Halloween Havoc!: DEATH CURSE OF TARTU (Thunderbird International 1966)

Welcome to the weird world of low-budget Florida-based filmmaker William Grefe, whose Everglades-lensed movies are always interesting. Not necessarily good mind you, but interesting. Still, the man did the best he could with what little resources he had. One of his most famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) films is the 1966 shocker DEATH CURSE OF TARTU.

DEATH CURSE OF TARTU concerns a husband-and-wife team of archeologists and their students searching for a missing colleague. The teens want to “go down to the lake and roast marshmallows” (and engage in some energetic frugging and heavy necking!), when they stumble on the crypt of Tartu, an ancient Indian “witch doctor”, and his curse. Soon, teens begin to drop like swamp flies as shape-shifting Tartu turns into a snake, shark and alligator, until the lead archeologist translates the ancient tablet, and discovers the only way to break the curse is by destroying Tartu’s remains…

I can see how DEATH CURSE OF TARTU has had an influence on all those slasher flicks to come, with the teens getting picked off one by one in some fairly gruesome (for the time) ways. My favorite is the swamp-shark attack, and even though, as one teen puts it, “Sharks don’t live in fresh water”, it’s a neat little set-piece. The 400-year-old “witch doctor” himself isn’t very scary in the flesh, but when he turns into a swamp creature, look out! The film was initially released as a double feature with another Grefe epic, STING OF DEATH, involving a mutated jellyfish and allegedly cowritten by another maverick filmmaker, Herschell Gordon Lewis!

Florida filmmaker William Grefe

Grefe’s filmography includes the biker flick THE WILD REBELS, the druggie drama THE HOOKED GENERATION (with biker/western vet Jeremy Slate), the sleazy THE NAKED ZOO (starring of all people Rita Hayworth alongside the rock band Canned Heat!), the WILLARD-with snakes shocker STANLEY, the psycho-killer classic IMPULSE (with William Shatner as a leisure-suited murderer!), and the aptly-titled JAWS rip-off MAKO: THE JAWS OF DEATH. He also did the underwater shark scenes for the James Bond adventure LIVE AND LET DIE, which is probably his greatest contribution to cinema.

DEATH CURSE OF TARTU isn’t all that coherent, and I was annoyed by a few things in the film, like the constant drumbeats-and-chanting coming from nowhere, and the constant screaming of annoying teen Cindy (though I did love it when Annoying Cindy was mercifully chomped to death by that gator!). But as a proto-slasher movie, it deserves a small amount of credit, as does William Grefe himself, a man with a dream to make his movies his way, without the benefit of a large budget (or any budget, for that matter!). In that respect, Mr. Grefe was a success.

Halloween Havoc!: Peter Cushing in TWINS OF EVIL (Universal/Hammer 1971)

British babes Mary and Madeleine Collinson became the first set of twins to not only star as Playboy Twin Centerfolds (and we’ll get to that at the end of this post!!), but to star in a Hammer Horror film, 1971’s TWINS OF EVIL. Not only that, the lasses got to play opposite Hammer icon Peter Cushing as their puritanical, witch burning uncle. It’s the final chapter in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy (preceded by 1970’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and 1971’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE), based on characters from Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novella , and it’s a sexy, blood-spattered scream!

As uncle Gustav Weil goes around the countryside burning young girls at the stake, his recently orphaned twin teenage nieces Maria and Frieda arrive from Venice. Prudish Uncle Gustav disapproves of the girls’ plunging decolletage (“What kind of plumage is this? The birds of paradise?”). While Maria is shy and demure, Frieda’s a rebellious wild child, and sneaks out of the house to meet up with Gustav’s sworn enemy, the decadent Count Karnstein.

The aristocratic Count has long been dabbling in black magic, and his satanic ritual summons forth his dead ancestor Countess Mircalla (played by Katya Wyeth in a cameo), who puts the bite on Karnstein and makes him one of the undead. The Count in turn sinks his fangs into Frieda, and things really start to get gruesome from there as Gustav and his church brethren storm Castle Karnstein for an exciting, gore-filled climax.

