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!!

 

 

Creature Double Feature 6: FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (Hammer/20th Century-Fox 1967)/FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (Hammer/Warner Bros 1969)


Hammer Horrors were a staple of Boston’s late, lamented “Creature Double Feature” (WLVI-TV 56), so today let’s take a look at a demonic duo of Frankenstein fright films starring the immortal Peter Cushing in his signature role as the villainous Baron Frankenstein.

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN was the fourth in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, made three years after EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN. The Baron is back (after having apparently been blown to smithereens last time around), this time tampering with immortal souls rather than mere brain transplants. The movie features some ahead-of-its-time gender-bending as well, with the soul of an unjustly executed man transmogrified into the body of his freshly dead (via suicide) girlfriend, now out for vengeance!

Young Hans (Robert Morris), who watched his father guillotined as a child, grows up to work for muddle-headed alcoholic Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters , in an amusing performance), who revives the cryogenically frozen Baron Frankenstein. The Baron has changed tactics, and is now interested in trapping souls before they leave the body, to be transplanted in new hosts. Hans is dating the crippled and disfigured Christina (Susan Denberg), daughter of the local innkeeper. A trio of rich, arrogant young pricks harass the pathetic Christina, and Hans defends her honor, until finally restrained by Daddy Innkeeper. The rash Hans demands he be let go, threatening his prospective father-in-law, who isn’t very fond of Hans anyway.

The three jerks break into the inn after hours for some more drinking, and wind up beating the innkeeper to death. Hans is arrested for the murder, but refuses to provide an alibi (he was having a go at Christina at the time). He’s   tried, convicted, and guillotined (like father, like son!), and the distraught Christina kills herself by jumping off a bridge. The Baron takes all this as an opportunity to prove his theories, and transmits Hans’s soul into Christina’s body, then performs surgery to fix her deformities. The now beautiful Christina has no memory of her past life, until the sight of the guillotine triggers her (his?) mind, and she (he?) sets out for revenge on the three young wastrels…

The far-fetched but clever script by John Elder (a pseudonym for Anthony Hinds) is intelligently directed by Hammer’s workhorse Terence Fisher, who began the series with CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and ended it with 1974’s FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. Cushing by now had the imperious, cocky Baron down pat, still retaining his enthusiasm for the part. Susan Denberg impresses as Christina, making a remarkable transformation from the shy, deformed barmaid to cold-blooded killer. The former model, who was a Playboy centerfold in August 1966, had a brief acting career that included the interesting but flawed AN AMERICAN DREAM and an episode of STAR TREK as one of “Mudd’s Women”. FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN is by far her biggest (and best) role, though her thick Austrian accent was dubbed by Nikki Van der Zyl, who performed the same task for Ursula Andress in DR. NO and Claudine Auger in THUNDERBALL .

Two years later, the Baron was at it again in FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED, a gruesome little tale filled with sex and violence. Fisher again directs and Cushing stars, this time staying at a rooming house run by the fetching Anna (Veronica Carlson ). Anna’s fiancé Karl (a pre-stardom Simon Ward) works as an intern at the local insane asylum. Frankenstein’s former colleague Dr. Brandt is locked up there, and the Baron needs to unlock his mind to discover his secret for freezing brains before death sets in (or something like that). Frankenstein finds out Karl’s been selling the asylum’s drugs on the side to help pay for Anna’s mum’s residence there, and the cagey Baron blackmails the young man into helping him kidnap Brandt (the randy Baron also helps himself to Anna, violently raping her when Karl’s away).

The duo abscond with Brandt, who winds up suffering a heart attack, so Frankenstein and Karl abduct asylum director Prof. Richter (Freddie Jones, FIREFOX) and transplant Brandt’s brain into his body. Brandt’s wife (Maxine Audley, PEEPING TOM ) recognizes Frankenstein on the street, and he takes her to see her husband wrapped in bandages (not realizing he’s in Richter’s body now). Brandt awakens later, discovers what horror he’s been put through, and seeks revenge, resulting in a fiery finale ripped straight from a Corman/Poe film!

Cushing is a charmingly chilling Baron in this one, a thoroughly unlikable scoundrel who’s introduced in a pre-credits scene wearing a Michael Myers-looking mask and lopping off a man’s head with a scythe! There are plenty of good frights to be had, including the scene where Brandt’s dead body pops up from the garden when a water main bursts. Thorley Walters once again adds comic relief as an inspector on the wily Baron’s trail. FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED is my personal favorite of the Hammer Frankensteins, but both of these films are worthy for fans of Hammer Horrors. In fact, together they make a perfect Creature Double Feature!

