And stay the hell away from Camp Crystal Lake!!
Evil hypnotists have been a movie staple since Svengali first mesmerized Trilby in 1911, but THE HYPNOTIC EYE is in a class of its own. This demented little tale is sufficiently creepy enough to overcome its meager budget limitations, and features the Ice Queen of Horror, Allison Hayes, in the pivotal role of Justine, assistant to master trancemaker Desmond.
We start with an opening shot of a woman, thinking she’s washing her hair, sticking her head directly into the flame of a stove pilot. That’ll get your attention! A series of horrible self-mutilations have left a dozen beautiful women disfigured and the police scratching their heads. Detective Dave Kennedy discusses the bizarre cases with police psychologist Phil Hecht: “One of them stuck her face in the blade of an electric fan. Thought it was a vibrator. Another one sliced her face with a straight razor. Thought it was a lipstick brush”.
Dave’s girlfriend Marcia thinks he needs a night out, so along with their friend Dodie they attend the hottest show in town, stage hypnotist The Great Desmond. Dave’s skeptical, but Dodie volunteers to be hypnotized, remembering nothing afterward. Later, she sneaks backstage to visit Desmond, and when she gets home has the brilliant idea to wash her face with sulfuric acid! Marcia has a theory that Desmond is behind all the ghastly mischief, but when Dave interviews the victims, none of them recall going to Desmond’s show… not even Dodie! That proves it! Now Marcia volunteers to be hypnotized by Desmond, and danger takes center stage…
I won’t spoil the ending for those who haven’t seen THE HYPNOTIC EYE, but I will tell you about HypnoMagic! This was part of the ballyhoo campaign for the film, featuring Desmond hypnotizing the audience (both onscreen and off) into doing his bidding by directly looking into the camera, and using a swirling psychedelic hypno disc to control our minds. This is the kind of thing William Castle was famous for, and I’m proud to say it didn’t work on me. My will is much stronger than The Great Desmond!
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Dave and Phil follow Desmond and the hypnotized Marcia to a beatnik coffee-house, where we get to hear the latest groovy poem from a hipster played by Lawrence Lipton, titled “Confessions of a Movie Addict” :
Crazy, man, crazy! Equally crazy is Allison Hayes as Desmond’s assistant Justine, the catalyst for all the gruesome shenanigans going on, and the star of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN is in fine bitchy form. Jacques Bergerac as Desmond is quite the charming sleazebag. The former star of LES GIRLS and GIGI (and ex-husband of Ginger Rogers and Dorothy Malone) was on his way down in the Hollywood pecking order, but still gives the role his all . The rest of the cast is nondescript, though I’ll give some credit to genre vet Merry Anders (THE TIME TRAVELERS, WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET) as Dodie. Fred Demara, known as ‘The Great Imposter’ for his 50’s-60’s exploits, has a cameo as a doctor. His life was made into a movie starring Tony Curtis; let me assure you they look NOTHING alike.
This cult classic won’t make any “best-of” lists, and isn’t as gory as what was to come in future sicko 60’s Grindhouse shockers, but it has its moments, and Emile LaVigne’s make-up jobs on the disfigured women is on a par with his work on Zsa Zsa Gabor in QUEEN OF OUTER SPACE . THE HYPNOTIC EYE is slow in parts, but provided more than enough deranged fun to satisfy the horror lover in me.
Halloween has come and gone, though most people have plenty of leftovers on hand, including your Cracked Rear Viewer. Here are some treats (and a few tricks) that didn’t quite make the cut this year:
ISLE OF THE DEAD (RKO 1945, D: Mark Robson)
Typically atmospheric Val Lewton production stars Boris Karloff as a Greek general trapped on a plague-ridden island along with a young girl (Ellen Drew) who may or may not be a vorvolaka (vampire-like spirit). This film features one of Lewton’s patented tropes, as Drew wanders through the woods alone, with the howling wind and ominous sounds of the creatures of the night. Very creepy, with another excellent Karloff performance and strong support from Lewton regulars Alan Napier, Jason Robards Sr, and Skelton Knaggs. Fun Fact: Like BEDLAM , this was inspired by a painting, Arnold Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead”.
