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Monthly Archives: September 2006

Peter Cushing stars in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors

From the video box: On a train ride to oblivion, Dr. Terror joins five other men in their private compartment. Using a deck of Tarot cards, his “House of Horrors,” he predicts grotesque deaths for each one. And Dr. Terror is never wrong. Not ever. The only escape is no escape at all. The only escape is death! (1965, color)

Mark says: It is hard not to compare this Amicus production to a Hammer film. It features mostly British actors and settings, is of the horror genre, and stars two leading men who put Hammer Films on the map, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing.

Unfortunately, this is as far as the comparison can go. The production values for which Hammer is famous certainly do not exist in this film. Amicus also fails to execute the stories in an engaging way, probably because of less than adequate scripting.

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Village of the Giants, 1965

From the video case: Eleven year-old Genius (Ron Howard) mixes up some super-goo with his chemistry set, turning cats and ducks into giants. When a group of wild teenagers see the results, they gobble it up too and turn into towering tyrants, challenging adults and making mayhem while the world desperately searches for an anti-teen antidote. (1965, color)

Mark says: You will certainly recognize some names in this film, Ronny Howard as Genius, Beau Bridges as Fred, Tommy Kirk as Mike (I like him better in Mars Needs Women), and Toni Basil as go-go dancer, Red. Joy Harmon plays Merrie, the giant, bikini-clad, rebel teenager (pictured above, with Beau Bridges).

Let me state a bias right up front: I’ve never been a fan of beach party movies, and this movie has much more in common with a beach party movie than a monster flick.

The primary flaw of Village of the Giants is that it tries to be amusing. Not only does this movie fail in its attempt to be funny, but it fails to be humorous even in a bad movie sort of way. Intentional camp often defeats the purpose, especially when done poorly. And how much slow motion go-go dancing can a person take?

Jack Nitzsche’s original soundtrack that plays during the opening credits and while the giants dance is powerful in a trippy sort of way. The sixties band, the Beau Brummels, also perform and get a pretty good sound for not using microphones. I have to note, though, that the lip-syncing in this movie makes Ashlee Simpson look like real talent. Especially watch for Freddy Cannon singing Little Bitty Corrine. Most embarrassing.

If you like beach party movies (without surfing, or even a beach) and if you’ve just dropped a tab of LSD, this movie may prove fun for you. For me, it just fell flat.

If you want real camp, giant goodness, I recommend Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman.

Village of the Giants is produced and directed by Bert I. Gordon (Beginning of the End, Empire of the Ants).

Scene to watch for: Tommy Kirk fights a giant tarantula, and then a giant Beau Bridges, while wearing embarrassingly short shorts and white socks.

Line to listen for: “Dig that nitty gritty!”

Trivia: Joy Harmon. who plays giant bikini-girl Merrie, is also the woman in the car washing scene from Cool Hand Luke. Joy retired from film in 1968 to raise a family.

Mark’s Rating: ! ½ out of 5.

IMDB Link

Victor Buono is The Strangler, 1964From the video case: Victor Buono stars in this psychological thriller about a paranoid psychotic whose overbearing mother drives him to commit murder. Eight beautiful women have been strangled so far and the police are baffled. All they can do is wait until the canny killer tips his hand. But Leo Kroll (Buono) is very clever. He’s also a good son. He always visits his mother, whom he secretly despises. She’s an ill-tempered woman bedridden with heart trouble who has just survived a near fatal attack, thanks to her nurse, Clara. This makes Leo so angry he’d like to kill Clara. So he does. And now the police finally begin to close in. (1964, b&w)

Mark says: Until I started this site, I never really noticed how inane video/dvd box descriptions are. Anyway, the above description will work well enough as a synopsis.

This film is obviously based on the Boston Strangler killings that were taking place at the time, and I imagine it was considered quite disturbing. In fact, it is still unsettling, especially the scenes where Victor Buono (What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte) experiences orgasmic delight as he chokes his victims to death. I have to admit to being a little shocked myself.

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Twice-Told Tales, 1963

From the DVD case: Twice-Told Tales spins three gripping, diabolical nightmares of madness, mayhem, and murder most foul!

Vincent Price stars in all three stories, including “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment,” about a scientist who finds the fountain of youth and lives to regret it; “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” the twisted tale of a demented father whose love for his daughter turns poisonous; and “The House of Seven Gables,” the ghostly legend of an ancient cursed family who lived for power and died for greed! (1963, color)

Mark says: Twice-Told Tales is such an obvious attempt by MGM to cash in on the success AIP had with Roger Corman’s Poe series that it is almost embarrassing. Just the year before (1962) AIP released Tales of Terror, a film highlighting three tales by Edgar Allan Poe, with each story featuring Vincent Price as the connecting actor.

In Twice-Told Tales, we are treated to three tales adapted from stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne (the title is taken from his short story collection of the same name), and, again, Vincent Price (The Abominable Dr. Phibes, The Pit and the Pendulum) serves as the common actor in all three segments. Just a coincidence? I think not.