Forever Young: Ingrid Pitt in COUNTESS DRACULA (20th Century Fox/Hammer 1971)

Iconic Ingrid Pitt became a horror fan favorite for her vampire roles in the early 1970’s.  The Polish-born actress, who survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp as a child during WWII, played bloodsucking lesbian Carmilla in Hammer’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, based on the classic story by J. Sheridan LeFanu, and was a participant in the Amicus anthology THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD opposite Jon Pertwee in that film’s best segment. Finally, Ingrid sunk her teeth into the title role of COUNTESS DRACULA, a juicy part where she’s not really a vampire, but a noblewoman who gets off on bathing in blood, loosely based on the real life events of Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Portrait of the real Elizabeth Bathory

Bathory (1560-1614) was the most infamous female serial killer in history, officially found guilty of 80 murders, yet a diary allegedly found puts the count as high as 650! Bathory was a sadistic woman who delighted in torturing young women, through beatings, burning, freezing, and cannibalism. She was found guilty of her atrocities and imprisoned until her death. Local gossips claimed she delighted in bathing in her victim’s blood, but there is no proof. The film uses that part of the legend as it’s starting point, and Bathory’s story  becomes just another Hammer Gothic horror tale.

Elderly Countess Elizabeth Nadasdy (Bathory’s real married name), shortly after her husband’s death, accidentally discovers bathing in the blood of virgins restores her youth and beauty. With the aid of her long-time lover Captain Dobi and nurse Julie, she procures young women to kill and keep her young, going so far as to have daughter Ilona kidnapped so she can impersonate her. The Countess has designs on young Lt. Imre Toth, and must maintain her bloody ritual in order to have him fall in lover with her. Castle historian Fabio becomes suspicious, and discovers the truth, but is hanged by Dobi before he can alert Toth. Ilona escapes, and Elizabeth is willing to kill her to obtain that precious virginal blood and stay young… .

The movie was a bit disappointing to me. The horror quotient is low, with more bare boobs than bloody murders (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Pitt is good as always (though her heavily accented voice was dubbed) in a part where she’s more a Jekyll & Hyde character than vampiric countess. Her old age makeup hides her beauty, which is revealed whenever she takes her blood baths (with a giant loofa!). Other cast members include Nigel Green as Captain Dobi, Lesley-Anne Down as Ilona, Sandor Eles (EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN) as Lt. Toth, and Peter Jeffrey as the local inspector.


Director Peter Sasdy came from the ranks of British TV, and among his horror credits are TASTE THE BLOOD OF DRACULA, HANDS OF THE RIPPER , DOOMWATCH, and NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT. His COUNTESS DRACULA isn’t one of his better efforts, it moves too slow and doesn’t have enough horror to keep an enthusiast like me interested. The only thing that truly held my interest was Ingrid Pitt’s performance, and if you’re a Pitt person, you’ll want to watch this one. Otherwise, go find a copy of THE VAMPIRE LOVERS.

Cleaning Out the DVR #19: Things To Watch When You Have Flumonia!

So I’ve been laid up with the flu/early stage pneumonia/whateverthehellitis for the past few days, which seemed like a  good excuse to clean out the DVR by watching a bunch of random movies:

Bette Davis & Jimmy Cagney in “Jimmy the Gent”

JIMMY THE GENT (Warner Brothers 1934; D: Michael Curtiz ) –  Fast paced James Cagney vehicle has Jimmy as the head of a shady “missing heir” racket, with Bette Davis as his ex-girl, now working for his classy (but grabby!) rival Alan Dinehart. Allen Jenkins returns once again as Cagney’s sidekick, and Alice White is a riot as Jenkins’s ditzy dame. Some funny dialog by Bertram Milhauser in this one, coming in at the tail-end of the Pre-Code era. Cagney’s always worth watching, even in minor fare like this one. Fun Fact: Cagney’s battles with boss Jack Warner over better roles were legendary, and the actor went out and got a Teutonic-style haircut right before shooting began, just to piss the boss off!  

