Strange Tales 171, 1973 “March of the Dead!”

After recently acquiring a few of these issues, I felt compelled to write a blog post about them. Brother Voodoo, zombies, and my all time favorite artist isn’t a tough sell though. This is one of my favorite characters in the Marvel Universe, and I honestly can’t think of a bad story he was involved in. A voodoo based character is right up my alley, and his frequent guest appearances with the likes of Dr. Strange are cool as well.

This story picks right up with the action, as Brother Voodoo is creeping around a cemetery and gets attacked by a horde of zombies! He kicks the crap out of a few of them, but they’re too high in number to fight off. Jericho then summons the spirit of his dead brother, Daniel, to possess one of them to help. It doesn’t work, as he can’t possess the dead apparently. By the time he gets back to Jericho, they’re both too weak to stop the oncoming blitz. As the zombies are overwhelming him, he looks up to see Baron Samedi, Lord of the Dead! (a dead zombie guy). And if that wasn’t enough, we get guest stars in the form of A.I.M.!

This title is very much an unsung classic from the Bronze Age. The creators behind it are some of the best from this era, and should be lauded for their efforts. Writer Len Wein does a great job of telling this horror story. Everyone that knows his name can attest to the quality you get from him every time he put pen to paper. The art team is just as stellar, as Gene Colan (pencils) and Frank Giacoia (inks) really set the horror tone. Excellent colors by Glynis Wein and letters by Gaspar Saladino! Oh, and let us not forget the awesome cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cinema Sunday: The Frozen Dead (1966)

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Title: The Frozen Dead

Distributor: Warner/Seven Arts Pictures

Writer: Herbert Leder

Director: Herbert Leder

Producers: Robert Goldstein, Herbert Leder, Tom Sachs

Starring: Dana Andrews, Anna Palk, Philip Gilbert, Kathleen Breck, Karel Stepanek

Released: October 1966 (U.K.), November 15, 1967 (U.S.)

MPAA: UR

It’s been a while since I reviewed a Nazi zombie flick, so why not check out another one? Of course, that question is redundant, but let’s not lose sight of something more important. Why aren’t there more movies like this around? I actually like this movie more than the previous one I reviewed (Shockwaves), and it pains me to say that because Peter Cushing is in the other movie, but not this one. Alas, not every movie has Cushing in it, and most are poorer because of that simple fact.

Anyways, as we forage on to the meat and potatoes of this flick from 1966 (also the year that Hammer Studios released Plague of the Zombies, The Reptile, Rasputin the Mad Monk, Dracula Prince of Darkness, The Witches, and so on), that never seems to get any adulation. Be advised, this one is a bit convoluted, so it’s going to be  a long one. Alright, I now present to you  – The Frozen Dead!

The film begins in a wooded area outside a large mansion, and we hear an incredibly terrifying scream. From a window of the mansion, a creepy looking butler-type dude watches, as a man, Karl Essen (Alan Tilvern), is leading a chain gang towards the house. These men have a strange look about them, and suddenly one actually attacks Karl. He’s quickly shrugged off though, and then Karl uses his whip on him, beating him mercilessly.

Inside the mansion, Dr. Norburg (Dana Andrews) is working in his laboratory. Karl joins him after putting the men in a locked room, and the two begin to conduct an experiment. Dr. Norburg remarks that a General Lubeck (Karel Stepanek) is coming to check on his progress, and he can’t understand why Lubeck chose now to visit. Karel makes an odd facial expression, and Dr. Norburg then realizes that Karl is the one that reported to General Lubeck about their progress. Karl attempts to deny communicating behind Dr. Norburg’s back, but quickly realizes it’s useless. Dr. Norburg tells Karl that he’s been aware of these “secret” communications for sometime now. General Lubeck has also told Dr. Norburg to revive another one of his “soldiers” and have him ready for inspection upon his arrival.

