Following up on this week’s in-depth discussion of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski launch into an informal chat about horror, fantasy, and science fiction films of 1960, including BLACK SUNDAY (which will become the subject of a future podcast in August). Also on the menu: another look at DESPICABLE ME and reaction to the news that writer-director Guillermo Del Toro will be helming a film based on Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion theme park attraction, reviving a franchise that has lain dormant since the disappointing 2003 version of THE HAUNTED MANSION, starring Eddie Murphy.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is a low-budget, science fiction epic-adventure-wanna-be ultimately sabotaged by Arthur C. Pierce’s weak screenplay. According to To “B” Or Not to “B” by Robert Clarke & Tom Weaver, the project came about when actor-producer Robert Clarke optioned a script by Arthur C. Pierce, which Clarke planned to produce through a deal withMiller Consolidated Productions. Les Guthrie, the film’s production supervisor, suggested Edgar G. Ulmer as director, and Clarke, who had worked with Ulmer on THE MAN FROM PLANET X, agreed.
Despite having scripted several science fiction films (THE COSMIC MAN, THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS, MUTINY IN OUTER SPACE, CYBORG 2087 WOMEN OF THE PREHISTORIC PLANET, DESTINATION INNER SPACE, DIMENSION 5, and possibly uncredited work on NAVY VS. THE NIGHT MONSTERS), Pierce talent could only charitably be described as lacking. Ulmer was never happy with Pierce’s threadbare script and demanded rewrite after rewrite, driving Pierce to such frustration that he broke a pencil in front of Ulmer’s face. According to Clarke, “The incident did seem to bother Edgar a little bit; I remember that later on, Edgar in his heavy Hungarian accent referred to Art as, ‘This writer who brrreaks his pencil in frrront of my face!’”
With a commitment to begin production in Texas, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER was forced to get underway before the script problems were fixed, and the film suffers for it. Guthrie arranging shooting in Carswell Field in Fort Worth, depicting an Air Force Base, and The Texas Centennial Fair Grounds in Dallas for the underground city. The entire production took place on a 9- or 10-day schedule, with a budget of $125,000. I was originally saw BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER as part of an Ulmer Retrospective at UCLA, sponsored by the Goethe Institute, with Robert Clarke and Shirley and Arianne Ulmer in attendance. Shirley Ulmer explained that, having minimal budget resources, Edgar was fascinated by how he could reuse the same triangle structures to construct the various sets needed. This became a major design motif for the film as well as a huge budget-saver.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER begins in 1961 with Major William Allison (Clarke) doing a high-speed test flight for the new X-80, an experimental jet craft (represented by footage of an F-102). He achieves such speed that he “breaks” the time barrier and is propelled into the year 2024. Despite finding his base deserted and the world a desolate wasteland, Allison stubbornly refuses to accept that he has traveled into the future, making him seem more an imbecile than a reasonable hero.
BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER posits that atomic testing wiped out much of the Earth’s protective ozone layer; cosmic radiation seeped in, creating a plague in 1971 that wiped out most of this future world. Some of the population has immigrated to Mars or Venus, while the “First-stage” mutants built underground cities to escape the radiation. At one point Allison sees a bad matte painting of an above-ground city, but that is never explored. (Shirley Ulmer suggested that Edgar himself had painted the drawing). Instead, Allison is captured and brought to the underground Citadel where the Supreme (genre stalwart Vladimir Sokoloff) considers him a spy and an enemy, and doesn’t even recognize the major’s Air Force insigna (another foolish conceit of Pierce’s. given that the leader is clearly more than 63 years old). However, the Supreme’s daughter Trirene (Darlene Tompkins), a mute with telepathic powers (she can read thoughts but not transmit them), convinces the leader that Allison means no harm, and she becomes attracted to this man from Earth’s past.
Surprisingly, Allison finds other time travelers trapped in the same Citadel: General Karl Kruse (Stephen Bekassy), Captain Alicia Markova (Adrienne Ulmer, acting under the name Adrienne Arden), and Dr. Bourman (John Van Dreelen). Only now, after Kruse tells him, does Allison finally believe that he is in the year 2024. Allison learns that the members of the underground city are waging a war with the more mutated mutants (represented by stock footage from Lang’s JOURNEY TO THE LOST CITY plus three men in obvious bald caps). Markova convinces Allison that the only way to prevent this future is to travel back to the past in his experimental plane and warn the world to changes its ways.
Not surprisingly, the science explaining the time barrier is bad, as Bourman uses a blackboard to suggest that the Earth is somehow spinning near the speed of light already. “You had a velocity approaching the speed of light before you even left the ground,” he seriously intones, off by a factor of over 600 million miles per hour. Even sillier, to return to his own time, all Allison need to is reverse his course.
To create a diversion, Markova releases several imprisoned mutants, who proceed to slaughter every underground inhabitant they encounter. Trirene gets Allison the plans to the tunnels that lead back to his ship; Allison wants to take her back with him, but Markova has other ideas, pulling a gun on the pair only to be shot by Kruse. Bourman then kills Kruse and demands to be returned to his time. Trirene jumps in the middle of their argument and takes a bullet meant for Bill, who in turn kills Bourman and brings the Supreme back his dead daughter. Fortunately for Major Allison, the Supreme decides it is best for Allison to return to his own time.
In the big finale, Allison lands his plane, having crossed the time barrier again; only now he is 50 years older (Clarke made-up with crinkled rice paper by former Universal makeup star Jack Pierce to give the appearance of very wrinkled skin).
Of course, being released the same year as George Pal’s wonderful THE TIME MACHINE did BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER no favors; it is much inferior on every level. The citizens of the Citadel are not the Eloi—the underground mutants don’t feast on them or exploit them as the Morlocks do in H. G. Wells’ famous tale. Instead, this conflict is more akin to Clarke’s CAPTIVE WOMEN for its central conflict, with some time traveling and a warning about a possible bleak future thrown in for good measure.