Dwight Frye & George Zucco in “Dead Men Walk”

DEAD MEN WALK (PRC 1943; D: Sam Newfield) – Perennial second stringer George Zucco starred in a series of shockers as PRC’s answer to Monogram’s Bela Lugosi series . Here he plays twins, one a good doctor, the other a vampire risen from the grave to enact his gruesome revenge. Despite the ultra-low budget (PRC made Monogram look like MGM!), it’s a surprisingly effective chiller due to some ingenious camerawork from Newfield. Much of the film’s plot elements are borrowed (some would say stolen) from Universal’s DRACULA , including casting Dwight Frye as the vampire’s loyal servant. Fun Fact: Romantic lead Nedrick Young later won a Best Story Oscar for Stanley Kramer’s 1958 THE DEFIANT ONES, which featured another horror icon, Lon Chaney Jr.

LADIES DAY (RKO 1943; D: Leslie Goodwins) – Broad baseball comedy (no pun intended) about star pitcher Eddie Albert , who is easily distracted by pretty women, falling for movie star Lupe Velez . They get hitched, and the other player’s wives band together to kidnap her and keep them apart so Eddie can concentrate on winning the World Series! Silly but enjoyable farce elevated by a cast of comic pros: Patsy Kelly, Iris Adrian , Joan Barclay, Max Baer Sr, Jerome Cowan , Cliff Clark, and Tom Kennedy (Nedrick Young’s in this one, too… a banner year for the actor!). Maybe not a classic, but a whole lot of fun, especially for baseball buffs like me. Fun Fact: Director Goodwins has a cameo as (what else?) a movie director.

MYSTERY STREET (MGM 1950; D: John Sturges ) – Tight little ‘B’ noir as a Boston bar girl’s (Jan Sterling) skeletal remains are discovered on Cape Cod, and police Lt. Ricardo Montalban tries to piece together the murder puzzle with the help of a Harvard forensics professor (Bruce Bennett) and some good old-fashioned detective work. Early effort from Sturges benefits from excellent John Alton photography and a script co-written by Richard Brooks . Elsa Lanchester is a standout as a blackmailing landlady among a strong cast (Betsy Blair, Walter Burke, Sally Forrest, Marshall Thompson, Willard Waterman). Fun Fact: Filmed in Boston, and many of the neighborhood sights are still recognizable almost 70 years later to those familiar with the Olde Towne.

Victor Buono as “The Strangler”

THE STRANGLER (Allied Artists 1964; D: Burt Topper) – Lurid psychological thriller stars Victor Buono in his best screen performance as a sexually repressed, schizoid psycho-killer with a creepy doll fetish. Ellen Corby plays his domineering, invalid mother. Cheap, tawdry, sensationalistic, and definitely worth watching! Fun Fact: Lots of old horror hands worked behind the scenes on this one: DP Jacques Marquette (ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN ), Art Director Eugene Lourie (director of THE GIANT BEHEMOTH and GORGO), Editor Robert Eisen (INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS ), and makeup man Wally Westmore (WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE, WAR OF THE WORLDS).

HYSTERIA (MGM/Hammer 1965; D: Freddie Francis ) – This Hitchcockian homage gives character actor Robert Webber a rare starring role as an amnesia victim embroiled in a GASLIGHT-like murder plot. Director Francis’s keen eye for composition hide the budget restraints, and producer/writer Jimmy Sangster’s script pulls out all the stops, but I couldn’t help but wonder while watching what The Master of Suspense himself could have done with the material. As it is, a fine but minor piece of British noir with horror undertones. Fun Fact: Australian composer Don Banks’s jazzy score aids in setting the overall mood.

BEN (Cinerama 1972; D: Phil Karlson ) – Sequel to the previous year’s horror hit WILLARD is okay, but nowhere near the original. Crazy Bruce Davison is replaced by lonely little Lee Hartcourt Montgomery, an annoying kid (no wonder he’s lonely!) who befriends Ben and his creepy rat posse. The rodents cause havoc at the grocery (“Rats! Millions of ’em! At the supermarket!”) and a health spa in some too-brief scenes, but on the whole this looks and feels like a TV movie, right down to it’s small screen cast (Meredith Baxter, Joseph Campanella, Kaz Garas, Rosemary Murphy, Arthur O’Connell, Norman Alden). We do get genre vet Kenneth Tobey (THE THING ) in a bit as a city engineer, and the climax will remind you of THEM! , but like most sequels, this one fails to satisfy. Stick with the original. Fun Fact: Montgomery would grow out of his annoying stage and become an 80’s heartthrob in GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN.