THE BOWERY BOYS MEET THE MONSTERS (Allied Artists 1954, D: Edward Bernds)
Leo Gorcey, Huntz Hall, and the gang get mixed up with the creepy Gravesend family in a spooky old mansion, complete with mad scientists, vampires, a man-eating tree, a robot, and of course a killer gorilla in this above-average series entry. Sure it’s low budget and derivative as hell, but it’s also a lot of fun, with a better than usual supporting cast that includes John Dehner, Lloyd Corrigan, and Ellen Corby. Director Bernds and his co-screenwriter Ellwood Ullman put their Three Stooges experience to good use, and the result is a silly scare farce that even non-Bowery Boys fans will probably enjoy. Fun Fact: Ex-bartender Steve Calvert bought Ray “Crash” Corrigan’s old gorilla suit and appeared in JUNGLE JIM, THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (written by Ed Wood), and the awful BELA LUGOSI MEETS A BROOKLYN GORILLA .
THE OBLONG BOX (AIP 1969, D:Gordon Hessler)
AIP tried to continue their successful Edgar Allan Poe series with this film. Roger Corman was long gone, so Gordon Hessler took over the director’s chair. Vincent Price is still around though, as the brother of a voodoo victim who was prematurely buried, then dug up by graverobbers to seek revenge. Christopher Lee has “Special Guest Star” status, but isn’t given much to do as a Knox-like doctor using bodies in the name of science. The movie seemed a lot scarier when I saw it as a youth; unfortunately, it doesn’t hold up very well. The 24 year old Hillary Dwyer is much too young to play 58 year old Price’s fiancé. Fun Fact: Michael Reeves (THE SORCERERS , WITCHFINDER GENERAL) was scheduled to direct before his untimely death; this probably would’ve been a better film with him at the helm.
HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Hammer 1971, D: Peter Sasdy)
Minor but effective Hammer chiller about the daughter of Jack the Ripper (Angharad Rees) who’s possessed by daddy’s evil spirit, and the psychologist (Eric Porter) who tries to help her by using the then-new Freudian therapy techniques. It’s science vs the supernatural, with some good moments of gore, but the slow pace makes it definitely lesser Hammer. I must admit I loved the ending, though. Fun Fact: Director Sasdy filmed several Hammer horrors in the early 70’s, including TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA and COUNTESS DRACULA. He also was responsible for the Pia Zadora vehicle THE LONELY LADY, winning himself the prestigious Razzie Award in 1983!
BURNT OFFERINGS (United Artists 1976, D: Dan Curtis)
A family rents an eerie old country home for the summer, and are soon pitted against an evil force. With all that talent in front of (Bette Davis , Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Burgess Meredith, Eileen Heckert) and behind (producer/director/writer Curtis , co-writer William F. Nolan, DP Jacques Marquette) the camera, I expected a much better film. Even the great Miss Davis can’t help this obvious haunted house story to rise above the level of a made-for-TV potboiler. Disappointing to say the least. Fun Fact: Production designer Eugene Lourie directed the sci-fi flicks THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH , and GORGO.
Bela Lugosi ( see yesterday’s post ) wasn’t the only horror icon who starred in a series of low-budget shockers. Boris Karloff signed a five picture deal with Columbia Pictures that was later dubbed the “Mad Doctor” series and, while several notches above Lugosi’s “Monogram Nine”, they were cookie-cutter flicks intended for the lower half of double feature bills. The first of these was THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG, which sets the tone for the films to follow.
Karloff plays Dr. Henry Savaard, inventor of a new surgical technique that requires the patient to die, then reviving him with a mechanical heart after performing the operation. This later became standard operating procedure during open-heart surgery, but back in 1939 was considered science fiction! Anyway, Savaard’s young assistant Bob agrees to go through the experimental procedure, but his girlfriend freaks out and calls the cops, claiming Savaard is about to murder him. The cops, along with a reporter named Scoop no less, barge into the doctor’s lab and interrupt things. The delay causes Bob’s death and Savaard is arrested for murder.
We next get one of my favorite film devices, the spinning-newspaper-headlines montage! Savaard goes on trial, is found guilty, and sentenced to hang. Karloff gets to deliver a long, dramatic speech, which he does with his usual elegant style: “You who have condemned me, I know you’re kind. Your forebearers poisoned Socrates, burned Joan of Arc, hanged, tortured all those whose only offense was to bring light into darkness. For you to condemn me and my work is a crime so shameful that the judgement of history will be against you for years to come.” There’s more, but you get the gist, and King Boris delivers it with passion.