Although Clarke was usually at least likeable, here he comes off as unpleasant and stubbornly stupid refusing to believe the evidence of his own eyes. Even worse, stunt man Boyd “Red” Morgan, who has a pronounced Texas accent, was given a major role as the Supreme’s torture-advocating underling, and it quickly becomes clear that he is no actor.
Ulmer in his career made many interesting and wonderful low-budget films. Sadly, BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER is no worth companion to such classics as THE BLACK CAT, BLUEBEARD, DETOUR, or THE MAN FROM PLANET X. Additionally, the sound quality is very bad on the prints that I have seen, making this dull and clichéd film even more unintelligible.
Miller Consolidated Pictures hired exploitation expert Kroeger Babb to ballyhoo BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER, and Babb figured to attract an audience with a gigantic giveaway contest featuring major prizes. Unfortunately, thanks to particularly bad timing, the money was wasted when a gigantic snowstorm kept away potential moviegoers in the Northwest; the company lost their shirts, going into bankruptcy shortly afterwards. Consolidated Film Laboratories foreclosed on liens on BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER and its co-feature THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN, then sold both to AIP for distribution. BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER (1960). Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer. Screenplay by Arthur C. Pierce. Cast: Robert Clarke, Darlene Tompkins, Vladimir Sokoloff. Boyd “Red” Morgan, Stephen Bekassy, arianne Ulmer, John Van Dreelen, Ken Knox, Jack Herman, Don Flournoy, Tom Ravick.
With theatres offering no new genre films this weekend, The Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Podcast turns its all-seeing gaze back through the mists of time a 50th anniversary ocular examination of EYES WITHOUT A FACE, director George Franju’s moody masterpiece of art house horror. Imagine a beautiful dream of lyrical black-and-white images, of a lonely young woman, flitting through her home like a silent spectre. Her face, hidden behind a mask that makes her resemble a mannequin, is a ruined mess. Her father, a brilliant but monomaniacal surgeon, is trying to restore her beauty – a process that involves kidnapping look-alike victims and transplanting their faces onto hers. When you see the operation in full view of the unblinking camera, you realize that your dream has erupted into a nightmare whose shock derives from the horrendous manner that the graphic imagery violates the poetic beauty of the film. The result is a classic not only of the genre but of cinema, easily one of the greatest horror films every made. Follow Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski as they dare to look beneath the mask – it’s all part of Cinefantastique’s ongoing Celebration of the Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Films of 1960.
David Pirie in his excellent book A Heritage of Horror identified a new kind of horror film that developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, namely the Sadian horror film, so-called because it was suggested that they would appeal to sadists only. The initial titles in this trend were HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, CIRCUS OF HORRORS, and PEEPING TOM, but of course the tradition stretches back to the days of the Grand Guignol.
An early American contender for this new Sadian type of horror movie was the sleazy shocker THE HYPNOTIC EYE, which features one of the most memorable openings of any ’60s movie, right along side of Sam Fuller’s classic kick-off to THE NAKED KISS. The first shots of THE HYPNOTIC EYE depict a young woman lathering up her hair with shampoo. Instead of bending over the sink as one might expect, we see her bending over an open flame on her range – in a unique shot from the range’s point of view. Her hair catches fire (actually flames are superimposed over her hairdo) as her screams of agony dissolve into police sirens. Sick? Certainly, but a brilliant piece of shock cinema that grabs the audience’s attention immediately. THE HYPNOTIC EYE is the brainchild of William Read Woodfield, who initially had the idea of making a movie with nothing but white lines that would hypnotize an audience and plant the suggestion that they had experienced a great movie. He told the idea to his agent, Charles Bloch, who turned around the sold the concept to Allied Artists; only naturally Allied Artists wanted a real movie to go with it. Woodfield banged out a script he called THE SCREAMING SLEEP; George Blair, who had directed many episodes of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN was assigned to direct, shooting the film in 12 days on a budget of $365,000. Following the fiery opening, Detective Steve Kennedy (Joe Partridge) tries to comfort the now bandaged woman, who seeks assurance that she won’t be transformed into a monster. An orderly shakes his head no when Kennedy glances at him, and after receiving false assurance to ease her mind, the woman passes away. Later, Kennedy discusses a recent spate of female mutilations with criminal psychologist Dr. Phillip Hecht (Guy Prescott). So far 11 women have been mutilated, including one who mistook the blades of a metal fan for a vibrator, a woman who mistook a razor for her lipstick, and one who drank lye when she thought she was drinking coffee. (Blair cuts from this dialogue directly to the image of the metal blades of a fan to give the dialogue an additional level of discomfort). Kennedy heads out with his girl friend Marcia (Marcia Henderson) and her friend Dodie (Merry Anders of TIME TRAVELERS) to see a stage hypnotist, the Great Desmond (Jacques Bergerac). Kennedy is a skeptic and insists that the hypnotist uses plants and stooges to achieve his results. When looking for volunteers, Desmond selects two women and then selects Dodie, after a nod from his assistant Justine (Allison Hayes of ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN fame). Desmond makes Dodie stiff as a board, then light as a feather, and causes her to levitate using nothing but hypnotism (and stage magic). He also whispers something into her ear that is apparently a post-hypnotic suggestion. After the show, Dodie heads home and prepares to wash her face in her sink. Once more director Blair and cinematographer Archie Dalzell select an unusual angle through a glass sink as Dodie pours something into the water. Another angle shows us that she poured in sulfuric acid just before using her hands to splash her face. Suddenly registering pain, she pops up in THE HYPNOTIC EYE’s second major shock scene, and we see in her bathroom mirror that the acid has already eaten into her flesh.