And now, here’s Michael Jackson singing the cloying love theme from BEN at the film’s conclusion. Rats – yuchh!:

Halloween Havoc!: DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! (Columbia/Hammer 1965)

Miss Tallulah Bankhead  jumped on the “Older Women Do Horror” bandwagon with 1965’s DIE! DIE! MY DARLING!, a deliciously dark piece of British horror from the good folks at Hammer. It was Tallulah’s first screen appearance since 1953’s MAIN STREET TO BROADWAY, and the veteran actress is a ball of fire and brimstone playing the mad Mrs. Trefoile, a feisty religious fanatic who locks up her late son’s former fiancé in an attic room in order to save her mortal soul.

Things start out innocently enough, as American Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) travels to England to be with her new fiancé Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufman). She’s received a letter from her deceased ex’s mother and agrees to pay her a visit, despite Alan’s protestations. Driving to Mrs. Trefoile’s ramshackle old farmhouse, Pat discovers the old woman’s more than a bit odd, holding daily church service for her servants, dressing all in black, and eschewing any food with flavor. Mrs. Trefoile freaks out when Pat wears a crimson outfit to dinner, insisting she change to a more conservative color immediately. Pat soon finds out Mrs. Trefoile considers Pat her daughter-in-law now – for life! Not only that, she locks Pat in an attic room and piles on the psychological and physical torture to convert Pat from her evil, secular ways. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues as Pat desperately tries to escape from the gun-toting, Bible-spouting madwoman and her flock.

Tallulah has a field day as Mrs. Trefoile, performing sans makeup and her hair pulled severly back. It’s a bold change of pace for the glamourous actress, and Tallulah pulls it off in her own inimitable style. Mrs. Trefoile is the very model of sexual repression, and her devotion to her late son’s memory is illustrated as she talks to him and sleeps with his childhood teddy bear. A lesser actress would have gone over the top, but Tallulah manages to play things totally straight and creates one of the genre’s scariest psycho-biddies. She’s cast against type as the pious fanatic, as her sexual and hard-partying exploits were well documented by the press. Tallulah Bankhead made less than two dozen pictures, spending most of her career on the stage, but shows she was a master of movie acting with this juicy part.

Stefanie Powers is more than up to the task of acting opposite Tallulah as Patricia. DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! was made a year before Stefanie starred as TV’s THE GIRL FROM UNCLE, and is her best movie role. Later she teamed with Robert Wagner and veteran Lionel Stander for another hit series HART TO HART (1979-1984). Mrs. Trefoile’s servants include Peter Vaughn (GAME OF THRONES) as the lustful Harry, Yootha Joyce (HAVING A WILD WEEKEND ) as his powerful wife Anna, and a young Canadian named Donald Sutherland as the simple-minded Joseph. Wonder whatever happened to him?

Richard Matheson’s  screenplay takes it’s time building the suspense, slowly ratcheting things tighter and tighter for poor Pat until the final frightening crescendo. Horror fans are well aware of Matheson’s work in novels, short stories, film, and television. This was his only foray into ‘Grand Dame Guignol’ territory, and it’s one of the genre’s best. Director Silvio Narizzano made his feature film debut here; he’s best remembered today for the British hit GEORGY GIRL. Hammer Films’ original title to DIE! DIE! MY DARLING! was FANATIC, but when released in America Columbia changed it to play off Tallulah’s famed catchphrase (she called everyone “dah-ling”). Miss Bankhead was not amused, but by any name, this is a terrifying piece of work that belongs on your Halloween watch list. Bravo, Tallulah!

Halloween Havoc!: BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (AIP/Hammer 1971)

Hammer’s ‘Mummy’ movies never really did it for me, but BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a shroud of a different colour. Adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel “The Jewel of the Seven Stars”, the movie suffered some behind the scenes setbacks, which contribute to its choppy nature. The backstage chaos began when original star Peter Cushing’s wife passed away after only a day’s filming. He was replaced by Andrew Keir (QUARTERMASS AND THE PIT). Then before shooting was complete, director Seth Holt (TASTE OF FEAR, THE NANNY) died of a heart attack, and Hammer veteran Michael Carreras had to step in to finish the film. Despite all this, BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is one of the better latter-day Hammers, picking up steam as it goes along, with a great performance by sexy star Valerie Leon.