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You see, it has been made clear, that Dr. Norburg is part of some secret scientific experiment, where he freezes, then later revives frozen Nazis for some unheard of purpose. Dr. Norburg then commands Karl to get the latest subject ready for unfreezing. Meanwhile, there’s a knock at the front door, and the creepy butler opens the door. General Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz have arrived, and immediately go to the laboratory to see Dr. Norburg’s progress. Dr. Norburg and Karl are excited to see them, and then the process is begun. As they begin to revive one of the subjects, another knock at the door occurs, and when Joseph (the butler) answers the door, we see Dr. Norburg’s niece, Jean (Anna Palk), has arrived home, a week or so early from school. She also brought a friend, Elsa Tenney (Kathleen Breck), who seems a bit leery of showing up unannounced. Jean assures her it will be OK with her uncle, and they head inside.

Dr. Norburg tries to explain to General Lubeck that he can easily revive a body, but it’s the brain that is posing the greatest difficulty. He exclaims that he needs a live brain to study, and learn how to revive it that way. He then shows them a room full of “zombies”, or the revived Nazis. Most of them are catatonic but have one memory that has been revived along with their body. Each Nazi keeps acting out one memory from their earlier lifetime, before they were frozen. One of them attacks General Lubeck, and we then find out that it is Dr. Norburg’s brother (Edward Fox). Back in the lab, Karl and Dr. Norburg attempt to revive the last Nazi, and poke him in the brain, giving him life. Just then, the door bursts open, and Karl surprises Dr. Norburg, and he pokes the brain a bit too hard, and the experiment is a failure.

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Dr. Norburg tells his “buddies” that he’s invited an American doctor to help him, and that this man has  great deal of experience in this area of expertise. Karl tells Dr. Norburg that he can get him a brain (from the morgue), but Dr. Norburg tells him that a dead brain is no good. later that night after everyone is in bed, Karl is creeping around, and peeks in on Jean. She hears the door squeak, and gets up to investigate. Karl hides, and then takes a trip to Elsa’s room. She starts to wake up, but Karl sticks a needle into her neck, and then carries her off. The next thing we see, Elsa is downstairs, with a pair of hands nearing her neck. Karl then wakes Dr. Norburg and tells him there’s been an accident. We see Dr. Norburg’s brother, leering over her dead body. Karl tells Dr. Norburg that they should use her brain for the experiment, but Dr. Norburg is hesitant. Eventually, Karl tells him that General Norburg wouldn’t be happy if he let this opportunity pass by unused.

The next day, we see Karl buying a train ticket for a woman. We don’t see her face, but we know it’s obviously not Elsa. Jean wakes up, and immediately goes to Elsa’s room, and finds her missing. She searches for her, but cannot find her anywhere. Back at the train station, we see Dr. Ted Roberts (Philip Gilbert), as he gets off of the train. He arrives at the house, and Karl invites him inside, he then is shown to his room (the last occupant was Elsa). Jean is then told that Elsa asked to be taken to the train station early in the morning, and that she would call when she gets to London.  Later,  Dr. Ted walks around the bed of his room, and he sees a pair of feet dangling out from under the bed. He asks the person if they need a hand, and Jean comes out from under the bed, and is annoyed. She’s looking for some evidence that there was foul play with her friend, Elsa. Jean then storms out of the room.

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Down in the lab, Dr. Norburg and Karl are marveling about the “head” that’s being kept alive. Dr. Norburg tells Karl to keep it locked up, and to tell no one. He then invites Dr. Ted to visit his lab, and the two discuss their love of science. Dr. Norburg then shows Dr. Ted a wall that has human arms hanging out of it, and the other side has electrical wires attached to them. With a couple of buttons and switches, he activates the arms and makes them move as if alive. Dr. Norburg and Dr. Ted head upstairs, and run into Jean. She’s all excited because she found a button from one of Elsa’s suits. Dr. Ted tells her that he saw a woman with similar buttons on a hat get on a train as he got off the day before. Jean is still unconvinced that Elsa left without telling her. Downstairs, Karl wants to peek at the “head”, so he unlocks the cabinet. We now see the hideous head of Elsa (blue for some reason), and it sneers at Karl with hate-filled eyes.