Compared to later films in this cycle, such as Hershel Gordon Lewis’ THE WIZARD OF GORE and Joel Reed’s BLOODSUCKING FREAKS (aka THE INCREDIBLE TORTURE SHOW), THE HYPNOTIC EYE is relatively tame, but for its time it was quite a shocker. That the victims are all beautiful women has caused the film to be labeled misogynist by some. On the other hand, from this point, the plot deals mainly with Marcia’s correct assumption that Desmond has something to do with the mutilations, with Kennedy allowing Marcia to go back to Desmond and jeopardize her own safety in order to find the truth. The Hypnotic Eye of the title proves to be a blinking device with the shape of an eye with concentric circles that flashes light at the spectator. Desmond conceals it in his palm to put his victims under his hypnotic control more quickly. Dr. Hecht twice gives warning that while hypnotism has medical benefits, in the wrong hands it can cause great harm. However, as regular viewers of Penn & Teller’s show BULLSHIT! know, hypnotism itself never works without the full participation of the so-called victim. Like the good journeyman director that he is, Blair keeps THE HYPNOTIC EYE moving at a good pace, and manages a few more effective shock and suspense scenes. In one, Kennedy canvases the surviving victims, asking them if they had attended a hypnotism show, heard of Desmond, or of Justine. All of them, including Dodie, say no. However, one of the women asks for a cigarette and a light, and when Kennedy digs in her purse for some matches, he sees a “hypnotic eye” balloon, and as he lights her cigarette, we see that the woman had gouged her own eyes out (her face having been kept dark until that moment).
Another good suspense scene has a hypnotized Marcia in her own apartment as Justine suggests she take a nice shower while turning up the water to its hottest setting. Just as Marcia is about the enter the shower and become scalded, a now-concerned Kennedy knocks at her door, causing Justine to hold off at the present and attempt to pass herself off as an old roommate of Marcia’s over for a visit. (Kennedy uncovers the lie as he knows Marcia never attended a private boarding school, though why he doesn’t recognize her as the magician’s assistant just seems to point up his obtuseness). Unfortunately, THE HYPNOTIC EYE stumbles a bit in the third act, as we get treated to a ten minute segment in which Desmond attempts to hypnotize the entire audience (including the audience in the theater watching the film). This was ballyhooed by Allied Artists as Hypno-Magic (a variation of the Hypno-Vista gimmick that Emile Franchel used to open American engagements of HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM), and it stops the forward momentum dead as we watch members of the audience following Desmond’s directions – and as we supposedly become hypnotized ourselves.
At the climax, we finally get the motivation behind all these mutilations: when Desmond gets shot, Justine rips off her face mask to reveal a scarred visage beneath, before doing a double-gainer onto the stage below her. Fortunately, our plunky young heroine is plucked from peril by her paramour as we reach the happy ending, and Hecht reminds the audience not to allow anyone but a medical doctor or someone assigned by a medical doctor to hypnotize them, contravening the intentions of the sequence which occurred just shortly before. Unfortunately, the heavily French-accented Bergerac is more of a liability than an asset to THE HYPNOTIC EYE. As Woodfield told Tom Weaver on the Astounding B Monster website, “My idea of casting was a man named Pedro Armendariz; I thought he would have been wonderful as the hypnotist. Somebody got the idea of Jacques Bergerac, and Bergerac was available and Armendariz wasn’t, and Armendariz had language problems that were too much. But Armendariz to me had the look. No one has ever accused Bergerac of being a very good actor.”
Adding some interest to the picture is a sojourn to the beatnik coffee house where Lawrence Lipton recites a beat poem, “Confessions of a B Movie Addict,” with numerous references to classic horror films while musician Eric “Big Daddy” Nord beats time on the bongos. Additionally, Ferdinand DeMara, known as the Great Imposter for his practice of bluffing his way into occupations he had no business being in (such as ship’s doctor and lumberjack), was given a cameo as a doctor in a hospital, which according to Woodfield allowed them to promote the film with DeMara’s appearance on the JACK PAAR SHOW. (DeMara wrote a best seller about his exploits, which became a movie with Tony Curtis and was the basis of the TV series THE PRETENDER).
While overall rather low-rent and disreputable, THE HYPNOTIC EYE does provide some genuine shocks, and after seeing it on Seymour’s FRIGHT NIGHT TV show, I have never forgotten it. Even so, it is still not as sleazy as THE BRAIN THAT WOULDN’T DIE, and it does hold your interest throughout. This is one early ’60 shocker that deserves to be better known and to finally see a release on video. THE HYPNOTIC EYE (1960). Directed by George Blair. Written by William Read Woodfield, Gitta Woodfield. Cast: Jacques Bergerac, Allison Hayes, Marcia Henderson, Merry Anders, Joe Patridge, Guy Prescott, Fred Demara, Jimmy Lydon, Lawrence Lipton.
For those looking for a quality sword & sandal movie, they better look elsewhere than GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, but for those who take a guilty pleasure in silly dialogue and ratty-looking fantasy monsters, this movie is bad movie gold.
After the unexpectedly enormous success of Embassy Pictures’ import of HERCULES, American International Pictures shopped around for a Hercules-type film of its own, settling for La Vendetta di Ercole (“The Vengeance of Hercules”). However, since Joe Levine claimed to own the rights to the name Hercules, AIP renamed the hero Goliath before entering the fantasy film into the U.S. box office sweepstakes. Sam Arkoff even ponyed up extra cash to Projects Unlimited and Jim Danforth to add some extra stop-motion footage of a full-sized dragon for the film (in the climactic confrontation, all Goliath attacks is a very cheesy-looking giant head of a dragon). Once again, composer Les Baxter created a new musical score for the U.S. version.
