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Month: October 2015

Gorgon, The (1964)

Gorgon, The (1964)

“I believe in the existence of everything which the human brain is unable to disprove.”

Gorgon Poster

Synopsis:
When a professor (Michael Goodliffe) arrives in a village to investigate the death of his son (Redmond Phillips) and his son’s lover (Sascha Cass), he is turned to stone by a local gorgon, prompting his second son (Richard Pasco) to arrive for further investigation. Pasco soon falls in love with the beautiful assistant (Barbara Shelley) of a doctor (Peter Cushing) concealing evidence of the stony corpses from both Pasco and Pasco’s professor (Christopher Lee), who is convinced the ancient gorgon is embodied in human form.

Genres:

Review:
This Terence Fisher-directed Hammer Studios film is based on an interesting mythological premise — a snake-haired female gorgon who kills people simply by staring at them, turning them to stone (a la Medusa) — but doesn’t quite capitalize on its potential. Lee looks uncomfortable rather than dapper in his tweedy professor gear (and his presence feels gratuitous as the third guest to arrive in town to investigate); meanwhile, Cushing’s motives remain unclear throughout, and the solution to the mystery of the gorgon is foreshadowed far too soon. Another problem is the ineffective make-up used for Megaera (the gorgon), which can’t hold a candle to the enjoyable special effects used for Medusa in the same year’s 7 Faces of Dr. Lao (1964).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some atmospheric cinematography
    Gorgon Atmosphere

Must See?
No; this one is only must-see for Hammer Studios fans.

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Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)

Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)

“As a trained espionage agent, I could tell that she was attracted to me.”

Creature From the Haunted Sea Poster

Synopsis:
An American spy (Robert Towne) poses as a gangster to accompany a mobman (Anthony Carbone), a moll (Betsy Jones-Moreland), and two ditzy but loyal assistants (Beech Dickerson and Robert Bean) on a trip smuggling gold out of Castro-led Cuba. Carbone plots to get rid of the Cuban sailors by killing them and pretending it was done by a nefarious sea monster — not realizing such a monster actually exists and is putting all their lives at peril.

Genres:

Review:
This quickie-curiosity by the infamously frugal and industrious producer/director Roger Corman exists solely because Corman wanted to make use of available actors and sets after finishing two other films (Last Woman on Earth and Battle of Blood Island) in Puerto Rico. With Charles B. Griffith on hand to write the script, something at least marginally creative was bound to result, and the storyline does cohere — however, it goes off in countless tangential directions, always aiming for easy laughs (Dickerson’s propensity to make various animal noises; Carbone’s likeness to Humphrey Bogart; Towne’s dense delusion that Jones-Moreland is desperately in love with him; Dickerson and Bean’s silly romances with local women) rather than genuine thrills. Jones-Moreland’s focused performance as the crew’s sociopathic beauty is the film’s highlight, while its lowlight is undoubtedly the “creature” itself: hard as this is to imagine, it really does seem to win a prize as one of the least convincing, most ridiculous Z-grade cinematic monsters ever created.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • The creative opening animation sequence (by Monte Hellman)
    Creature Haunted Sea Animation

Must See?
No, though Corman fans will be curious to check it out. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

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Salesman (1968)

Salesman (1968)

“If a guy’s not a success, he’s got nobody to blame but himself.”

Salesman Poster

Synopsis:
Four luxury-Bible salesmen in Florida experience varying degrees of success while going door to door in low-income neighborhoods.

Genres:

Review:
Self-funded by brothers Albert and David Maysles (former salesmen themselves), this “non-fiction feature” offers a pathos-filled glimpse at mid-century American men attempting to make a living by convincing customers they “need” something luxurious. This simple premise generates a surprising amount of tension, as we can’t help wanting the salesmen — particularly sad-sack, overly honest Irishman Paul Brennan — to succeed in their careers, but we also hate seeing vulnerable customers succumb to a pressure-filled sales pitch. The Maysles apparently followed these four men along on their travels, then edited their footage into a compelling narrative — one that happened to document a unique slice of American life along the way. This would make an excellent double-bill, of course, with Death of a Salesman (1951).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • A moving if depressing look at the life of salesmen in America
    Salesman Still1
    Salesman Still2
  • Many memorable scenes
    Salesman Still3
    Salesman Still6
    Salesman Still5

Must See?
Yes, as a classic American documentary. Selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1992.

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Horror of Party Beach, The (1964)

Horror of Party Beach, The (1964)

“They are the living dead — they’re zombies!”

Horror of Party Beach Poster

Synopsis:
After his girlfriend (Marilyn Clarke) is killed by a radioactive sea creature, a scientist (John Scott) works with his mentor (Allan Laurel) and his mentor’s daughter (Alice Lyon) to help destroy the creatures.