Cushing’s amazing as always, delivering his pious lines with aplomb and running around like a much younger man (he was 58 at the time). Damien Thomas takes the role of the debauched Count and runs with it, his handsome looks belying what lurks underneath. Character actor Dennis Price has a small part as one of Gustav’s closest advisers. Director John Hough keeps the pace brisk; some other Hough horrors of note include THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS, and AMERICAN GOTHIC, not to mention the Peter Fonda drive-in actioner DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY.

As for the Collinson Twins, their screen career pretty much ended with TWINS OF EVIL. Let’s face it, there’s not much you can do with a twin gimmick after starring in a vampire horror flick. Madeleine passed away in 2014, but Mary is still alive and well, living the good life in Milan. As I promised earlier, here are Mary and Madeleine Collinson in their famous 1970 Playboy Centerfold:

C’mon, you didn’t really think I was going to go there, did you? This is a family blog!!

 

 

Halloween Havoc!: ISLAND OF LOST SOULS (Paramount 1932)

Universal Pictures kicked off the horror trend of the early 30’s with DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN , and soon every studio in Hollywood, both major and minor, jumped on the terror train. Paramount was the first to hop on board with an adaptation of Stevenson’s DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE , earning Fredric March an Oscar for his dual role. Soon there was DR. X (Warners), THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (RKO), FREAKS and THE MASK OF FU MANCHU (both MGM), and THE MONSTER WALKS and WHITE ZOMBIE from the indies. Paramount released ISLAND OF LOST SOULS at the end of 1932, a film so shocking and perverse it was banned in Britain for over a quarter century, and still manages to frighten even the most jaded of horror fans today.

Based on the novel The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, the film begins with shipwrecked Edward Parker being rescued by The Covena, a cargo ship carrying a freight of wild animals to the uncharted island of Dr. Moreau, located in the South Pacific. Moreau is called “a scientific genius” by his associate aboard ship, Dr. Montgomery, but though ship’s Captain Davies labels him a “grave robbing ghoul” Parker gets into an altercation with the drunken captain, who strands him on the island. As Montgomery leads Parker through the jungle to Moreau’s home, the young man notices something strange about the island natives, something he can’t quite put his finger on.

It is now we meet Dr. Moreau: a white-suited, whip-cracking, portly figure who’s beard gives him a Satanic visage. The courteous Moreau invites Parker to spend the night, and leave with Montgomery in the morning, yet he has sinister ulterior motives. Moreau is a vivisectionist who has been experimenting with “organic evolution”, turning animals into half-human monstrosities in his ‘House of Pain’. The natives Parker encountered were the results of those mad experiments, but Moreau’s had more success with Lota, half-human/half-panther, and wants to find out how much human emotion she has by introducing her to the handsome Parker, hoping perhaps they’ll mate!

When Parker finds out about Moreau’s deviant research projects, he tries to escape with Lota (not yet realizing she, too, is half-human), but they’re stopped by the Manimals. Moreau rescues the pair, cracking his whip and forcing the beasts to recite The Law (“Not to spill blood”, “Not to eat meat”). After explaining his scientific discoveries to Parker, it’s discovered the schooner has sunk, leaving Parker no alternative but to stay longer. Lota has caught feelings for Parker, and they kiss, but to Parker’s horror, he feels large panther claws digging into his back! She’s reverting back to animal state, and Moreau returns her to his ‘House of Pain’. Meanwhile, Parker’s fiance Ruth has arrived with Captain Donahue, and Moreau’s plans to mate a human with his weird creations changes…