Aiding in making GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON saleable in the States is that the film has two American stars—Brooklyn-born and muscle-bound Mark Forest as Goliath and Broderick Crawford as his nemesis Eurysthesus, bearing a scar that looks like he was auditioning for Scarface only to be told to report to Italy. Eurysthesus has usurped the throne and wishes to become the head honcho in Goliath’s beloved kingdom of Phoebes.
Unfortunately, GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON gets off to a very bad start: the first image is Forest’s rear end heading towards the screen. Perhaps opening with the protagonist mooning the audience is a fitting ways to prepare us for what follows. Goliath is not the sharpest blade in the knife drawer, as he descends into a pit without the use of a rope. Once he reaches the bottom, he is attacked by a thread-bare three-headed dog, apparently meant to be Ceberus, with a flame thrower projecting from each mouth (at one point Forest receives a dangerous blast of flame apparently aimed right at his brylcreamed hairdo). This pathetic pooch, however, is no match for the mighty thewed muscleman; it is quickly dispatched. Oddly, for no apparent reason, Ceberus’ demise causes a cave wall to collapse, allowing Goliath access to his next challenge.
Throughout GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON, Forest is better at showing off his impressive physique than his fighting prowess; most of his melees are over with before they have begun. Additionally, even though this is a sword-and-sandal picture, Goliath is only armed with a short knife instead of a sword. Was he too busy, when heading out on his adventure, to equip himself properly?
Goliath is on a quest to obtain the blood diamond, but just before he can do so, he is attacked a large bat-winged monster that looks something like the moth-eaten cousin of that sleepy bat creature from THE NEVERENDING STORY or (God help us) a flying Ewok. The bat-thing swings by on wires trying to intimidate our hero, but it too is quickly dispatched, allowing our protagonist to collect his bloodstone and head on home.
Goliath establishes his good-guy credential by assisting a farmer in uprooting a tree; he then heads out hunting and sees his friend Alsinuea (Wandisa Guida) being attacked by the fakest-looking bear costume in the history of movies. (I mean if you thought Beach Dickerson looked ridiculous as a bear in TEENAGE CAVEMAN, you haven’t seen anything yet!) Not surprisingly, the ursine opponent is quickly dispatched. Meanwhile, back in Phoebes, Goliath’s brother Illus (Sandro Moretti) has made the mistake of falling in love with Eurysthesus’ bride-to-be, Thea (Federica Rancha), which causes Eurysthesus to sentence him to be killed in the arena by being tied to a cross and then stepped on by an elephant. Eurysthesus also arranges for a shape-shifting centaur named Polymorphus to kidnap Goliath’s wife Dejanira (Leonora Ruffo of I VITELLONI and HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD fame) and threatens to feed her to the titular dragon. What’s a he-man to do except rescue the brother, bring the kingdom down Samson-style, and quickly dispatch the dragon, whose head is stuck in a large whole, pulling out its tongue?
Of course, having risible dialogue such as “I ask your pardon for my absence, friends, but the unpleasantness is over now! Let us enjoy our dinner!” and “Even the gods are against us! Let’s get started!” doesn’t help matters in the slightest. Adding to the difficulties is that Crawford’s voice has been redone by a not very effective impersonator, nor does it help when he has to wrestle a rubber snake. Additionally, after the opening monster-battle scenes, GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON continually introduces minor and unimportant characters who add nothing to the narrative except to impede it.
Director Vittorio Cottafavi is a specialist in the Peplum genre, having written and directed such films as WARRIOR AND THE SLAVE GIRL (1958), LEGIONS OF THE NILE (1959), HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN (1963), and SON OF EL CID (1964). He keeps things moving and colorful, and fares better with scenes of destruction than with making the mangy monsters look menacing. The Something Weird video version of GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON offers Cottafavi’s CONQUEST OF ATLANTIS as a special bonus feature, along with a few shorts and a collection of pepla trailers.
GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON will appeal to fans of pepla fans and/or cheesy and cruddy creature features. Others need not (and probably should not) apply. For those who like to grab a brewski and jeer at a movie, GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON can make for a fine evening of entertainment, a reminder of the tattered glories of the cinema-going of yesteryear. GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON (a.k.a. La Vendetta di Ercole [“The Vengeance of Hercules”], 1960). Directed by Vittorio Cottafavi. Written by Marcello Baldi, Mario Ferrari, Marco Piccolo, Duccio Tessari, and Archibald Zounds, Jr.. Cast: Mark Forest, Broderick Crawford, Gaby Andre, Philippe Hersent, Leonora Ruffo, Giancarlo Sbragia, Wandisa Guida, Sandro Moretti, Federica Ranchi, Carla Calo.
For kids growing up in the 1960s, the very idea of space travel was still novel and exciting. It hadn’t become a matter of course, even in the movies and on TV. Films like ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE (aka SPACE MEN) could capture the imaginations of young science fiction fans, without expectations of high budgets or seamless effects.
In 2116 Ray Peterson (Rik Van Nutter, Felix Leiter in THUNDERBALL), reporter for the Interplanetary Chronicle of New York, is assigned to a space station, sent up with rocket BZ88. Though he’s been to the moon several times, he’s never been in deep space, and finds the rocket crews and especially the Commander (David Montresor) resent his presence. Even the dryly amiable veteran space man Al (Archie Savage) calls him a leech; a useless drain on always strained resources.
Defying orders, Peterson goes EVA, and saves an astronaut from being killer by a stray meteor. However, his clumsiness detaches a refueling line, and hundreds of gallons of hydrazine fuel are lost.
The crewman he saved happens to be the station’s only female, Lucy (Gabriella Farinon) and inevitably, a romance develops, even though she’s at least somewhat emotionally engaged with the seemingly ever-grim Commander—whose name is George, if only to her.
The slow-paced plot starts to pick up, with the planned rescue of a Mars Rocket—though only one man who bailed out onto the surface of the moon Phobos (and somehow survived the impact) is ultimately saved.