Genres:

Review:
Del Tenney’s low-budget horror flick combines elements of just about every cinematic trope from the ’60s — biker gangs, beach parties, atomic mutations, slumber parties, folk music, and more — in one feature, complete with ludicrously silly rubber creatures from the deep, terrible acting, “teeny boppers” who appear to actually be in their 20s or 30s, laughably unrealistic sequences, a surf music soundtrack by the Del-Aires, and more. Add in the presence of a concerned, overly solicitous African-American maid (Eulabelle Moore) who’s convinced the creatures are the result of voodoo, and the recipe is set for a cliche-filled adventure only worth the time of true bad movie aficianados.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effective low-budget cinematography
    Horror Party Beach Cinematography2
  • Plenty of humorously bad dialogue, costumes, and special effects:

    “Hey, that reminds me — did I bring my hot dog buns?”
    “Then they CAN be killed — with sodium!”

    Horror Party Beach Monster

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look if you enjoy this kind of flick — especially so with MST3K’s commentary. Listed as a Camp Classic in the back of Peary’s book.

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Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960)

Horror Hotel / City of the Dead (1960)

“Burn the witch!”

Horror Hotel Poster

Synopsis:
Influenced by her professor (Christopher Lee), a college student (Venetia Stevenson) travels to the New England town of Whitehead to research its history of witchcraft, against the wishes of her boyfriend (Tom Naylor) and brother (Dennis Lotis). Once there, she stays at an inn run by a woman (Patricia Jessel) who looks suspiciously like a witch burned at the stake centuries earlier; meanwhile, she is warned by both a mute maid (Ann Beach) and a blind local preacher (Norman Macowan) to get away, but she ignores this advice at her own peril.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
In his short review of this British horror film — a distinct precursor to Mario Bava’s Black Sunday (1960), released in Italy later that year — Peary writes that while it’s “no classic”, the film possesses “creepy atmosphere plus a few good shocks”. He points out that the “early death of [the] lead actress in [an] inn makes one think quickly of [the] same year’s Psycho,” and that it “contains many plot elements — as well as symbols — that would be used in [the] 1973 British film The Wicker Man.” In sum, Horror Hotel seems to be primarily remembered in comparison with other similarly themed or plotted films of the era. As Richard Scheib writes in his review for Moria, it was:

… the first film to patent the theme of reincarnated witches, Satanic covens and sinister New England towns where the inhabitants mutter portents and run before nightfall … [and it] … sets up much of what would later become the cliches of the genre – the reincarnated witch, the Satanists hiding behind the guise of respectable townspeople, the occult tomes that provide information about the situation… [all] images [that] would become the staple of the Italian Gothic movement…

So, is Horror Hotel worth watching on its own merits? Scriptwise, no: as DVD Savant writes, “we know we’re in one of those horror movies where certain things have to be taken for granted”; indeed, you’ll roll your eyes at the characters’ denseness. But atmospherically speaking, it’s a winner, and a visual treat all the way. Fans of the genre probably won’t be too disappointed.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Patricia Jessel as Elizabeth Selwyn/Mrs. Newless
    Horror Hotel Direction
  • Highly effective sets and cinematography
    Horror Hotel Cinematography1
    Horror Hotel Cinematography2

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

Links:

Awful Dr. Orloff, The (1962)

Awful Dr. Orloff, The (1962)

“I’m fascinated by your skin.”

Awful Dr. Orloff Poster

Synopsis:
With the help of his blind assistant Morpho (Ricardo Valle), a doctor (Howard Vernon) kidnaps beautiful women and brings them back to his castle, where he kills them and removes their skin in an attempt to restore the face of his disfigured daughter (Diana Lorys). Meanwhile, an inspector (Conrado San Martin) receives help from his plucky fiancee (also Diana Lorys) in discovering the identity of the killer.

Genres:

Review:
“Eurotrash” director Jess Franco‘s direct rip-off of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without a Face (1960) — with elements of James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) thrown in — remains a surprisingly enjoyable (if inferior) thriller. With highly atmospheric cinematography and sets, eerie make-up, creative direction, and a feisty, sexy female protagonist — one who knowingly puts herself in harm’s way to help solve her fiance’s mystery — this mad-doctor/amateur sleuth tale delivers enough entertainment to make it worth a look. Given Stuart Galbraith IV’s statement that “Franco showed some promise in his earliest films but by the late 1960s his movies became worse than amateurish, marked by out-of-focus camerawork, incoherent editing, incessant yet pointless use of zoom lenses, and unseemly yet decidedly unarousing voyeurism and exhibitionism”, it seems to me film fanatics should probably consider this their once-and-done Franco viewing.