Next, more spinning headlines! Savaard’s about to be executed, and donates his body to science, but what the officials don’t know is his corpse will be handed over to his loyal assistant Lang, who revives Savaard from the dead. Then… no, not spinning headlines, this time it’s calendar pages marking the passing of time. Six months go by, and six of the Savaard jurors have hung themselves… or have they? Scoop smells a scoop, and his editor encourages him to get the story: “Make it weird! Make it dramatic! And make it snappy!”. Scoop gets wind that the judge has invited the remaining jurors, along with the DA, the lead cop, and the freaked-out girlfriend, to meet that evening at Savaard’s old house. Of course, it’s a trap, and now all Savaard’s enemies are in one place so he can pick them off one by one….
THE MAN THEY COULD NOT HANG isn’t a bad movie, though modern audiences will find the plot all too familiar. Boris is the glue that holds the thing together, and gives us a great performance. Others in the cast range from good to not-so-good. Lorna Gray’s in the latter category, in the thankless role of Savaard’s daughter Janet, who spends most of the picture in tears. Robert Wilcox as Scoop is just okay, no better or worse than any horror film hero. The Columbia Pictures stock company fills out the rest of the roster, including character favorites like Don Beddoe , Ann Doran, Roger Pryor, Byron Foulger, Charles Trowbridge, Dick Curtis , John Tyrell, and a young James Craig.
Nick Grinde’s direction keeps things moving, and Karl Brown’s screenplay has several soliloquies for Karloff to deliver. Brown’s career stretched back to D.W. Griffith and BIRTH OF A NATION, and he was cinematographer on the silent classic THE COVERED WAGON. He did some directing, but is mostly remembered for his screenplays on these Columbia Karloffs and what’s arguably Bela’s worst Monogram, THE APE MAN. The remaining “Mad Doctor” films mostly follow suit: THE MAN WITH NINE LIVES, BEFORE I HAND, and THE DEVIL COMMANDS (the fifth in Karloff’s contract was THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, a spoof co-starring Peter Lorre ). They’re all okay, not on a par with Karloff’s Universal or RKO classics, just B-movies that’ll keep you entertained on a cold Halloween night.
A little over a week ago I wrote about Bela Lugosi’s pairing with The East Side Kids , and mentioned what’s been come to know as “The Monogram Nine”. These Poverty Row horrors were ultra-low-budget schlockfests made quickly for wartime audiences, and though the films weren’t very good, they gave Bela a chance to once again have his name above the titles. From 1941 to 1944, the Hungarian cranked out the rubbish: THE INVISIBLE GHOST, BLACK DRAGONS, THE CORPSE VANISHES, BOWERY AT MIDNIGHT, THE APE MAN, VOODOO MAN, RETURN OF THE APE MAN, and the two East Side Kids entries. Let’s take a look at a typical Lugosi vehicle, 1943’s THE CORPSE VANISHES.
Our story concerns young, virginal society brides who keep dying at the altar, their corpses hijacked by mysterious Dr. Lorenz (Bela, of course). The brides receive an “unusual orchid” whose “peculiar sweet odor” causes them to go into a state of suspended animation so Lorenz can extract their glandular fluids to keep his ancient wife young (she’s “at least 70 or 80 years old!”). Plucky girl reporter Pat Hunter finds some clues and investigates, leading her to seek out Lorenz, who’s an expert on horticulture. Hitching a ride with Dr. Foster, an assistant to Lorenz, they make their way to Lorenz’s sinister house, and Pat is greeted by mean bitch Countess Lorenz with a slap in the face!
A storm outside forces Pat and Foster to spend the night at the old creep joint (as Sammy Petrillo would’ve called it), and Pat is visited by Angel, a creepoid henchman who lives in the cellar with his mom Fagah and dwarf brother Toby. Pat follows the creepoid through a secret panel in the armoire, then ditches him, but he discovers she followed him and follows her while munching on a turkey leg from the Monogram catering truck. She stumbles onto the missing corpses and hides while creepoid has fun petting their hair. Lorenz is naturally pissed about creepoid’s bumbling and strangles him.
Pat has also discovered that Lorenz and the Countess sleep in his-and-her coffins, which kinda grosses her out. Lorenz explains this by saying, “I find a coffin more comfortable than a bed. Many people do, my dear”, as if it’s the most natural thing in the world. Pat and her newspaper come up with a scheme to trap Lorenz by staging a phony wedding, which goes awry when the fiendish doctor kidnaps Pat. A shootout with the cops results in Toby taking a bullet as Lorenz hightails it back to his creep joint to extract glandular fluids from Pat. Fagah, angry because both her freakish sons are now dead, stops him by plunging a knife in his back, then all kinds of chaos ensues until the cops barge in, late as usual. The case of the missing corpses is now solved, and Pat and Foster get married, supposedly to live happily ever after.