Then the BZ88 must zoom out to Venus —which, oddly enough, has an atmosphere that doesn’t crush their ships and base like tinfoil and instantly roast them alive. (Though to be fair, in 1960 even some reputable scientists were holding out some slim hopes that Venus might be a more hospitable place than it proved to be in reality. The dream of a second Earth dies hard.)
It seems the experimental Alpha 2 ship’s pilot has died and the photonic drive, locked in computer control and emiting a deadly field, will eventually destroy the Earth. Several noble self-sacrifices follow, and the reporter finally proves his worth in dramatic fashion.
ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE was apparently Italian director Antonio Margheriti’s first film as a solo effort. (Credited as Antony Daisies in Italy and Anthony Dawson on the US Dub.)
He’d go on to direct many science fiction and horror films, including WAR OF THE PLANETS (1966), CASTLE OF BLOOD (1964), THE LONG HAIR OF DEATH (1964), as well as peplum such as HERCULES, PRISIONER OF EVIL (1966), often as “Anthony M. Dawson”. YOR, HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE (1983) would combine all three genres.
Co-writing the script for “SPACE MEN” with Ennio De Concini (credited together as ‘Vassilji Petrov’ on the U.S. print), Margheriti came up with ingenious ways to make the SF film on a budget reported (by his son Edoardo — see LINK) to be under $30,000 American dollars.
Like many an amateur filmmaker (and time & budget-pressed pro) for some of the effects, he used commercially available model kits of spacecraft designed by Werner Von Braun and Willy Ley. Von Braun’s ‘3-Stage Ferry Rocket’ is used for the ‘hero’ ship, the BZ88, the Mars ship is the skeletal ‘U.S. Moon Ship’, and the old atomic rocket used by spaceman Al seems to be based on or modified from the ‘RM-1 Lunar Recon Vehicle’. (These kits were made by Lindberg and Strombecker in U.S. during the mid to late `50’s and continued to be available until the `70’s.)
Today, the film would seem to most people a slow-moving and absurdly cheap and hokey piece of cinematic history. One of the explosions in the film, supposed to be on the surface of Mars, is actually a quick shot of an explosion in an alley or parking lot, with the rear of a car visible.
It’s not STAR TREK, it’s not even MAN INTO SPACE—or LOST IN SPACE, for those too young to remember the B&W M.I.S.
The English-language dialog, credited to “Jack Wallace”, is often awkward and perhaps loses something essential in its attempted philosophical points through the translation/lip synch process. I suspect the narration also introduces some non-sequitor referrences to intergalactic travel rather than the film’s actual setting in our solar system.
Yet viewed through my admittedly biased eyes, it still entertains. It’s very much like a 1930’s-50’s pulp space opera tale, complete with the “surprise” female astronaut. It’s also slightly ahead of its time. Suspended animation is used for the first leg of the trip from Earth, possibly one of the first occurrences of the idea in a sci-fi film.
The likable and highly competent character Al is played by a black actor, and no mention of his race is made at all. Nor should it be, in 2116.
Ideas of alienation and depersonalization are introduced; the space crew has literally forgotten that it’s Christmas, at one point. Often they refer to themselves and others by their suit numbers. I don’t think we learn anybody but our hero’s first and last name. However, these are largely just clever devices, not really resonating profoundly—and they’re acknowledged by the space men as not being the ‘right’ attitudes by the end of the film.
Worth seeing for those who are willing to put aside most of their critical faculties in favor of a child-like, but not necessarily childish sense of wonder.
Laughing at it with yout pals over pizza and beer might just work, too.
As the film has fallen into the public domain, most DVDs have very faded color and mushy contrast, likely all from the same scratched print source. The bare-bones Digiview Entertainment DVD I viewed seems to have been transfered from a video master, with some skewing visible on the bottom of the frame.
Released in the U.S. in 1961 by A.I.P., the film appeared in many markets as a triple bill with FIRST SPACESIP ON VENUS (1960) and THE MYSTERIANS (1957). It was ‘presented’ by Fred Gebhardt (THE PHANTOM PLANET, 12 TO THE MOON), with editor/dubbing director Hugo Grimaldi (THE HUMAN DUPLICATORS) credited as producer.
ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE (1960). Directed by: Anthony Dawson (Antonio Margheriti). Screenplay by: Vassily Petrov (Ennio De Concini & Antonio Margheriti .Cinematography by: Marcello Masciocchi. Produced by: Turi Vasile and Goffredo Lombardo for Titanus Appia Studios. American Version: Fred Gebhardt Presents a Four Crown Project, Produced by Hugo Grimaldi. ‘Narration’ by: Jack Wallace. Music: Gordon Zahler (Library Tracks edited by Ted Roberts, according to IMDB.) Running Time: apx. 79 minutes. Cast: Rick Van Nutter, Gaby Farinon, David Montresor, Archie Savage, Alain Dijon.
Made in Italy as L’Ultima Preda Del Vampire (“The Last Prey of the Vampire”), THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE was picked up for American distribution and dubbed by Richard Gordon (THE HAUNTED STRANGLER, ATOMIC SUBMARINE), then released in the U.S. in 1963. The American version, 7 minutes shorter than the Italian original, was released as an “adults only” picture with a poster suggesting that it might be a “nudie cutie” feature, though patrons expecting plentiful pulchritude doubtlessly felt cheated. There is a female vampire in it who prowls a castle in the buff looking for victims, but her body is repeatedly obscured by shadows and camera angles.
THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE was the creation of Piero Regnoli, who previously had co-written I, VAMPIRI (American title: THE DEVIL’S COMMANDMENT, 1956) with Riccardo Freda. , I, VAMPIRI had kicked off the Continental horror boom after decades without any Italian horror films being made; it set the basic tropes of mixing scares and sexuality that Italian horror cinema would explore throughout the 1960s. Regnoli wrote and directed THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE, but though he remained a prolific screenwriter, he only directed a few more features before his death in 2001. (SAMSON IN KING SOLOMON’S MINE and SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN THIEVES were two of them).
