough, but just the mere thought of it acting independently, gives most the creeps (me included)!  Throw in a little mystery and  murder, and voila, you have an eccentric film with more than most big budget films can offer.

Admittedly, Yvonne Romain was the only face I recognized right away. Bryant Haliday did look a bit familiar, but looking at his list of credits, I’m not quite sure where I may have seen him pop up in the past. Well, let us not delay any further. I now present to you, the doll that would make Chucky shake in his boots, Devil Doll!

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The film begins with the Great Vorelli (Bryant Haliday – image below), in a cab, heading to the theater for a performance. We see that the main attraction of his show is a ventriloquist dummy, that he uses with astonishing results. He somehow drinks a glass of wine, while the dummy still speaks! The crowd is in awe, and the performance ends with that feat. Vorelli then retreats to his dressing room, and we see something that seems a bit off. Vorelli locks “Hugo” in a cage, and not just putting him a case or on a table. His assistant, Magda (Sandra Dorne), seems unsettled, but also as if she knows something about this strange ritual.

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The next day, a newspaper reporter, Mark English (William Sylvester), is discussing the buzz around London about the great Vorelli. He and a coworker have a young woman lined up to go on stage as a volunteer, to try to figure out his secrets, but the girl backs out. In a pinch for a good-looking young lady, Mark calls one of his flames, Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain), and she accepts. The two then go to the next performance, and Marianne volunteers, just as planned. Vorelli hypnotizes her, and makes her dance with a man. He also seems to be aroused by her as well, and you get the impression that he wants to do more than just make her dance. And once again for the finale, he brings out Hugo, and the two talk. Vorelli then pours some wine, and Hugo asks for some, but Vorelli tells him that he cannot have any. He then orders Hugo to go to the edge of the stage, and take a bow. After some prodding, he does just that, and the audience is amazed. Vorelli then commands him to return to his “master,” and he does.

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Back stage, Vorelli locks up Hugo once again, and Vorelli tells Magda that he’s going to get Marianne in his thrall. She seems less than excited. On the drive home, Mark puts the moves on Marianne, and the two get jiggy in the car. Marianne agrees to help him prove that Vorelli is a phony. They make a plan to invite him to Marianne’s aunts party, and then Mark will sneak into Vorelli’s room and examine the dummy. Marianne then goes to Vorelli’s room to invite him to the party. He then hypnotizes her, and tells her that she’ll obey his commands, and when he calls, she must come to him. He recognizes her family connection, and knows she’s rich, so he not only wants her because she’s beautiful, but because she’s loaded as well.

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Vorelli puts on his show at the party, and Hugo is even more disobedient than normal. At one point, Hugo picks up a knife and almost stabs Vorelli! The crowd is shocked, and gasps with fear, but Vorelli commands him to put down the knife and apologize to the crowd. He then puts Hugo away, and then starts to seduce Marianne. In the meantime, Mark heads upstairs to check out Hugo. Vorelli takes this opportunity to entrance Marianne even more, and now she’s completely under his control. Mark inspects the dummy, but can’t find anything unusual with it, so he leaves.

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Later that evening, Vorelli mentally calls out to Marianne, and she comes to his room. he then seduces her. As mark is sleeping, Hugo comes to his room, and tells him a secret. He tells him about Berlin, in 1948. The next morning, Mark is telling a coworker about this, and the girl thinks it was a dream. Mark tells her it wasn’t but the girl won’t listen to him. Mark gets a call that Marianne isn’t well, so he heads over to her place immediately. When Mark arrives, she’s in some sort of coma, but wakes up momentarily, and tells Mark that “he keeps calling me” and she wants “him” to stop.

The next day, Vorelli scolds Magda for not getting the job done. She then threatens him with the police, but he puts on the charm, and then they make whoopee. The next morning, a friend of Mark’s, Dr. Heller (Karel Stepanek), shows up, and mark tries to convince him of Vorelli’s madness. He tells him about the encounter with Hugo, and the talk of Berlin. Back at Vorelli’s place, he tells Hugo that Magda said he was ugly, and apparently this is enough for Hugo to become enraged and murder her. Vorelli has an airtight alibi, we assume from hypnotizing others. Mark theorizes that Vorelli killed her, and won’t rest until he exposes Vorelli!

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I’ll stop here, but rest assured that there’s more to the dummy than meets the eye, and in the end, Vorelli gets what is coming to him!