Note: As far as I can tell, the only other Franco title listed in Peary’s book is Barbed Wire Dolls (1976), one among many women-in-prison flicks he apparently made later in his career.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Wonderfully atmospheric b&w cinematography
    Awful Dr. Orloff Cinematography
  • Effective sets
    Awful Dr. Orloff Sets2
  • Creative direction
    Awful Dr. Orloff Direction2
  • Morpho’s creepy make-up
    Awful Dr. Orloff Morpho2
  • An innovative score

Must See?
Yes, as a cult film by a cult director.

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Night Train to Munich (1940)

Night Train to Munich (1940)

Hello, CMBA members! I’m excited to be participating in the fall Trains, Planes, and Automobiles blogathon. This is my third blogathon entry for CMBA: others were reviews of Intermezzo (both versions — 1936 and 1939) for Fabulous Films of the 30s and The Fabulous World of Jules Verne (1958) for Fabulous Films of the 50s.

Welcome! Please click here to read more about this site.

“In time you will see things the way I do — the way everyone in Germany does.”

Night Train Munich Poster

Synopsis:
An armor-plating inventor (Felix Aylmer) flees Prague in time to avoid Nazi occupation, but his daughter (Margaret Lockwood) is caught and sent to a concentration camp, where she meets a handsome prisoner (Paul Henreid) who helps her escape to England. When she and her father are kidnapped and taken back to Germany, they must rely on the help of a charismatic spy (Rex Harrison) to help them cross to Switzerland — but will their ruse be spoiled by a pair of nosy British passengers (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne)?

Genres:

Review:
Made just two years after Hitchcock’s classic pre-war thriller The Lady Vanishes (1938), this film — directed by Carol Reed — bears inevitable comparison in many respects, given that it was co-authored by the same screenwriting team (Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder), took place in part on a train, and featured both the same leading actress (Lockwood) and the same wisecracking comedic duo (Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne). By 1940, however, war had officially broken out, and the difference in narrative emphasis shows: Nazis are called out explicitly as heinous villains, concentration camps (albeit in a sanitized sound-set version) are shown, and the call to action on behalf of Brits was more profound than ever. This became an early entry in the lengthy array of wartime cinema produced by Britain, functioning both as escapist fare and patriotic stimulation.

The movie’s pace is fast-moving, and while we find out the true identity of one key character early on, this doesn’t lessen the tension. We are primarily focused on admiring the daring-do of Harrison, who is nicely cast here as a brave (if slightly rash) spy willing to risk his life to help Aylmer and Lockwood. As in The Lady Vanishes, I’m not a fan of Radford and Wayne’s presence, though they are at least tightly integrated into the plot and serve a critical function. While Lockwood’s character isn’t all that memorable, Henreid — perhaps best known for his work in Now, Voyager (1942) and Casablanca (1942) — does a fine job in an unenviable role, and Harrison is actually not annoying (plus, he SINGS — for real!).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rex Harrison as Gus Bennett
    Night Train Cinematography
  • A fast-paced, enjoyably light-hearted yarn for wartime British audiences

Must See?
No; this one is fun but optional viewing for film fanatics.

Links:

Horror Express / Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express (1972)

Horror Express / Panic on the Trans-Siberian Express (1972)

“It’s alive — it must be!”

Horror Express Poster

Synopsis:
In 1906 China, a British anthropologist (Christopher Lee) finds a frozen prehistoric body and arranges to ship it on the Transsiberian Express — but soon he and fellow passenger Dr. Wells (Peter Cushing) realize the ancient creature is a living alien, capable of destroying people’s brains and able to transfer itself into a human body. As they work with an inspector (Julio Pena) to determine where the alien is residing, more and more passengers are brutally murdered.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary refers to this low-budget, Spanish-made sci-fi flick as a “horror gem that devotees of late-night television have kept to themselves” (though its recent release on Blu-Ray and DVD makes this a somewhat dated point). He argues that the “picture is exciting and surprisingly provocative”, and praises the direction (by Eugenio Martin), the “interesting characters”, and the “solid acting”. He notes that “like 2001 and Five Million Years to Earth, it challenges both fundamentalist religion and theories on evolution” — a point I can’t quite agree with, given that it’s much stronger in thrills, chills, and occasional levity than meaty exploration of such topics. While I can understand this film’s cult appeal as a gruesome mash-up of numerous cinematic genres and tropes — a death-filled train ride a la Murder on the Orient Express (1974); a resuscitated frozen alien a la The Thing (1951); brain-dead victims-turned-perpetrators a la Night of the Living Dead (1968) — its true calling card is the fortunate pairing of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, who have great fun working together against dark forces. Watch for Telly Savalas in a cameo role as a Cossack commander who naively believes he and his men can tame the alien.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Effective use of a claustrophobic train setting
    Horror Express Trains
  • Lurid special effects
    Horror Express Special Effects
  • Atmospheric cinematography
    Horror Express Cinematography1
    Horror Express Cinematography2

Must See?
Yes, once, simply as a cult favorite.