The playgirls of the title are not playgirls at all, but rather showgirls who are being bused to their next engagement when the driver learns that a storm has rendered the road impassable. The driver takes a fork in the road and winds up at the castle of Count Gabor Kernassy (Walter Brandi). They ask to stay the night and Kernassy takes little interest until he sees Vera (Lyla Rocco), who looks to be the reincarnation of Margerhita, the woman with whom his ancestor had fallen in love.
Regnoli’s most effective horror moment comes at the very beginning when he borrows Tod Browning’s famous shot of a vampire’s hand emerging from an opened coffin, here restaged with a stone sepulcher. The vampire in the crypt is Kernassy’s look-alike ancestor who seeks fresh blood to sustain his immortality. Kernassy warns the troupe not wander about the castle at night, but the next morning the body of Katia (Maria Giovannini) is found dead on the lawn, apparently having fallen out of the window.
Lack of originality is one of the main problems that plagues THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE. Unlike Freda, whose films explored perverse sexuality such as necrophilia and sadism, Regnoli offers only showgirls lounging around in negligees, teddies, and stiletto heels. Additionally, there is minimal characterization (the three other showgirls are given no real personalities) and minimal plot as well.
Though the viewer can’t take THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE seriously, the film is not played for laughs either (the closest it gets is when one of the showgirls spots a long table and wonders aloud, “I wonder if they will let me do my high-kick specialty on it.” The manager (Alfredo Rizzo) is portrayed as a lech who goes to bed, not with one of his girls, but with a copy of a girlie magazine. He explains to the housekeeper that the girls “have been very upset,” and that practicing their routines is “the only way to make them stop worrying about it.”
However, worry doesn’t really enter into the equation very much. Vera seems barely upset over Katia’s death. When the next night she discovers that Katia’s grave is empty, she remains unconcerned. Instead, she develops an attraction to Kernassy, who has a laboratory in his basement and explains he is researching a creature that sustains itself with blood, /again Vera expresses little concern – not even a question or two about how safe things might be.
Despite its short length, THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE is plodding and mediocre. On the plus side, it is very atmospherically photographed by Aldo Greci. The film also offers two nice scenes at the climax. In one, the now vampiric Katia comes toward the camera to claim a victim, only to be staked by her male vampire (Brandi in a dual role) counterpart. The other notable scene is the male vampire’s staking, which leads to a dissolve of images as the 200-year-old vampire crumbles to a skeleton and then fades away. Rather than employing make-up, this appears to have been done with a series of drawings that dissolve to show the progression of the dissolution.
Though handsome, Brandi is a rather stiff and unimpressive actor, who also starred in two Italian vampire films this year, the other being THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. He later appeared in the similar but more entertaining BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, in which a troupe of models come to a castle only to become victimized by an over-the-top Mickey Hargitay as the Crimson Executioner – a livelier film that only points up all the more THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE’s shortcomings.
For television, the film was re-titled THE CURSE OF THE VAMPIRE, and has also been released under a myriad of alternate titles including DESIRES OF THE VAMPIRE, DAUGHTERS OF THE VAMPIRE, and THE VAMPIRE’S LAST VICTIM. For genre completists, the Gordon-dubbed version is available on DVD from Image Entertainment. THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE (L’Ultima Preda Del Vampire [“The Last Prey of the Vampire”], 1960). Written and directed by Piero Regnoli. Cast: Walter Brandi, Lyla Rocco, Maria Giovannini, Alfred Rizzo, Marisa Quattrini, Leonardo Botta, Antoine Nicos, Corinne Fontaine, TIlde Damiani, Eirka Dicenta, Enrico Salvatore.
Produced during Ray Harryhausen’s most fruitful period, THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER is one of the special effect artist’s most overlooked films, obscured by the fact that it arrived in between such famous titles as THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (my two personal favorites of Harryhausen’s). Partly this is due to the minimal use of stop-motion animation (limited to a squirrel and a crocodile), though effects are otherwise plentiful, and partly it’s because the source novel, poses a number of difficulties, many of which the filmmakers here fail to overcome.
First off, those who have read Jonathan Swift’s complex and satirical classic Gulliver’s Travels know that the titular hero traveled to four different lands; this film contains only the first two (the 3rd world in the title being England, which is briefly presented in the opening). Like many previous adaptations (such as the famous Dave Fleischer animated version), Swift’s story is greatly simplified and presented more as a children’s adventure tale. This adaptation by Jack Sher and Arthur Ross is to be commended for at least retaining more of Swift’s satire than most, but still it descends into farce and cuteness rather than confronting the implications of Swift’s story.
In fact, rather than originating with Harryhausen (as did most of his films), THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER was a project that producer Charles Scheer took on, based on Sher and Ross’s script. Sher was retained to direct the film as well. The amiable and appealing Kerwin Mathews was hired to play the main character, Dr. Lemuel Gulliver, whose name is meant to suggest someone who is gullible. Whereas Swift’s Gulliver starts off as a something of a conceited, clothes-obsessed naïve fool who lacks self-understanding, Sher’s Gulliver is a frustrated idealist who decides that he must make his fortune to get anywhere in the world, much to the consternation of his fiancée Elizabeth (June Thorburn). (In the book, Gulliver is already married and his wife is barely present, but for commercial concerns, the filmmakers decided to add a love interest whose potential nuptials can make for a traditional “happy ever after” ending). Gulliver’s Travels implicitly poses the question of what should be the governing factor in social life: physical prowess or moral righteousness? In his voyage to Lilliput, the first and most famous part of the story, Gulliver has physical might as a giant in Lilliput, where he can defeat the Blefuscudian navy by virtue of his immense size; however, it becomes readily apparent that “might does not make right.” Gulliver does not share the Lilliputian emperor’s (Basil Sydney) appetite for the destruction of his enemies and quickly loses favor when he refuses to accede to the emperor’s demands that the Blesfuscudians be wiped out.