At night, Jean is having a nightmare about Elsa, but is it just a nightmare or Elsa calling out to her mentally? She screams out loud, and Dr. Ted comes in to see if she’s OK. She tells him that it was a nightmare, and he comforts her. She tells Dr. Ted that she had a dream that Elsa was dead, and decapitated, and that her body was buried nearby. Dr. Ted then tries to put the moves on Jean, but she’s not having it, and takes a sedative. He asks her to show him around tomorrow, and she’s hesitant. She agrees to show him around, but also to visit the train station and ask about her friend boarding the train.

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The next day they go to the train station, but the man at the gate said that he didn’t see the woman’s face. Just as they are about to give up, Jean sees a man boarding the train with Elsa’s baggage. They try to stop him, but the train takes off too quickly. Jean then snaps at Dr. Ted, and they split up. She then visits a Mrs. Miller (a neighbor perhaps?), and asks if her husband just boarded the train with someone’s luggage. The woman gets furious, and tells her that her husband knows no other women. She leaves, and the scene switches back to the mansion, and Dr. Ted walking around the estate. He then hears one of the Nazis scream (like at the beginning of the flick), and investigates. Dr. Norburg sees that the Nazis aren’t doing well, and questions Karl about it. Karl snaps at him, and blames the “head” in the box.

As Dr. Ted is about to find the Nazis, Karl hits him over the head, knocking him unconscious. He wakes in the office of Dr. Norburg, who in-turn blames his brother. Dr. Norburg then tells Dr. Ted about the “accident” that killed Elsa, and that they lopped her head off and are keeping it for study. He then shows it to Dr. Ted, and the two of them are in full arousal about the achievement. Elsa looks at both of them with bad intentions, and then Dr. Ted agrees to help Dr. Norburg with his experiments. That night, Jean (and her plunging neckline nightie) is visited by Dr. Ted, and makes another attempt to seduce Jean. Down in the basement, Karl sees that the Nazis are scared of something, and we see Elsa trying to communicate with Jean telepathically. She wakes up in the night, and realizes that something is incredibly wrong.

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The next morning, Jean is having breakfast with her uncle and Dr. Ted, and she asks to see his laboratory. He’s caught off-guard, but relents to her request, and tells her that she can visit as soon as he and Dr. Ted are done with an experiment. He gives Karl a look, and then we see him down in the lab, inspecting the head. Dr. Norburg sees that Karl is getting agitated. but he tells him to calm down. Dr. Ted is creeped out by the head, so they agree to put off the experiment for another day. General Lubeck thinks that Karl may have given out information about the experiment, so he tortures  him until he gives up that he knows the “Smith’s” from in town. They are the ones that aided him in the ruse at the train station. They are also former Nazis that would be in trouble and get deported and charged with war crimes if the police found out. Speaking of the police, Jean has told them that there are some shenanigans going on, and pointed them in the direction of the Smith family.

Karl begins to crack up, and General Lubeck has had enough of his timidity. Lubeck decides to deep freeze Karl to shut him up, and Dr. Norburg realizes this is getting out of hand. Lubeck orders him to continue with the experiment, so he gets the head out of the box, and tells Dr. Ted it is time to continue. Dr. Norburg has the head wired to the arms in the wall, and he commands the head to move the arms. The arms never move, and Dr. Ted seems to be losing his interest in the project, and also that he suspects something has happened to Karl. Dr. Norburg gets furious when Dr. Ted contradicts his theories on why the experiment failed, and now General Lubeck and Dr. Tirpitz are also wondering if things can go ahead as planned. Will the experiment be completed or will the head survive!