Leon plays Margaret Fuchs, who was born the same day her father Professor Julian Fuchs (Keir) opened the tomb of Egyptian Queen Tera. Margaret grows up to be not only a dead ringer for the evil queen, but is given a large ruby ring on her birthday for protection. But the ring pulls Margaret under the spell of Tera’s power, and soon she and her boyfriend (who goes by the name Tod Browning!! ) get involved with supernatural shenanigans courtesy of dad’s former expedition partner Corbeck (James Villiers, THESE ARE THE DAMNED), gathering up ancient lost relics taken by other expedition members.

The murders are fairly gory, and there are some good frights along the way to the climax, when Queen Tera rises from the dead and battles Margaret for dominance. This was Leon’s only starring role, and she makes a fine Scream Queen. I’m surprised Hammer didn’t use her for other horror entries; instead she continued appearing in the CARRY ON series and a pair of James Bond flicks (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). Also in the cast is George Coulouris, veteran of such classic films as CITIZEN KANE, FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, and WATCH ON THE RHINE.

I’m not saying BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB is a great horror flick; it’s far from perfect, and the behind the scenes tragedies hurt the continuity. But Leon and the cast somehow make it all work, and I’d choose it over the 1980 remake THE AWAKENING, with Charlton Heston and Susannah York trapped by a moldy script. At least this version has Valerie Leon to ogle, and she delivers a treat for your Halloween viewing.

 

Oh No SHE Didn’t!! (MGM/Hammer 1965)

she1

…didn’t manage to keep me awake, that is! That’s right, I actually dozed off in the middle of SHE for a good fifteen minutes! This so-called adventure film, a remake of the rousing 1935 Merian C. Cooper production starring Helen Gahagan and Randolph Scott, is based on a novel by H. Rider Haggard, a pretty big-deal adventure novelist back in the day, who also wrote the novels KING SOLOMAN’S MINES and ALLAN QUARTERMAIN. The ’35 version was filled with sumptuous Art Deco sets and a dynamic score by Max Steiner, and proved popular with moviegoers of the day.

she2

But the times, they do a-change, and so do tastes. Hammer Films decided to do this remake thirty years later, with Ursula Andress in the title role. ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. caveman John Richardson plays Leo Vincey, who’s the spitting image of Queen Ayesha’s long-lost love Kallilkrates. Hammer’s top tag-team Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee are in the cast, as is British comic actor Bernard Cribbins. An exciting story, a top-notch cast… what could go wrong?

she3

Well, to put it simply, the whole thing’s boring, with no chemistry at all between sexy Ursula and stiff John. Maybe he’d spent too much time in the stone age, I don’t know, but they just don’t click. Cushing and Lee are good as always, though the sight of Cushing boogieing with belly dancers in the opening scene is unintentionally funny. Lee has his moments as Ursula’s high priest, but they’re few and far between. The film just felt hopelessly outdated, and dragged on and on. Zzzzz…

she4

How boring was it? Well, I woke up in time to catch the final twenty minutes or so, hoping for a rousing finale. It wasn’t… I should’ve stayed asleep! And this was in the middle of the day, mind you, not during some late night movie marathon. Surprisingly to me, SHE was a box office hit, and Hammer actually made a 1968 sequel starring Richardson and the immortal Olga Berova, which tanked (I tried watching it and ended up turning off the TV).  So my recommendation is you watch the older version and skip this comic book nonsense. And not even a good comic book, mind you… I’m talking like Charlton or *gasp* Gold Key!

Cleaning Out the DVR Pt 10: Halloween Leftovers

hl1

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:

hl2

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”.

hl3

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 .

halloween4

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.

HAMMER FILM PRODUCTIONS 'HANDS OF THE RIPPER' (1971) STARRING ERIC PORTER, JANE MERROE AND ANGHARAD REES. Dir: PETER SASDY ABOUT TO BE RELEASED ON BLU RAY. THEBLACKBOXCLUB.COM

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!

hl6

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.     

Halloween Havoc!: Christopher Lee in THE DEVIL’S BRIDE (Hammer 1968)

db1

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!

db2

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.

db3

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”.

db4

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.

db5

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!