Shock follows shock in this gripping, gruesome film from director Erle C. Kenton, who began his career back in 1916. Kenton and his cinematographer Karl Struss use shadows and light to create an eerie ambiance, with that trademark Paramount early 30’s filmed-through-gauze style. Struss was well noted for shooting F.W. Murnau’s Expressionistic classic SUNRISE, and became one of the studio’s ace cinematographers. Kenton was strictly a ‘B’ director, and ISLAND OF LOST SOULS is probably his greatest film achievement. He later helmed Universal’s 40’s Monster Rallies (GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN,  HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN , HOUSE OF DRACULA ) and Abbott & Costello comedies (PARDON MY SARONG, WHO DONE IT?, IT AIN’T HAY), as well as the 1948  exploitation drama BOB AND SALLY, which covered everything from abortion to alcoholism to VD in a little over an hour!

Charles Laughton  gives a bravura performance as Moreau, outwardly charming and cultivated yet harboring a deep rooted insanity. A lesser actor would’ve went over the top with a part as juicy as Moreau, but Laughton shows great restraint in bringing the mad doctor to life, even when uttering the tempting line, “Do you know what it means to feel like God?”. Laughton’s Dr. Moreau is up there in the pantheon of 1930’s horror performances, and though he’d give us more fine film roles (Henry VIII, Ruggles, Inspector Javert, Captian Bligh, Quasimodo) his Moreau remains my personal favorite.

Square jawed hero Richard Arlen has what’s probably his most unusual role of his career as Parker (except maybe his Cheshire Cat in ALICE IN WONDERLAND , but as usual he nails it. Bela Lugosi appears, almost unrecognizable except for that Hungarian voice, as the hairy-faced Sayer of the Law, leader of the Manimals. Leila Hyams isn’t given much to do as Ruth,but she’s always a welcome presence. Arthur Hohl (Montgomery), Stanely Fields (Davies), and Paul Hurst (Donahue) offer strong support.

Then there’s Lota the Panther Woman. She’s played by 19 year old Kathleen Burke, who won a talent contest in Chicago for the chance be in the film. Burke brings a savage beauty to the part, and is quite good for a novice in her first time out. Miss Burke altogether made 22 films, among them MURDERS IN THE ZOO (another horror effort, starring Lionel Atwill), LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER (as a Russian seductress), THE LAST OUTPOST, and BOY OF THE STREETS, before retiring in 1938 and returning to Chicago. Kathleen Burke passed away in 1980.

Those half-human monstrosities were created by makeup wizard Wally Westmore and Charlie Gemora (who also appears early as a gorilla in a cage). Each and every Manimal is unique unto itself, which must have been painstaking work for the makeup department, but well worth the effort. The revolt of the Manimals against Moreau is one of the most chilling scenes in early horror history, and ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU is a bona fide horror classic that genre lovers do not want to miss.

 

They’re Baaaack! The 5th Annual Halloween Havoc Horror Festival!

Monsters and Murderers, Ghosties and Ghoulies, Vampires and Voodoo Queens… they’re all back this October for Cracked Rear Viewer’s 5th Annual Halloween Havoc, 31 days of horror film reviews to celebrate the Halloween season! This year, I’ve lined up the most eclectic, esoteric, and downright weird collection of creepy movies ever assembled, ranging from the sublime to the (quite frankly) ridiculous, all tied together by the thread of terror! Not to mention weekend extras you’ll wanna keep an eye out for… just pray you don’t lose the other eye to some maniac in the process!! The fearsome fun starts tomorrow right here at Cracked Rear Viewer, and I hope you’ll join me for 31 Days of Devilish Delights!

 

 

Jungle Boogie: Ed Wood’s THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST (Allied Artists 1958)

Reincarnation and past lives were popular themes in the 1950’s, mainly because of the success of THE SEARCH FOR BRIDEY MURPHY, which spawned a host of imitators. One of these was THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST, a bizarre take on the theme written by the legendary (for all the wrong reasons!) Edward D. Wood, Jr. In this incarnation of the reincarnation subject, we find a pretty young bride who improbably discovers she was once a fierce jungle gorilla!