OK, here are my thoughts:

This little film is a good creepy watch on a Saturday afternoon. There isn’t a ton of intrigue, and you can kind of figure out what’s going on before the big reveal. This doesn’t take away much from the movie though, and it has a certain charm that movies from that era possess (for the most part). Towards the end of the film, two of the characters travel to Berlin, and do some investigating. That’s a really solid part of the movie, and gives it some credibility. There is some cheesy/creepy scenes that are overtly sexual (for the 1960’s), but they don’t override the rest of the flick.

As far as sets go, there wasn’t anything too exciting. The scenes of Vorelli during his performances were pretty good, and the theater looked authentic enough. The music score was below average, but you really didn’t need anything over-the-top to enhance the film. The last scene was pretty cool, even though the “fight” was kind of silly. Any way you slice it, the movie is worth checking out, so do it!

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

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Title: The Curse of the Werewolf

Distributor: Hammer/ Universal

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Terence Fisher

Producers: Michael Carreras, Anthony Hinds

Starring: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Michael Ripper

Release: June 7th, 1961

MPAA: UR

 

As I continue to cut a path of movie madness through the Hammer Studios catalog, there are still a few that stand out to me. One of them is definitely The Curse of the Werewolf. It’s the only Hammer werewolf movie to my knowledge, and why that is can’t be explained rationally to me considering how good this film portrays the monster. He’s a tortured soul (maybe even more so than Chaney), and really gets you to feel sorry for him by the end of the flick. So, without anymore interruptions, let us forge ahead with this classic!

The movie begins with a beggar (Richard Wordsworth- image below) making his way through a village. He notices that there is no one in the streets, and that the church bells are ringing. He knows that it’s not Sunday, so this is very puzzling to him. He asks the one passerby that he sees about this situation, and the man directs him to a poster hanging on the side of a building. Since the beggar cannot read, he keeps moving until he finds a pub. Once inside, the “gentlemen” that are drinking tell him that the local marques (nobleman) is getting married, and the reception is taking place at his castle. They instruct him to go there in search of food and money.

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The beggar makes his way to the castle, and inside we see the marques and his new bride. The marques (Anthony Dawson) is an evil and vicious man, and treats his servants like dirt. As the beggar knocks, a servant answers, and tells him to go away, but before he can leave, the marques tells him to come inside. He tells the beggar that he’ll give him food and wine if he’ll sing and dance for it. The beggar complies, and then after more of the shameless behavior from the marques, he intends to “retire” for the evening with his new bride (who appears to be half his age). On their way out, the beggar makes a snide remark, and the marques has him thrown into the dungeon. The only people he ever sees, are the jailer, and his mute daughter. Years pass, and the jailer dies off, but his daughter (Yvonne Romain), continues with the work load. One day, the girl is serving some food to the marques, and he attempts to assault her in his chambers. She bites his hand, and she is then thrown into the dungeon for her acts, with the beggar. The beggar then rapes her, but later, when she makes some commotion, and the guards take her back to the marques for a lesson. As he turns his back on her, she stabs him, and runs away.

Months later, after living in the forest, a man, Don Alfredo Corledo (Clifford Evans), sees the girl, and she’s on death’s door. He brings her back to his home, and his wife takes care of her, but they also find out that she’s a few months pregnant (from the rape). She eventually gives birth to a son, but dies shortly after delivery. Corledo and his wife then take the child as their own. As the baby is being baptized, the church rattles from a thunderstorm that’s raging outside. Corledo’s wife is very upset, and thinks this is a bad omen. Time passes, and in a nearby village, dead animals are being found with their throats torn out, and a wolf is blamed. The farmers have a hunter in their employ though, and he vows to kill the predator. He waits up one night, and hears a wolf howl. He sees something in the brush close by, and shoots.

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The next morning, Corledo and his wife are stunned to see that their little boy has been shot. The two of them are at a loss on how the boy got out of the house without them knowing about it, and, why he was shot. Corledo questions his son, and he learns that his son has had bad dreams lately. He notices that his arms and hands are hairy, and he gets a worried look on his face. Corledo talks to his local priest about his son’s issues, but gets little help. The priest does explain however that sometimes demons can gain entrance to a soul, if the person is weak (or young).