Categories

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Outrageous! (1977)

Outrageous! (1977)

“You’ll never be normal — but you’re special. And you can have a hell of a good time!”

Outrageous Poster

Synopsis:
A talented aspiring drag queen (Craig Russell) shares an apartment with his best friend, a schizophrenic young woman (Hollis McLaren) hoping to keep her “bonecrusher” away by becoming pregnant and feeling alive inside.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that perhaps the popularity of this “funny, touching film” — based on a short story by Margaret Gibson — is “due to the fact that both [main characters] succeed in achieving their modest goals”. He notes that “at times it’s a sloppy film, poorly lit and edited in a manner that causes you to lose all track of time; but the characters are so likable and believably played” and “the direction and script… are so spirited and tender that you are willing to forgive it for not being as polished as a Hollywood production”. He lauds the film’s emphasis on eschewing conformity, and notes that the “picture shows that those who struggle to retain their ‘healthy brand of craziness’ in our dehumanized world can have a lot of fun”.

Peary specifically calls out Craig Russell’s “award-winning performance as Robin Turner, a character with great range” who is “kind-hearted, angry, witty, philosophical, moody, vulnerable to criticism, strong when he has to be, even heroic, extremely sarcastic, and harmlessly bitchy” — not to mention “dazzling” when he “does impersonations of Streisand, Channing, Garland, Bankhead, Davis, West, etc.” Indeed, the film is chock-a-block full of truly entertaining footage showing Russell doing what he does so well: we can easily understand why he expresses disdain and dismay early in the film when watching an amateur performer on stage, giving a bad name to his craft. Writer/director Richard Benner’s script heads in unusual directions, keeping us on our toes about what will happen next, and occasionally surprising us — but Russell’s friendship with McLaren trumps all, and provides the film with heartwarming continuity.

Note: This film is profiled at length in Peary’s original Cult Movies book.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Craig Russell as Robin Turner (nominated by Peary as one of the Best Actors of the Year in his Alternate Oscars)
    Outrageous Russell
    Outrageous Russell2
  • Hollis McLaren as Liza Connors
    Outrageous McLaren
  • A refreshingly humane and compassionate view of mental illness: “You and me are here to love and look after each other.”
    Outrageous Mental Illness
  • An authentically feel-good script: “I’ve never known anyone worth knowing who wasn’t a positive fruitcake.”

Must See?
Yes, as an enjoyable cult favorite.

Categories

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It Conquered the World (1956)

It Conquered the World (1956)

“I won’t love a monster — I won’t!”

It Conquered the World Poster

Synopsis:
A cynical scientist (Lee Van Cleft) helps a Venusian alien (Paul Blaisdell) land on earth and begin a campaign to rid humans of all emotions — but his wife (Beverly Garland) and colleague (Peter Graves) are immediately concerned about his ideas.

Genres:

Review:
Roger Corman’s low-budget (what else?) alien-invasion flick is perhaps best known for Paul Blaisdell‘s ridiculously vegetable-like rubber Venusian alien, but actually remains a decent entry in the sub-genre of mid-century Communist hysteria films [such as Invaders From Mars (1953) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)]. Van Cleef is eerily effective (and well-cast) in the central role as a scientist so disillusioned by humanity he’s allowed his ethos to be taken over by an alien agenda, certain that the Venusians will “rescue the world from itself”; and Garland is equally convincing as his concerned, no-nonsense wife. Charles B. Griffith’s sharp script does wonders with scenarios that are otherwise laughable (i.e., rubber bats flying at humans’ necks to remove all emotions), with several scenes in particular — i.e., Graves’ wife (Sally Fraser) matter-of-factly attempting to “infect” him — highly effective. I watched this one with MST3K commentary, but actually believe it should have been seen on its own first. Read And You Call Yourself a Scientist!’s review for an in-depth, appreciative look at this flick, in which the reviewer notes right away that “I have almost as much admiration for this film as I do affection, and I don’t intend to make fun of it any more than is absolutely necessary”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Lee Van Cleef as Dr. Tom Anderson
    It Conquered the World Van Cleef and Garland
  • Beverly Garland as Claire Anderson
  • Charles B. Griffith’s solid B-script:

    “Oh, look! Can’t you two talk about anything else? I’m getting tired of hearing about nothing but satellites, isotopes, conical graduations, and the rest!”
    “I’d have to take a long, hard look at anything that was going to change the world — and me — so completely.”
    “You can’t rub the tarnish from men’s souls without losing a little of the silver, too.”

Must See?
Yes, as one of Corman’s better low-budget outings.

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