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OK, here are my thoughts:

I don’t care what anyone says, this film rocks! Where else can you see Nazis Popsicle guys, a severed head, a wall of arms, and oh yeah, two beautiful women!?! This film was brilliant because of how quirky it is from start to finish. The very small cast is quite good, and everyone is professional and spot on with their characters. Anna Palk initially started out a bit like the dopey girl in distress, but she quickly became more than that when she began to investigate further into the disappearance of her friend. Dana Andrews (Night of the Demon, Battle of the Bulge), gives a great performance, and makes you believe in Dr. Norburg, who’s a tortured soul, to say the least. Alan Tilvern also gives us a great “Igor” for lack of a better description. You do feel terrible for him at the end, but then you remember what he did earlier, and you for get that notion.

The sets were pretty good, nothing crazy awesome, but definitely sufficient for the film. The music score (Don Banks) was as to be expected when you see the name attached.  Banks has always done a good job in my opinion, and deserves a pat on the back. You can definitely poke holes in this film, no doubt about it, but you should also give it its due and sit down to watch it sometime. It really does leave you feeling creeped out but also like you just saw a solid film. Maybe you can argue that there’s too much going on at certain points, or maybe that the Nazis, Lubeck and Tirpitz, are kind of unnecessary, and nothing more than a device to move the plot along  but really, they aren’t that much out-of-place. Either way, the film deserve some attention from horror/sci-fi fans out there in the world!

 

Click here for the trailer!

Cinema Sunday: The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

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Title: The Plague of the Zombies

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Writer: Peter Bryan

Director: John Gilling

Producer: Anthony Nelson Keys

Starring: Andre Morell, Diane Clare, John Carson, Jacqueline Pearce, Brook Williams, Michael Ripper

Released: January 12th, 1966

MPAA: PG

 

After last week’s review of a zombie flick, I thought I’d go to that well once again, with one of my favorite Hammer films, The Plague of the Zombies! This little gem predates George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, but features Haitian zombies, rather than flesh eaters. Either way, both films are great, but this one doesn’t get a fraction of the attention that NOTLD does, so I’m going to cast some light upon this one for all to see how truly awesome it is! The film was shot back to back with ‘The Reptile“, and you can tell for sure, but it didn’t take away from the movie in the least. So, now let’s get own with the show!

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As the film opens, we see some creepy dude dressed in a robe and mask. There’s also some crazy looking voodoo type guys pounding on drums, adding to the wild scene. The robed man begins to chant something in another language, and then the scene switches to a woman, Alice Tompson (Jacqueline Pearce), as she’s in bed with her husband, Peter (Brook Williams). She’s getting restless and the more the guy in the robe chants, the more unsettled she seems to get. Eventually, she bursts out with a blood-curling scream, and the credits then roll.

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The next scene shows a man, Sir James Forbes (Andre Morell), and he’s checking out his fishing equipment, while on holiday. His daughter, Sylvia (Diane Clare), comes into the room, and brings her father a letter from a friend in Cornwall. A former pupil of his (Sir James teaches medicine, and Peter was his brightest student), Peter Tompson, is having some trouble with the villagers getting ill, and a few deaths were involved. They decide to travel to Cornwall to help him out. On the trip to Cornwall, Sir James and Sylvia see five men hunting a fox. Sylvia tells them that she’s seen the fox, but points them in the opposite direction. Once they reach town, a funeral is taking place. Before they can even have a thought, the five hunters ride through town, and knock the coffin over an embankment. Sir James gets out of the coach, and yells at them, but they just holler back at Sylvia for her trick.

Once they arrive at Peter and Alice’s home, they’re greeted by Alice, and she looks terrible. She doesn’t even recognize her old school mate, Sylvia, at first. She begins to act slightly irrational, but makes them welcome. Sir James asks about a wound on her arm, but she’s very apprehensive about it, and gets a bit angry when he asks to look at the wound. Sylvia and Alice go to the kitchen to make tea, and Sir James sneaks off into town to have a look. At that time, Peter is at the pub, and getting harassed by the brother of the dead man who was knocked out of the coffin. Sir James tells everyone in the pub how lucky they are to have Peter as their physician, and then the two men leave. Peter then tells Sir James about the twelve deaths in the last year that are unexplainable. They all sit down and have dinner, then go their separate ways.

