The following article was originally published in Films and Filming (London), November 1957 and then reprinted in Castle of Frankenstein #14, 1969. A very special thanks is due to regular reader and commenter, Paul Bollenbacher, for sending me this article in its entirety.
I dislike the word “horror” yet it is a word that has been tagged to me all my life. It is a misnomer…for it means revulsion. The films I have made were made for entertainment, maybe with the object of making the audience’s hair stand on end, but never to revolt people. Perhaps terror would be a much better word to describe these films, but alas, it is too late now to change the adjective. My films even prompted the British Censor to introduce a certificate in the early 30’s known as H…for horror.
Early in 1931 when the first Frankenstein film was released the Universal publicity department coined the phrase “A Horror Picture” and from that day on the “horror film” was here to stay. This genre of film entertainment obviously fulfills a desire in people to experience something, which is beyond the range of everyday human emotion. This conclusion can be drawn from two facts.
First, from the tremendous success financially and otherwise of the early Frankenstein films and subsequent pictures of a similar type. Secondly, because of an incident on the set of Stranglehold, a British “horror” film which I have just finished making at Walton Studios. We were about to shoot a sequence in which a man is fogged. Suddenly the set was crowded by studio workmen and office girls all eager to have a look! There is a violent streak in all of us: and if it can be exploded in the cinema instead of in some antisocial manner in real life, so much the better.
Perhaps the best possible audience for a “horror” film is a child audience. The vivid imagination with which a child is gifted is far more receptive to the ingredients in these pictures than the adult imagination, which merely finds them artificial. Because they have vivid imaginations we must not underestimate children…they know far more than we think they do.
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From the DVD case: When Helga Hammond (Heather Angel) hears of a legend that an unholy alliance was formed between the devil and her family, whereby a male member of the family is to be sacrificed every few years, she discounts it as nonsense. But a series of attacks at the family estate by a horrific beast – part man and part wolf – seems to give credibility to the legend. When Helga’s brother Olvier (John Howard) is attacked, it appears that the legend is true. As Scotland Yard Inspector Robert Curtis (James Ellison) investigates the link between the werewolf and the family, he uncovers a shocking secret! (1942, b&w)
Mark says: The Undying Monster was produced to capitalize on the success of The Wolf Man, released a year earlier, and at first we think we’re watching a film that may rival the Universal classic.
Immediately we are drawn in by the atmospheric cinematography of Lucien Ballard and the superb direction of John Brahm (Hangover Square, The Lodger). As a clock strikes midnight, we are given mysterious views of Hammond Hall with each gong. We move from a coat of arms, to a woman’s limp (lifeless?) hand, to a Great Dane, to a suit of armor, and so on. Already, we are treated to a certain amount of apprehension and curiosity.
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From the DVD case: The world has just been decimated by an unstoppable, merciless army of killer robots, and millions of innocent souls have been wiped out! Only a handful of survivors have managed to escape the deadly alien apocalypse, and they must endure a non-stop struggle to save themselves from destruction, and somehow find a way to defeat the marauding death machines before the entire human race becomes extinct! (1964, b&w)
Mark says: The Earth Dies Screaming is only one of a handful of films Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula, Island of Terror) directed outside of England’s Hammer Studios. Fisher was uncanny in the way he could construct richly atmospheric films on shoestring budgets. Unfortunately, even Fisher’s skills could not save this movie from looking incredibly cheap.
The Earth Dies Screaming begins interestingly enough, with people falling over dead for apparently no reason, and a string of unexplained calamities. A locomotive speeds off the tracks; a plane nosedives and explodes; a car drives full speed into a wall. I was instantly put in mind of the 1960 film, Village of the Damned, in which an entire community is rendered unconscious by an unseen force. In fact, it appears a few of the opening scenes in The Earth Dies Screaming are suspiciously similar to scenes in Village of the Damned (e.g. compare the scenes featuring the plane crashing behind the tree line and the car driving into the wall). Regardless, we later discover these people aren’t simply unconscious, but stone-cold dead.
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From the DVD case: Director Edward L. Cahn teams with another great writer, Bernard Gordon (using his blacklist nom de plume, Raymond T. Marcus) for this delightfully loopy adventure about a sunken ship’s cargo of diamonds guarded by its zombified crew members. And wouldn’t ya know it, there’s a bunch of foolhardy scavengers who aren’t scared of the swimming dead. (1957, b&w)
Mark says: The DVD description gives us a hint as what to expect from Zombies of Mora Tau. It’s never favorable to hear a zombie flick described as a “delightfully loopy adventure.” It makes you think the film might feature Abbott and Costello (which it doesn’t).
What Zombies of Mora Tau does have is a strong cast of B-movie regulars. Most notably, Allison Hayes (Attack of the 50 Foot Woman) stars as Mona Harrison, a greedy and voluptuous vixen. Mona has her eyes set on Jeff Clark, played by Gregg Palmer (From Hell It Came, The Creature Walks Among Us), even though she is married to George Harrison (Joel Ashley). Morris Ankrum (Kronos, Earth vs the Flying Saucers) portrays Dr. Jonathan Eggert, a man more interested in a story than diamonds. Marjorie Eaton (The Reincarnation of Peter Proud) is a Maria Ouspenskaya-like character (see The Wolf Man) known as Grandmother Peters. You’ll also recognize Gene Roth (Twice-Told Tales, Attack of the Giant Leeches) as Sam, the chauffeur.
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