Big Game Hunter Lance Fuller and his new wife Charlotte Austin are honeymooning at his stately manor. She finds out he’s keeping a gorilla named Spanky in the basement to be shipped to a zoo, and gets a ‘sinister urge’ (sorry!) to see it. Charlotte goes ape over Spanky, and he obviously digs her, too. But worried Lance warns her to keep her paws off the big ape because he’s dangerous.

Later that night, Spanky escapes his cage and fondles our young bride, ripping off her nightie, so jealous Lance shoots the hairy horndog! Charlotte keeps having dreams about Africa, and can’t shake the feeling she’s lived before, so an eminent psychologist (and really, is there any other kind in these movies?) is called in to hypnotize her. Under hypnosis, Charlotte rambles on about one of Ed Wood’s favorite subjects, angora fur: “so soft like a kitten’s fur… it felt so good on me, as if it belonged there”. Ahem, okay…

The couple head to The Dark Continent so Lance can bag some big game, with their faithful houseboy/guide Taro (who speaks in a stilted Brooklyn accent!) in tow. Lance goes traipsing off among the stock footage of wild animals, while Charlotte discovers the animals fear her – because she was once Queen of the Gorillas! And by the way, do Great White Hunters usually change into their pajamas while sleeping in their jungle tents, or wear their sneakers when traversing the jungle veldt (asking for a friend)? Anyway, some Indian tigers have escaped from a cargo ship and are on the loose, attacking Charlotte before Lance kills them, and while she’s recuperating, she somehow (don’t ask me how!) summons a gorilla into camp, and the beast KO’s Lance and carries Charlotte off into the jungle where she belongs!

“It felt so good on me… ” – Ed Wood with Dolores Fuller in 1953’s “Glen or Glenda?” (Ed’s on the right!)

Yep, that’s definitely an Ed Wood story, all right! But Ed didn’t direct THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST – that honor went to producer Adrian Weiss, in his only time sitting in the director’s chair (he’d been working as a writer, editor, production manager, and assistant director since the 1930’s). Weiss isn’t bad, but I would’ve loved to have seen what Ed Wood could have done with a slightly larger budget than usual. Not much larger, mind you, but at least the sets don’t look like they’ll come crashing down on the actor’s heads at any given moment!!

Star Lance Fuller is perhaps best known for his turn as the big-foreheaded alien Brack in THIS ISLAND EARTH, played in CATTLE QUEEN OF MONTANA with Barbara Stanwyck and Ronald Reagan, costarred in Roger Corman’s APACHE WOMEN, and was once married to blonde bombshell Joi Lansing. Pretty Charlotte Austin should have had a bigger career, but besides small parts in DADDY LONG LEGS and HOW TO BE VERY VERY POPULAR, and a bigger one in Frankenstein 1970 , she went nowhere. A pair of Hollywood’s top gorilla-suited actors are featured here: Ray “Crash” Corrigan and Steve Calvert .

So while THE BRIDE AND THE BEAST may be silly, it’s perfect Saturday matinee fare, and kids of all ages will go ape over it, as will all you Ed Wood completists out there – and count me among them! I’d never seen it before, but now it’s available all this month on The Film Detective, and if you aren’t familiar with them yet, just follow this link… and tell ’em Cracked Rear Viewer sent you!

 

Bloody Good Show: Robert Quarry as COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (AIP 1970)

Robert Quarry’s screen career wasn’t really going anywhere by 1970. He had a good part in 1956’s soapy noir A KISS BEFORE DYING , but mostly he was relegated to uncredited bits in movies and guest shots on episodic TV. Quarry kept busy on the stage, until being approached by producer/actor Michael Macready to star in THE LOVES OF COUNT IORGA, originally envisioned as a soft core porn flick with horror elements. The actor said he would accept the job but only if it were turned into a straight modern-day vampire tale, and thus was born COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, launching Quarry into a new phase as a 70’s horror movie icon.

