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Category Archives: Movie Reviews 1961

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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Poster for Bloodlust! 1961

From the DVD case: Beginning with a serene charter boat ride and quickly descending into savage brutality, this lost gem, inspired by the classic thriller, The Most Dangerous Game, features an eerie atmosphere and intense performances. When two couples enjoying a seafaring vacation spot an uncharted island, little do they realize the horrible events that will soon threaten their very lives. Ensconced in a sinister mansion as the guests of the mysterious Dr. Balleau, the visitors quickly discover a trophy room where the heads mounted on the walls are human, and that they are the next game to be hunted. (1961, b&w)

Mark says: Though Bloodlust! is nowhere near the caliber of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), it does hold a certain kitsch appeal. There’s not much suspense, but there are some laughs and even a few genuine surprises.

Our hero, Johnny, is played by Robert Reed. Does that name sound familiar? You’ll most likely remember him as Mr. Brady from the TV series, The Brady Bunch. Reed makes for a pretty dull hero, but his ridiculously tight-fitting shirt provides some entertainment value.

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Tor Johnson is The Beast of Yucca Flats, 1961

From the DVD case: Fans of The Incredible Hulk will love this early sixties horror film. After accidentally being exposed to a dose of atomic radiation, a Russian scientist’s body undergoes massive transformation. With this ill-tempered monster out to reek havoc on the world, is anyone safe? (1961, b&w)

Mark says: The Beast of Yucca Flats is as close as you can get to an Ed Wood movie without actually being an Ed Wood movie. It has a ridiculous plot line, cheesy narration, wooden acting, and features Ed Wood regular Tor Johnson (Bride of the Monster, Plan 9 from Outer Space) in a starring role. Still, Beast of Yucca Flats fails to capture that certain Ed Woodian charm.

The movie’s most obvious flaw is its lack of dialog. The entire story is told through the narration of writer/director Coleman Francis. What little dialog we do hear was obviously dubbed in later, and not very well at that. It seems the most creative efforts were devoted to obscuring the characters’ faces as they spoke.

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The Innocents, 1961

From the DVD case: The Innocents, a chilling adaptation of Henry James’ novella “The Turn of the Screw,” is one of the most frightening films ever made. Set in nineteenth-century England, this gothic ghost story centers around a governess (Deborah Kerr) taking care of two orphans in a foreboding Victorian mansion. As eerie apparitions appear and the children’s behavior becomes strange, the governess begins to wonder about the the fate of the previous governess and her sadistic lover. Could it be that their restless spirits are conspiring to corrupt the innocence of the children, or is this “haunting” a product of her own fears and imagination? (1961, b&w)

Mark says: This movie has everything going for it: a respectable lead actress in Deborah Kerr (as Miss Giddens), two fine child actors in Martin Stephens (Village of the Damned, The Witches) and Pamela Franklin (who later went on to star in such movies as The Legend of Hell House and Satan’s School for Girls) and a wonderfully atmospheric setting in an old, and possibly haunted mansion.

Add to that, fine direction by Jack Clayton, a screenplay by William Archibald and Truman Capote, which is based on a novella by Henry James, and you have a combination that is hard to beat.

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Konga, 1961

From the video case: After discovering a potion in the jungle that makes plants grow to ten times their normal size, Dr. Decker returns home to England to give the brew to his lab companion, Konga, a baby chimp. Amazingly, Konga begins to grow and obeys every wish of Dr. Decker, even murder! But when Konga’s growth spurt goes ape, things quickly spin out of control, and soon this killer gorilla goes on a rampage sending London into a frenzy of terror! (1961, color)

Mark says: Konga offers us man-eating plants, a giant ape, a pretty girl, and a mad scientist in the form of Dr. Charles Decker, played by horror/sci-fi great, Michael Gough (Horrors of the Black Museum, Horror of Dracula). It’s a terrible movie in most respects, but wonderfully entertaining overall.

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Promotional still for The Curse of the Werewolf, 1961

From the video case: Oliver Reed portrays the bloodthirsty man-beast who loves by day and kills by night in this gripping gothic thriller.

Directed by horror filmmaker Terence Fisher of Hammer Film fame, this atmospheric tale of terror follows Reed, the orphan baby of a maniacal beggar and a mute girl, from birth to manhood when he discovers his horrible secret.

Try as he may, the cursed youth is unable to suppress the dark forces within. When the moon is full, he becomes an uncontrollable killer incapable of distinguishing between friend and foe. (1961, color)

Mark says: This is the first and only werewolf picture produced by Hammer Studios. It’s also unusual for a Hammer film because the backdrop is in Spain rather than England.

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Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory (aka Lycanthropus) 1961

From the DVD case: A reform school for wayward girls is plagued by monstrous attacks. Suspicion falls on several dubious characters when a death is caused from what appears to be an animal slaying.

The police investigate as to whether the attacks are caused by a beast or a vicious werewolf on the prowl. In the dormitory the girls are in a state of panic and terror.

A nightmare of fiendish horrors! Unbelievable until you see it with your own horror-stricken eyes! (1961, b&w)

Mark says: Not nearly as provocative as the title suggests, this is an Italian/Austrian film dubbed in English. I personally prefer the original title of the movie, Lycanthropus, though I appreciate the camp value of the English version.

This is more of a murder mystery than a genuine horror flick, and sometimes the intricate plot gets in the way of a good werewolf story. The false leads presented in the film become tiresome, and I found myself longing for more scenes involving the actual monster. The werewolf itself is not elaborate, but the make-up is adequate. I doubt any hardcore horror fans will be frightened by this beast, though.

If you are lucky enough to purchase a certain copy of this film, you will be treated to a terrible schlock song, The Ghoul In School, during the opening credits.

This movie stars Barbara Lass, Curt Lowens, and Carl Schell. It is directed by Paolo Heusch (sometimes credited as Richard Benson).

Scene to watch for: The unusually ghastly expression on Mary’s face (the first victim) as the doctor examines her throat wound.

Line to listen for: “You wanted a little love on the sly, then find me a way out of this pig pen!”

Trivia: The pretty lead actress, the late Barbara Lass, was Roman Polanski’s first wife.

Mark’s Rating: ! ! ½ out of 5.

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