While Sher and Ross eliminate much of Swift’s satirical dialogue, they do at least retain some of Swift’s ironic commentary. For example, the emperor admits he doesn’t need a prime minister to wage a war, “but I need one to blame in case we lose it.” Gulliver discovers that the basis for the war with Blesfuscu is over which end of an egg should be opened first (the Lilliputian emperor favors the small end); the source of the disagreement is a passage in their holy book, rendering the seemingly ridiculous question a religious and moral issue that justifies, in their eyes at least, the warfare it has sparked. The Lilliputians’ moral beliefs easily lead to a very immoral result.
Naturally, as a family-oriented children’s film, THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER eliminates Swift’s scatological humor, which is present throughout the novel. Swift uses this excremental motif to drive home the point that humans are not wholly spiritual or mentally transcendent figures (a typical Enlightenment notion), but are governed by crass, vulgar physical needs. The film version replaces Gulliver alienating the Lilliputian empress (Marian Spencer) by urinating on the palace to effectively put out a fire with him spewing a mouthful of wine to extinguish the flames, and soaking her gown in the process. (Naturally, references to Brobdingnagian flies defecating on Gulliver’s meals get excised entirely).
What THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER does retain is the portrait of Lilliputians as very small, petty people who imagine themselves to be quite grand and glorious. They are filled both with immense pride and also backbiting and conspiracy. Though they are pumped up with self-importance and national pride, Gulliver comes to see that they are actually quite puny and pathetic. When the Emperor accuses him of being a traitor, Gulliver responds, “I stop wars, put out fires, feed people, give them hope and peace and prosperity — how can I be a traitor?”
Conversely, Gulliver experiences life at the opposite end of the spectrum in Brobdingnag where he encounters a land of giants. Initially, his first encounter with the Lilliputians was one of entrapment, as the tiny people tie the giant Gulliver down with many ropes. Similarly, the book, Gulliver becomes enslaved by a Brobdingnagian farmer who later sells him to the royal family.
However, in THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, Gulliver is found by Glumdalclitch (Sherri Alberoni), who takes him to the Brobdingnagian king (Gregoire Aslan), where he is re-united with Elizabeth, who had stowed away on the same boat on which he set sail. Most of the Swift’s Brobdingnagian episode is eliminated in favor of a simple story wherein the king (a very serious and philosophical character in the original) becomes a comic villain whose pride is wounded when Gulliver happens to best him in chess. Swift’s Brobdingnagians represent how the coarse, physical side of human existence cannot really be ignored, as Gulliver encounters difficulties with the flies they ignore, and is repulsed by their enormous pores and their stench and their sexual appetites. Instead, Sher and Ross add the character of Markovan (Charles Lloyd Pack), the court alchemist, who accuses Gulliver of being a witch and imposes a test designed to turn Gulliver blue. As a physician, Gulliver knows enough chemistry to make himself acidic, turning his clothes red instead, but Markovan continues to advocate against him until the formerly benevolent king orders Gulliver be attacked by a pet crocodile (the main stop motion setpiece of the film). Glumdalclitch helps Gulliver and Elizabeth escape by placing them in her basket and tossing it into a river that leads out to the ocean.
At the end of THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER, the couple wash up on a shore that turns out to be England (we see a normal-sized basket in the background rather than a Brobdingnagian-sized one), and the dialogue suggests that the whole experience might have been a dream (a la THE WIZARD OF OZ), but the end result seems to be that Gulliver has learned the folly of ambition and will be perfectly content to settle down with Elizabeth after all, a rather unsatisfying conclusion to the tale. (After all, Harryhausen didn’t get to be a master of his craft by being unambitious).
Harryhausen pulls off most of his effects fairly seamlessly, though one sequence in which Gulliver pulls fish from the sea using his hat is wildly off-scale. Bernard Herrmann’s musical score for THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER is one of the composer’s finest, though the two songs in the film by Ned Washington and George Duning are negligible. Kerwin Mathews hero is suitably decent and appealing. The addition of the fiancée to the storyline probably prompted a similar addition to Harryhausen’s adaptation of FIRST MEN IN THE MOON. Overall, though overshadowed by other Harryhausen’s fantasies, THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER is just what it was meant to be—a reasonably entertaining family-friendly fantasy adventure, lacking Swift’s bitterness and complexity, but still possessing some satirical jabs as the satire has been leavened by farce. THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER (1960). Director – Jack Sher, Screenplay – Jack Sher & Arthur Ross, Based on the Novel Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Producer – Charles H. Schneer, Photography – Wilkie Cooper, Music – Bernard Herrmann, Visual Effects Supervisor – Ray Harryhausen, Art Direction – Derek Barrington & Gil Parrendo. Cast: Kerwin Mathews (Dr Lemuel Gulliver), June Thorburn (Elizabeth Wesley), Sherri Alberoni (Glumdalclitch), Gregoire Aslan (King Brobdignag), Lee Patterson (Reldresal), Basil Sydney (Emperor), Charles Lloyd Pack (Makovan), Martin Benson (Flimnap), Marian Spencer (Empress), Mary Ellis (Queen), Jo Morrow (Gwendolyn Bermogg), Peter Bull (Lord Bermogg)
While surfing the Internet searching for images to illustrate the various reviews and retrospectives we are compiling as part of our ongoing tribute to the Horror, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Films of 1960, I have encountered more than a few of Marie Devereux, the stunning beauty who appeared in a handful of Hammer films, including two memorable titles from the year in question, THE BRIDES OF DRACULA and THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY.