Bela Lugosi spends most of his time lurking about and mugging for the camera. He’s does his best to make things work, but is saddled with a bad script and bad supporting cast. Luana Walters (Pat) is nice to look at, especially in those 40’s fashions, but her acting’s strictly amateur night. Tristam Coffin (Foster) is boring, and was put to much better use as a Western villain and serial hero (KING OF THE ROCKET MEN). Elizabeth Russell as the Countess is good, even using a Hungarian accent to compliment Bela. She was given much better material in her films with Val Lewton (CAT PEOPLE, THE SEVENTH VICTIM , CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, BEDLAM ). Minerva Urecal (Fagah) just flat-out overacts, as do her creepoid sons (Frank Moran and Angelo Rossitto). Other Familiar Faces (who probably wanted to hide) include Vince Barnett, Kenneth Harlan, Joan Barclay, and George Eldridge.
While watching I couldn’t help but notice the similarities to Ed Wood’s BRIDE OF THE MONSTER. There’s mad doctor Bela of course, the plucky girl reporter, the creepoid who strokes female victim’s hair (hello, Lobo!), and Bela whipping his henchman. I’m sure Ed saw this film and used these elements while concocting his script ten years later. Another similarity is the incredibly cheap sets that look like they’d fall over in a stiff breeze! THE CORPSE VANISHES, despite it’s faults, is fun to watch for Lugosi fans eager to see our hero play to the balcony again. It’s not a great film by any stretch, but for connoisseurs of bad cinema in general, and Lugosi’s infamous “Monogram Nine” in particular, it’s definitely must-viewing!
No, this is not a movie about the mind of the 60’s Scottish folk singer responsible for “Sunshine Superman” and “Mellow Yellow”. DONOVAN’S BRAIN is a sci-fi/horror hybrid based on the 1942 novel by Curt Siodmak, responsible for THE WOLF MAN and other Universal monster hits. It was first made as a 1944 Republic Pictures effort titled THE LADY AND THE MONSTER with Erich Von Stroheim (why Universal didn’t buy the rights is a mystery to me). This is one of those rare cases where the remake is better than the original!
The story concerns Dr. Pat Cory, a scientist experimenting with keeping the brain of a monkey alive without a body. After several failures, Cory and his assistant, alcoholic Dr. Frank Schratt, have finally succeeded. A nearby plane crash leaves three dead, and multi-millionaire Warren H. Donovan in critical condition. Donovan dies on the table, but his brain is still registering “alpha waves”, and Cory removes it from Donovan’s body, and miraculously keeps it alive!
Cory believes Donovan’s brain still contains all the man’s thoughts and knowledge, and tries to find a way to communicate with it. The brain waves begin to deviate as if it’s still thinking, and after a week it has grown, it’s impulses increasing. The doctor hooks the brain up to a radio set, hoping to receive transmission, and gets more than he bargained for when Donovan’s Brain begins to take over, returning the dead millionaire to life in Cory’s body, taking over his will and becoming the dominant force.
Lew Ayres does a splendid job as Cory/Donovan in this sci-fi variation on the Jekyll/Hyde theme. Ayres is better known as another doctor, playing Dr. Kildare in a series of MGM films in the late 30’s/early 40’s. There’s no weird makeup or transformation scenes, yet Ayres is convincing playing two distinct parts. The actor was a conscientious objector during WWII, serving as a medic, and his career suffered in those fervent patriotic days because of his stance. Besides the Kildare movies, Ayres appeared in ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (Oscar winner of 1930), IRON MAN (not the superhero, a boxing film with Jean Harlow), STATE FAIR, JOHNNY BELINDA (Best Actor nominee), and THE DARK MIRROR, among many others.
Nancy Davis is solid in the role of Cory’s faithful wife Jan. She gained a bit more fame when she became the wife of Ronald Reagan, and served as First Lady. Gene Evans (Schratt) was a burly favorite of director Sam Fuller, who cast him in five films. Steve Brodie plays a sleazy, blackmailing photo-journalist who naturally gets his comeuppance. Other Familiar Faces are John Hamilton (SUPERMAN’s‘s Perry White), Tom Powers, Shimen Ruskin, and Harland Warde. Felix Feist wrote and directed, keeping things tense, aided by Joseph Biroc’s photography.