Halloween Havoc!: Joan Fontaine in THE WITCHES (Hammer 1966)

witches1

THE WITCHES (also called THE DEVIL’S OWN) was the last film of Oscar winner Joan Fontaine. This Hammer entry in the “older actress do horror” sweepstakes is a low-key, atmospheric thriller about devil worshippers in the English countryside that holds up right until its (for me) unsatisfying finale. But we’ll get to that later.

witches2

Miss Fontaine plays Gwen Mayfield, a missionary in darkest Africa attacked in the midst of an uprising by a voodoo cult. After suffering a nervous breakdown, Gwen interviews for a job as a teacher at a private school in Heddaby run by siblings Alan and Stephanie Bax. Alan wears a clerical collar, though Gwen soon discovers when she gets the job he’s not a reverend after all. In fact, the local church is in ruins. She receives a note from Ronnie Dorsett, a gifted student in need of tutoring, about Linda Riggs, a girl he’s sweet on. The note says Linda’s “Granny treats her crool”, and the boy tells Gwen that old Granny put Linda’s hand through the wash wringer. When Gwen goes to the Riggs’ home, she’s told Linda just had an accident, though Gwen notices the home is filled with homemade potions. What she doesn’t notice is Granny’s black cat Vesper has been following her.

Ronnie’s later taken away by ambulance after slipping into a coma. Gwen discovers a doll with its head missing, pins sticking in it, and angry Mrs. Dorsett blames her for her son’s woes. Ronnie gets a little better, and his mother takes him out of Heddaby to Wales. Mr. Dorsett is found the next day drowned in a pond, and Gwen sees footprints in the reeds. She’s then nearly attacked by a herd of sheep, whose trampling obliterates them. Gwen begins to put things together and concludes “they” are planning on sacrificing Linda. Stephanie urges her to remain quiet until they can gather more evidence, but before they do, Gwen is revisited by the voodoo horrors she encountered in Africa.

Gwen’s taken to a nursing home after suffering another breakdown, with no recollection of what happened in Heddaby. She regains it when she sees a child’s doll, triggering her memory, and escapes the home, returning to the village. The people act oh-so-civilized towards her, but when she observes them scurrying about in the dark through her window, she follows them to the church ruins. There Stephanie is conducting a Latin Black Mass, praying to almighty Satan! Gwen is coerced into learning the ritual that will keep Witch Queen Stephanie young by transferring herself into Linda’s body.

witches3

The bizarre ritual begins with some well-choreographed pagan dancing, eerie drum beats, eating entrails, and an orgy. Linda is possessed by Stephanie’s will and joins in the dark revelry. She’s about to be sacrificed when Gwen disrupts the proceedings by spilling blood on Stephanie’s sacred robe, killing her instantly. The villagers are released from the witch’s power, and Gwen and Alan live happily ever after.

THE WITCHES is for the most part filled with quiet horror and a sense of dread, not unlike a Val Lewton production. The only thing that stops me from liking it more is the abrupt end of the witch Stephanie. I expected a fiery demise or the summoning of some netherworld demons, instead it’s just blood on the robe and *poof*, party’s over. It just seems all that buildup was wasted for what would’ve been a real genre classic.

witches4

Joan Fontaine is good, as always. The star of Hitchcock’s REBECCA and SUSPICION (which garnered her the Oscar) and JANE EYRE had a long, illustrious career, but was overshadowed by sister Olivia de Havilland   . Their feud is almost as famous as their films, and regrettably the siblings didn’t speak to each other for decades until Fontaine passed away in 2013.

kay

Kay Walsh plays Stephanie, at first seeming to be Gwen’s only ally until her true nature is revealed. The former wife of director David Lean was featured in such British films as IN WHICH WE SERVE, OLIVER TWIST, STAGE FRIGHT, and THE MAGIC BOX, among her many credits. Alec McCowen (Alan) was primarily a theater actor whose film work includes A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, and Hitchcok’s FRENZY. Martin Stephens (Ronnie)  played in VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and THE INNOCENTS. Ingrid Boulting (billed here as Ingrid Brett) plays Linda.

ww

Cyril Frankel’s direction of Nigel Kneale’s script is moody and properly tense. If it wasn’t for the so-so ending, I’d rate THE WITCHES a lot higher on the horror scale. As it is, I’d have to say it’s a not quite classic supernatural story, and recommend it for its first 85 minutes. The last five stop it from being completely satisfying for genre fans, or maybe that’s just me. Give it a look yourselves and make your own judgements!