The plot is an updated version of Stoker’s DRACULA, with a few changes. Here, the Bulgarian-born Count Yorga is a recent transplant to California, and we first meet him conducting a séance on behalf of Donna, whose late mother was involved with the alleged psychic. Boyfriend Mike and pals Paul and Erica  are along for support, disbelievers all, until strange occurrences cause Donna to get hysterical. While Yorga tries to calm her, unbeknownst to the rest, he uses his hypnotic mind powers for future control.

“Mmmm… Tender Vittles!”

Paul and Erica drive the Count back to his eerie estate, where they’re greeted by Brudah, Yorga’s brutish manservant. Their VW microbus gets stuck in mud on the return, so they camp for the night, when Yorga, fangs bared, strikes! Having no memory of what happened, Erica is taken to Dr. Jim Hayes (and his ubiquitous cigarette!), who’s at a loss to explain her severe blood loss. After a transfusion, Paul and Michael check up on Erica, who’s supposed to be resting at home but is found eating her cat!! Blood tests convince Jim that Erica has been bitten by a vampire, and the men travel to Yorga’s abode, trying to keep him awake until the sun rises. But the ancient bloodsucker is far too intelligent for them. When Donna mysteriously disappears, Paul and the doc go vampire hunting, resulting in a carnage-filled slaughterhouse of an ending with a twist!

American-International’s entry into the gore sweepstakes isn’t as bloody as a Herschell Gordon Lewis epic, but it manages to shock the viewer with its brutality. Quarry is both fearsome and sophisticated as Count Yorga, his presence resembling an American Christopher Lee, and after years of toiling at his craft he became a ‘B’ horror star. AIP wanted him to be the next Vincent Price, whose contract was soon to expire, and cast him in THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA, another blood-splattered hit. He was teamed with Price for DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN , playing the immortal Darius Biederbeck, rival of Phibes in his quest for the River of Life. The two didn’t get along; at one point during filming, Quarry burst into song. “Bet you didn’t know I could sing”, said the actor, to which the sarcastic Price retorted, “Well, I knew you couldn’t act”!

Be that as it may, Quarry was again paired with Price (along with Hammer legend Peter Cushing) for MADHOUSE. He starred in DEATHMASTER as the Mansonesque leader of a hippie vampire cult, and played a gangster in the Blaxploitation/voodoo thriller SUGAR HILL . Quarry was riding high when horror film tastes changed, and his career was curtailed once again. A hit-and-run accident in 1980, followed shortly by a street mugging, kept him offscreen for almost ten years, until being rediscovered by cult filmmaker/superfan Fred Olen Ray, who cast Quarry in many of his low-budget, direct-to-video films, with titles like CYCLONE, BEVERLY HILLS VAMP, and TEENAGE EXORCIST. Robert Quarry moved into the Motion Picture and Television Country Home, where he spent much time giving interviews and answering fan mail, until his death in 2009 at age 83.

“Man, I sure could use a cigarette!”

Among the rest of the cast, Michael Murphy (Paul) would go on to do NASHVILLE, AN UNMARRIED WOMAN, MANHATTAN, and the HBO series TANNER. Roger Perry (smoking Dr. Jim) was a good actor who never quite made it out of the ‘B’ category himself; he did a ton of TV, including regular roles on HARRIGAN AND SON (with Pat O’Brien), THE FACTS OF LIFE, and FALCON CREST. Donna Anders (Donna) appeared in WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS . Michael Macready’s father, the great character actor George Macready , provides the chilling opening and closing narration.  Director Bob Kelljan was an AIP mainstay, acting and/or directing in many of their films, followed by a long run as a TV director.

“Ready for some HLA, girls?”

There’s evidence of what COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE could have turned out to be through the film: a scene where Yorga, sitting in his basement throne room, watches his lusty vampire babes engage in some HLA (that’s Hot Lesbian Action!); Donna is attacked by Brudah, and we fade to black just before the rape occurs; Dr. Jim’s busty receptionist’s part was trimmed, but when she pops up in his bed we know they’ve been doing more than working overtime! Thanks to the star, things were cleaned up a bit, and the result was a surprise hit for both AIP and Robert Quarry, last of the great movie vampires, for which genre fans can be forever grateful.