Original novelist Curt Siodmak is well known to classic horror fans as writer of the screenplays for THE WOLF MAN, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS , BLACK FRIDAY, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and EARTH VS THE FLYING SAUCERS . The brother of noir director Robert Siodmak (THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, THE KILLERS ), Curt also tried his hand in the director’s chair, though without the success of his brother. Curt helmed the goofy low-budgeter BRIDE OF THE GORILLA (featuring Lon Chaney Jr, Raymond Burr, and Barbara Payton) and the boringest sci-fi I’ve ever watched, THE MAGNETIC MONSTER. As a director, Curt was a great writer!
The novel itself was a best seller, and is referenced in numerous books, movies, and TV shows. No less than Stephen King is a fan, and so am I, having read it when I was a teen. DONOVAN’S BRAIN makes a gripping little film, worth your time to rediscover and enjoy.
Satan worship was all over the big screen back in 1968. There was ROSEMARY’S BABY of course, that Oscar-winning fright fest from Roman Polanski and William Castle. WITCHFINDER GENERAL found Vincent Price on the hunt for daughters of the devil, while CURSE OF THE CRIMSON ALTAR boasted an all-star horror cast of Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Barbara Steele, and Michael Gough. Lee starred in a Hammer tale of satanism that year titled THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, as an occult expert pitted against a cult led by Charles Gray. That’s right- it’s Dracula vs Blofeld in a battle for souls!
Sir Christopher’s on the side of the angels for a change as the Duc de Richleau, who along with army buddy Rex Van Ryn, find their late chum’s son Simon Aron. Simon’s been “meddling with black magic” in a coven of devil worshippers led by Mocata, an adept Satanist. They manage to spirit Simon away, but the evil Mocata has him in his thrall, planning on baptizing him into the cult along with a young girl named Tanith. Rex knew Tanith in the past, and rescues her as well. Taken to the country home of de Richleau’s niece Marie and her husband Richard, Mocata tries to invoke his will over Marie, until her child Peggy barges into the parlor.
Tanith leaves with Rex for fear of harming them all, because Mocata is using her as his instrument of destruction. The Duc, Simon, Marie, and Richard form a circle to protect them from Mocata’s black magic, including a giant spider and the Angel of Death himself! The titanic battle is won when de Richleau speaks the potent Susama Ritual: “Oriel Seraphim, Eo Potesta, Zati Zata, Galatin, Galatah!”. But the Angel of Death must be served, and Rex returns with the dead Tanith in his arms.
But the war is not over yet, as Peggy has disappeared. The Duc summons Tanith back from the dead, using Marie as her channel, to locate the missing child. Simon thinks he knows where the cult is and bolts out on his own. He gets there ahead of the rest only to discover Mocata will sacrifice Peggy to restore Tanith to life through a “transference of souls”. The group arrives, but can’t defy Mocata’s power, as he’s now summoned up Satan! Tanith’s spirit once again overtakes Marie, who has Peggy repeat the Susama Ritual, causing the devil to return to Hell and Mocata’s coven to follow him in a fiery conclusion. The Angel of Death has been appeased, Tanith returns to the living, and The Duc thanks God, “for He is the one we must thank”.
It’s refreshing to watch Lee in a heroic role, battling against the forces of darkness instead of being one of them. That smooth as butter voice serves him well while spouting all that Latin, and even gets involved in some fisticuffs. Charles Gray is suave and sophisticated as Mocata, bringing a malevolent presence to the role. Gray later battled James Bond in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER as Spectre head Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was Sherlock Holmes’ brother in THE SEVEN-PER-CENT SOLUTION, and The Criminolgist in the cult classic THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW. He’s more than a match for Lee in this devilish film.
If you’re reminded of an AIP film here, credit screenwriter Richard Matheson , who adapted Dennis Wheatly’s book “The Devil Rides Out”. Matheson had worked for Hammer once before, penning DIE! DIE! MY DARLING starring Tallulah Bankhead. Hammer vet Terence Fisher keeps the film moving at a rapid , almost serial-like pace. The special effect are *meh*, but serve their purpose for the era. THE DEVIL”S BRIDE is a fast and fun film, and a rare chance to watch Christopher Lee play the good guy. Another perfect Halloween treat!