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Paranoiac, 1963From the DVD case: Simon (Oliver Reed) is a psychotic man who is driving his sister, Eleanor (Janette Scott), insane, so that he can inherit the estate of their dead parents. But when a mysterious man (Alexander Davion), who claims to be a long-lost relative, saves Eleanor from committing suicide, Simon’s plans are thwarted. Simon vows to get revenge on the impostor and take care of his sister in the process. (1963, b&w)

Mark says: Paranoiac begins with an interesting, though very improbable, premise: a brother, long thought dead, returns to the family estate to find his sister near madness, his brother a drunk, and himself the benefactor of a fortune. But first, he must prove to the family that he is the man he says he is.

Unfortunately, the story gets so tangled up in plot twists that it becomes preposterous. This is more of a thriller than a straight-out horror picture.

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The Haunting, 1963

From the video case: Dr. Markway is an anthropologist with a special interest in psychic phenomena who wants to try a true exercise in terror. Intrigued by the legend of Hill House, he invites two women, psychic researchers, to join him in his adventure. Mrs. Sannerson, who has inherited the old mansion, is suspicious of Dr. Markway’s intentions and insists that her young nephew Luke go along with the group. Luke is a skeptic about the supernatural, until he enters Dr. Markway’s eerie world. (1963, b&w)

Mark says: The major flaw with the description posted above is that it neglects to mention the character this film is centered around, the nervous Eleanor Lance, played exquisitely by Julie Harris. It also features the talents of Claire Bloom (The Illustrated Man) as Theo (the psychic with lesbian undertones), Russ Tamblyn as Luke Sanderson (the young skeptic), and Richard Johnson as Dr. Markway. This film is based on Shirley Jackson’s novel, The Haunting of Hill House.

As a testament to The Haunting, I will state up front that I’ve only watched it twice. Once when I first purchased it on video cassette years ago, and then again tonight. How is this a testament, you ask? It’s a testament in the sense that this movie freaked me out so much during my first viewing that I have only tonight gone back for seconds.

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Reptilicus, 1962

From the DVD case: Exploring the depths of the frozen Arctic tundra, Danish scientists discover the remains of a huge prehistoric monster when their drill comes up dripping with flesh and blood! But scientific study soon turns into prehistoric payback when the terrifying specimen regenerates itself and begins a blood-curdling reptilian rampage. Immune to bombs and impervious to missiles, Reptilicus reigns over a world where only one thing is certain – now that he’s defrosted, civilization is about to be cooked! (1962, color)

Mark says: I can not absolutely declare Reptilicus the worst giant monster flick ever made, as there are some giant creature films I’ve not seen, but it’s hard to imagine that a less convincing beast has ever dis-graced the silver screen. The Giant Claw features an equally terrible “special effect,” but the movie is at least entertaining. Even AIP, a distributing company with less than stellar standards, was reluctant to release this monstrosity.

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The Manster, 1962

From the DVD case: An American reporter is sent to interview a Tokyo-based scientist. The scientist goes completely mad, and while experimenting with mutations, he turns the reporter into a two headed monster called The Manster, half-man and half-monster. The ending is truly bizarre. (1962, b&w)

Mark says: The Manster. Even the title sounds like a joke. This American/Japanese production is just as silly as the title suggests, though it does have a few eerie moments and one unforgetable scene.

Satoshi Nakamura (The Human Vapour, Mothra) plays Dr. Robert Suzuki, a Japanese scientist who attempts to speed up evolution to create an entirely new species of man. We learn early on that two of Dr. Suzuki’s experiments have failed miserably. His first experiment on his wife, Emiko (Toyoko Takechi), resulted in half of her face practically drooping off. This is actually a disturbing sight, especially in combination with her constant groaning and screaming. Emiko, reduced to the status of a grotesque beast, is kept in a cage in the doctor’s lab.

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Kiss of the Vampire, 1962

From the DVD case: Lost on the way to their honeymoon, a young couple stumbles upon a mysterious family of vampires and their unspeakably evil leader.

A wrong turn leaves Marianne (Jennifer Daniel) and Gerald (Edward De Souza) stranded in a remote Bavarian forest where they have no choice but to accept the hospitality of the hypnotic Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), distinguished lord of the local castle.

Ravna uses his “children” to lure the newlyweds to his lair, and soon, they are plunged into a nightmare of horror and deception from which there may be no escape. Their only hope is Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans), who calls upon an ancient ritual in a desperate attempt to destroy the vampires and free Marianne from Ravna’s power. (1962, color)

Mark says: Sometimes referred to as the vampire version of The Lady Vanishes, this is a fine example of a Hammer Film Production. Even without the help of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, or Director Terence Fisher, this movie proves to be both interesting and entertaining.

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The Pit and the Pendulum, 1961

From the DVD case: Haunted by horrifying childhood memories, the son (Vincent Price) of the Spanish Inquisition’s most notorious assassin teeters on the brink of insanity. But when his adulterous wife fakes her own death to drive him over the edge, she soon discovers that betrayal cuts both ways – as the man she wants to destroy becomes not only her judge and jury – but also her executioner! (1961, color)

Mark says: After The Fall of the House of Usher received both box office success and critical acclaim, American International Pictures was quick to implore Director Roger Corman (The Wasp Woman, Attack of the Crab Monsters) to direct another Poe-based film. The result was The Pit and the Pendulum.

If the look and feel of The Pit and the Pendulum seems familiar, it may have something to do with the shared cast, crew and sets from all the other Poe-inspired films that Corman would later produce. Like The Fall of the House of Usher, the screenplay was written by Richard Matheson (The Night Stalker, Duel) and Les Baxter was responsible for the original music in both films.

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