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon, hosted by Shadows and Satin , Speakeasy , and Silver Screenings . Check out the other posts and join in on the devilish fun!  

Sex And Drugs And BLOOD AND BLACK LACE (Allied Artists/Woolner Brothers 1964)


Welcome to the weirdly wonderful world of giallo, pioneered by the late Italian maestro Mario Bava . Though Bava’s THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (released stateside as EVIL EYE) is considered by connoisseurs the first, it was BLOOD AND BLACK LACE that defined the genre, with its comingling of crime drama, murder mystery, and horror elements coalescing into something truly unique. I hadn’t seen this film in decades before a recent rewatch, and was again dazzled by Bava’s technique. The film has proved to be highly influential in the decades-later slasher genre, yet has its roots set firmly in the past.

The opening sequence is a stunner, as we see the beautiful model Isabelle walking through a woodsy pathway on a dark and stormy night, stalked and then brutally murdered by a faceless, trenchcoated killer. From there, we’re introduced to the remaining cast, members of the haute couture fashion world run by Countess Christina Cuomo. Police Inspector Silvester is on the case, and he gets more than he bargained for, with all the players holding deep, dark secrets. Isabelle’s diary holds the key to the crime, and more gruesome murders follow, with suspects aplenty…

Bava gives us a compact but compelling shocker, and while rewatching, I couldn’t help but notice how much of the movie resembled the films of Val Lewton and 40’s film noir, with dashes of Hitchcock and Welles thrown in for good measure – only saturated with vibrant colors! Garish reds, blues, greens, and violets make the screen pop, aided by some brilliantly deep shadowplay. While Ubaldo Terzano is credited as cinematographer, Bava himself was no slouch in that department, having worked behind the camera since the early 1940’s, and did much of the work uncredited. Best known for his horror films (BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, LISA AND THE DEVIL), he worked in every genre, and though he did his share of clunkers (DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE GIRL BOMBS, for example), most of his resume contains movies well worth searching out.

Cameron Mitchell  and Eva Bartok are the most recognizable actors here to classic film fans. Mitchell had been around Hollywood since 1945; his best known roles were as Happy in DEATH OF A SALESMAN (a part he originated on Broadway), Lauren Bacall’s suitor in HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE, and Jigger in CAROUSEL.  When his career dried up, Mitchell went to Europe to star in peplum films and Spaghetti Westerns before returning to Tinseltown for the TV series THE HIGH CHAPARRAL (1967-71). Bartok was familiar to American audiences for playing opposite Burt Lancaster in THE CRIMSON PIRATE, the early Hammer sci-fi SPACEWAYS, and Dean Martin’s first solo outing TEN THOUSAND BEDROOMS. Those well-versed in Italian cinema will be able to identify Mary Arden (A… FOR ASSASSIN), Franco Ressel (SABATA), Luciano Pigozzi (WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMATORY, CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Enzo Cerusico (HERCULES, SAMSON, AND ULYSSES) among the cast members.

Most familiar to American audiences would be the voice of Paul Frees, who dubs most of the male cast (including Mitchell, for some strange reason). BLOOD AND BLACK LACE was considered controversial in its day, so much so that even American-International wouldn’t release it! It was up to the Woolner Brothers (ATTACK OF THE 50-FOOT WOMAN) to bring it across the Atlantic, releasing through Allied Artists. Critics of the time weren’t kind, but the movie has since taken on a cult status, in large part due to the artistry of Mario Bava. It’s pretty tame compared to today’s gore-fests, yet still manages to pack a punch, with one helluva triple twist conclusione.


And on another note… BLODD & BLACK LACE marks Cracked Rear Viewer’s 1,000th post!