Later, at the house, Sylvia sees Alice leave after dark, and calls out to her, but Alice doesn’t hear her. Sylvia follows her, but gets lost along the way. Suddenly, out of the forest rides the hunters from the earlier scene, and they surround her. After she realizes there’s no escape, they grab her and take her to a large home at the edge of town. They play a card game to decide her fate, but the cards tell them to let her go. As they taunt her more, a voice rings out to let her go. Squire Hamilton (John Carson) appears, and pimp slaps one of the men. He tells them to get out, and apologizes to Sylvia. Her friend, Alice, told her about the Squire, so she gives him some slack, and doesn’t report the incident to the police. While this is going on, Peter and Sir James have taken it upon themselves to exhume one of the victims, and do an autopsy. As the two men are digging up a body, they are surprised by the police (Michael Ripper – image below), but rip open a coffin anyway. They’re all surprised when they see that the body is missing, and Sir James asks the police to help him to figure out this mystery.

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As Sir James is walking home, while Peter covers the grave back over, he sees Sylvia stumbling down the street. He runs to her as she collapses, and then he takes her to the house. The next morning, Sir James gives Peter the bad news, (as Sylvia has told her father that she found Alice dead out on the moors the previous night), and Peter goes off the deep end. They go to the police and then make the trip out to the moors. They find Alice, and also find the drunken man from the pub that was berating Peter (who’s also the brother of the most recent victim). They awaken him and he tries to run off, but the police catch him. Peter and Sir James take Alice’s body back to the house to do an autopsy, and find that the blood around her face is not hers, and not even human. The police question the drunken man, and find out that something else was afoot, something more sinister than just murder.

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Sylvia then explains to her father that the body of her friend wasn’t in the same spot where she’d seen it the previous night. As Peter and Sir James go out to do some detective work, Sylvia gets a visit, from Squire Hamilton. He “accidentally” cuts her finger on a broken piece of glass, and when she leaves the room to attend to it, he gets out a vial to put her blood in, and then excuses himself from the home. He races back to his mansion, and pulls out a small coffin from a drawer, and we see that it contains a voodoo doll of sorts. He then reveals that he has the vial of blood, and also that he’s gathered his cronies again, and the drums begin to beat!

Alice is now being buried, and Sylvia is overcome by the voodoo that’s now being used on her. She leaves the funeral with Peter, and Sir James asks the vicar if he can use his library to research witchcraft. He does, and finds out that someone in the village is practicing witchcraft, and using it to raise the dead. The clues are adding up, but can Sir James and Peter save Sylvia and the rest of the town before everyone is turned into a zombie?!?

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OK, here are my thoughts:

Anyone that doesn’t know of Andre Morell, is in for a big surprise, because he proves without a shadow of a doubt, that he can be the lead in a movie! He did do a great job as Watson, in Hammer’s “Hound of the Baskervilles”, but that was a very strong performance by Peter Cushing, that kind of overshadowed Morell. The supporting cast is also pretty good, especially Jacqueline Pearce (Alice), and John Carson (Squire Hamilton). Both were very convincing, and Carson was an excellent devilish fiend!

The “zombies” didn’t have a ton of screen time, and that is a bit of a downer, but when they were on-screen, they were pretty creepy. Not a lot of makeup on them, but just the way that they were portrayed and used in those scenes, made them rise above mediocrity. The graveyard scene was especially good, as was the last act in the bowels of the tin mine. Michael Ripper added his usual flavor to the film as the constable. He always finds a way to steal the scenes he’s in, and he certainly was a welcomed addition to this cast.

Grab this flick if you can, because any horror enthusiast would be happy to have this one. If it hasn’t been re-released lately, wait for that if you can’t find it at a decent price. Sometimes these online sites can really rip you off, but I know Hammer is putting out Blu-ray copies of films on a pretty consistent basis now and for the foreseeable future.

Watch the trailer here!