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At the local pub, a man (Michael Ripper), is going off about the full moon, and evil things being abroad during the night of a full moon. Corledo is next seen putting bars on the windows of his son’s room. The hunter is trying to figure out what to do, and then sees his wife’s crucifix on the wall. He then melts it down, and makes a bullet out of the slag. He now believes that it’s a werewolf doing these killings and that there is only one way to stop it from continuing. Again, he waits up for the beast, and is ready to shoot. He hears something close, and fires. As the gun goes off, we switch scenes to the Corledo home, and young Leon is struggling to pry open the bars and get out into the night (image below). Back outside, the hunter sees that he shot a dog, and believes it was responsible for the killings.

More years pass, and Leon (Oliver Reed) is now an adult, and leaving home for some work in another village. He seems to be cured, but there is an uneasy feeling from his surrogate parents. As he enters the town, a carriage splashes mud on him, but he seems to get over it quickly. A man then approaches him about work, and he gladly accepts. He’s shown a wine cellar, and then meets his workmate, Jose. The two bond quickly, and then one day, they hear a carriage approaching. They see a beautiful young woman (Catherine Feller), who’s the daughter of their boss. Within days, Cristina is running to the arms of Leon (after her boyfriend drops her off from their date), and the two kiss passionately.

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After a long work week, both young men decide to go out to a seedy pub at the edge of town. A couple of prostitutes are showing them both a good time at the bar, and then Leon begins to feel queasy. One of the hookers takes him upstairs to “lie down”, and we now see that it is a full moon outside. As the young lady begins to do her tricks, she quickly finds out that Leon is more than meets the eye. In the next scene, the woman is lying on the floor, eviscerated. Jose comes to find his friend, and gets throttled for his trouble. Before the night is over, there is one more killing, as a drunk leaves the pub, and gets jumped by the werewolf.

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The next morning, Leon awakens in his bed back at home. He’s covered in sweat and there is blood on his hands. His father sees the bars on the window have been broken. His parents and a priest attempt to tell him about his affliction, but he’s in denial. He runs off, and when he reaches the village, the police are waiting there for him, to question him about the murder of his workmate. He doesn’t give them anything to work off of, and they let him go. Later, Cristina visits his room, but Leon shouts at her to get away. She stays with him, and for some reason, his change doesn’t occur. He realizes this, but then her father intervenes, and keeps her away from him just as they are about to run away together. Leon is then imprisoned and under suspicion of murder.

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As the moon rises, Leon gets that funky feeling, and transforms into the hairy beast once again. He kills the guard, and goes on a rampage throughout the village. Leon’s father feels as if it’s his responsibility to stop his son, so he grabs his rifle, and heads over to the village. The two then have a showdown in a bell-tower, Quasimodo style! Two enter, only one leaves!

 

OK, here are my thoughts:

This is one of the best werewolf movies of all time. It ranks right up there with the Wolfman (1941), no joke. Oliver Reed is a superstar in this film, and really steals the show. He’s strong as Leon, and even more dramatic when he’s the werewolf. The supporting cast really doesn’t add too much though, and other than Yvonne Romain (who dies 1/3 of the way through the film), most aren’t that memorable. A love story that has tragedy in it is very Shakespearean, and a lot like the 1941 Universal film, but this version was more vicious, and more exciting.

Of course, the sets were incredible too, and are a staple with Hammer films. The music score was quite good too, and lent some atmosphere to the film. The running time of the movie is standard for its time, but it just felt too short. More screen time for the monster, and more mystery about who the real monster was would have been better. Overall, those few things are more a nitpick than anything, and should never discourage anyone from seeing this Hammer classic! After viewing this film again, it seems to me that if the female lead roles would’ve been reversed (Yvonne is the love interest, and Feller the mother), things mat have been quite different. Not trying to downplay Feller’s contributions, but Yvonne Romain was definitely a better actress.

Get out there and look for this movie. I’m sure it’s available online or grab the Hammer Horror Series DVD set, and be ready for a Hammer marathon! See you next week!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: Night Creatures (A.K.A. Captain Clegg)

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Title: Night Creatures (Captain Clegg)

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Writer: Anthony Hinds

Director: Peter Graham Scott

Producer: John Temple-Smith

Starring: Peter Cushing, Patrick Allen, Yvonne Romain, Michael Ripper, Oliver Reed

Released: June, 1962

MPAA: Unrated

I was going to stray away from Hammer Studios for this week, but then I thought…why? Their library is so extensive, and so awesome, why not keep going with another one! This week brings us, Captain Clegg, or Night Creatures, as it was known in the U.S. when it was released in 1962. This film has really stood the test of time, and I can’t see why it won’t for a very long time. Some of the story is loosely based off of Doctor Syn and the Romney Marsh Phantoms, but that material was owned by Disney back then, so some of the material and names were changed to avoid a lawsuit. Let us now forage to the coastline of rural England, and the 18th Century!

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Our story begins on a ship at sea, with a man (pic below) being punished for assaulting the Captain’s wife. They slit his ears, and cut out his tongue, and tie him to a post on a deserted island for his crimes. We next see an old man, as he’s quickly trying to make his way through the marshes. Suddenly though, he’s accosted by several spectral beings riding horses that glow in the night. He’s so upset by these demons, that he throws a heart attack, and dies on the spot!

[ 1962 ] Captain Clegg.avi_snapshot_00.01.06_[2011.10.10_21.06.34]

The following day, Reverend Bliss (Peter Cushing) is holding a church service, but it’s soon interrupted by Captain Collier (Patrick Allen- pic below, far right), and the kings soldiers. They’re on the hunt for smugglers that have been reportedly been illegally transporting wine and other alcohol out of the country. Captain Collier waits outside for Reverend Bliss, and the Squire (Derek Francis), while his men search the ale house. Initially they find nothing, but then they bring in the man who was tied to the post back on that deserted island. He’s their snoop and can sniff out booze, but when they think they’ve found something, it turns out the casks are only full of white varnish. The Captain then demands to see Mr. Ketch (his informer), and Mr. Mipps (Michael Ripper-pic below, middle) takes him to his workshop. He shows him the dead body, and the Captain is furious. He’s told the man died of fright, but doesn’t believe in the marsh phantoms he’s told about by Mipps.

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Captain Collier looks for accommodations, but Bliss tells him there is nowhere for him and his men, but that doesn’t stop him from trying. We then see that Bliss, Mipps, and several others are in on a smuggling ring. The owner of the Inn, Mr. Rash, is the “guardian” of a waitress, Imogene (Yvonne Romain-pic below with Oliver Reed), and is also a part of the ring. He also often harasses Imogene as well. Captain Collier is then invited to dinner with Bliss, the Squire, and his son. As they are having their meal, the Squire tells Captain Collier that his men can stay in his barn, and Bliss gets annoyed and spills his drink. Bliss then goes out to the bar to get a towel, and the man whom he left for dead on the island sees him. Now, the man had his tongue cut out, so he cannot speak, but he does attack Bliss, and the Captain’s men pull him off before he strangles him.

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After dinner, a man runs into town screaming, absolutely raving about the marsh phantoms. Captain Collier then demands that the man show him where he saw them, and he gathers his troops and the head out into the marshes. After walking for miles, we see that it was all a distraction so the smugglers can get their “product” out of the town without the soldiers finding out about the operation. Eventually, Captain Collier realizes he’s been tricked, so he threatens the man and gets him to divulge where the smugglers are hiding. As they make their way to the secret hiding spot, a scarecrow appears in a nearby field, and one of the soldiers remarks that he saw it move. Collier then draws his pistol, and fires at the scarecrow, hitting it in the arm. Once they get to the spot though, only rags remain, but there is blood on the sleeve!

The secrets of the town and of the Romney Marsh Phantoms will be revealed in the exciting conclusion to this epic movie! Rest assured that you will be on the edge of you seat for this one! Will Imogene and Harry (Oliver Reed) get to be together or will they die at the hands of Captain Collier!

OK, here are my thoughts:

Alright, this is one fantastic movie! Peter Cushing as basically a swashbuckling pirate is nothing short of incredible. He delivers a great performance, and the rest of the crew does as well. Michael Ripper is rock solid as usual, and he gets a more active role than most of his other films, for sure. You really get the sense that he cares about Bliss like a brother. There is another secret that gets revealed about Imogene, and most wont see this one coming.

The musical score is quite good too. Thunderous when it needed to be, but also ominous at times of desperation. The sets are exactly what you come to expect from a Hammer film, which is to say they are superb. The locations they used for filming were very cool, and added a feeling of the times when the film was to have taken place. Kudos for that and Peter Cushing, as he delivers another genuine performance that lights up the screen!