According to Hammer Glamour by Marcus Hearn, Devereux’s real name was Patricia Sutcliffe, and she first earned attention as a voluptuous model posing in cheesecake magazines. She may not have been much of an actress (she remains mute in both her Hammer horror appearances), but her looks were striking indeed. She was more than just sexy; she had a certain domineering demeanor that registered as dangerous on screen, which made her memorable even though her roles are mostly eye candy. With a little assist from director Terence Fisher, she especially stands out in THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY; Fisher turns her into an icon of temptation that leads men into fatal danger.
Devereux’s acting career did not pan out; her movie resume dries up after the mid-1960s. But those two appearances are enough to earn her a small place in horror movie history, which we celebrate here with this selection of photos.
1960. The beginning of a turbulent decade: civil rights, riots, sit-ins. On screen, however – at least as far as mainstream Hollywood is concerned, it is still business as usual, with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handing out an unprecedented number of Oscar to the overblown historical epic, BEN-HUR. If you are searching cinema for hints of the societal tensions that will explode over the course of the next few years, you will have to look elsewhere, to genres that allow buried fears to surface in disguised forms. You have to look to cinefantastique.
What did 1960 have to offer in terms of horror, fantasy, and science fiction films? Essentially, the year was part of a transitional period. Science fiction, which had dominated genre film-making throughout most of the 1950s – with fears of communism disguised as enlarged insects, other-worldly creatures, and various atomic mutations and monsters – waned toward the end of the decade, replaced by a resurrected horror genre, which focused on visceral, bodily fears. While England’s Hammer Films, who had revived the Gothic tradition with new incarnations of Dracula and Frankenstein, continued their successful streak, filmmakers in America and Italy sought to cash in on their success. Japan – long a supplier of giant monsters – showed that they could scale their terrors down to size. Horror was becoming international in scope. But unlike the classic horror of yesteryear, the new films hit closer to home, with stories hinting that the bastions of normality, far from being impervious strongholds, might, in fact, be the source of horror.
PSYCHO and HOUSE OF USHER – even BLACK SUNDAY, to some extent – trace the etiology of terror back to the family, once a sacrosanct institution. Playing to the target teen audience, USHER’s depiction of horror is closely aligned with age: the white-haired Roderick (Vincent Price) stands between the film’s two young lovers. Though technically the brother of Madeline Usher, he exhibits all the signs of parental authority, and one of the illicit thrills of the film is seeing the old authority figure go down in flames along with his house.
Also, in 1960 it is hard to identify the “monster” by mere looks; now he – or she – may walk among us, unnoticed until it is too late. Norman Bates seems to be a nice, shy boy. PEEPING TOM’s Mark Lewis is likewise likable. The new Mr. Hyde, in Hammer Films’ version of the familiar tale, is a handsome bon vivant, not a deformed maniac. The bottom line is this: the safety zone is smaller, if it exists at all; watching the skies for alien invaders is pointless, when the attack is more likely to come from within one’s own neighborhood or household, perhaps even one’s own self.
Although 1960 saw horror exploding on screens around the world, science fiction and fantasy were not entirely absent; they continued, sometimes offering an optimistic counterpoint, sometimes including monsters menacing enough to populate a full-blown horror film. Producer George Pal took us into a future populated by subterranean Morlocks. Stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen, who had switched from science fiction (EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS) to fantasy (THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD) sent Gulliver to Lilliput. The great Ingmar Bergman took time out from his more serious work to send Don Juan back to Earth from Hell.
Another sign of the times was the trend toward color photography. The low-budget black-and-white science fiction – which had once proliferated like pod people in a green house – withered away to almost nothing. Not every genre film had a hefty budget, but even modest productions like HOUSE OF USHER and DINOSAURUS made the effort to look lavish and glossy, thanks to widescreen and/or color – and if not more lavish, then at least more lurid, thanks to the occasional flash of blood, which registered with much greater impact when viewers could see the deep crimson dripping on the screen.
Exactly how many horror, fantasy, and science fiction films were released in 1960? That depends on how you define the genres, and whether you include foreign titles that might not have reached our shores until later. Below we do our best to round up the relevant titles. Read on to get a taste of what the genre had to offer fifty years ago…
-1960 SCIENCE FICTION FILMS-
THE AMAZING TRANSPARENT MAN. The career of the talented Edgar G. Ulmer (1934’s THE BLACK CAT) seemed on a downhill slide with this low-budget effort, scripted by Jack Lewis, about a mad scientist who intends to use an invisibility formula to create an army of invisible zombies. ATOMIC WAR BRIDE. This 84-minute Yugoslavian film (known as Rat in its native land) is an alleged satire on the insanity of nuclear warfare. BATTLE BEYOND THE SUN (Nebo zovyot). Russian film about a race to land the first rocket ship on Mars. Directed by Mikhail Karzhukov and Sleksandr Kozyr, from a script Karzhukov co-wrote with Yevgeni Pomeschchikov and Aleksei Sazanov. Francis Ford Coppola (working under the pseudonym Thomas Colchart) re-edited the film and shot new footage for the U.S. release. BEYOND THE TIME BARRIER. Another film from director Edgar G. Ulmer, this one from a script by Arthur C. Pierce, about a test pilot who inadvertently rockets into a future time, when the ruler wants him to procreate because the male population has gone sterile. THE CAPE CANAVERAL MONSTERS. Phil Tucker, producer of the infamous ROBOT MONSTER, wrote and directed this dismal little ditty, a 69-minute stinker about aliens from outer space who possess the bodies of a man and a woman who died in a car accident. The disembodied aliens are visualized as simple white circles of animation floating across a black screen, an effect reprised at the end to suggest the defeated extraterrestrials will be back for more mayhem – a fate that, fortunately cinema audiences were spared. DINOSAURUS. This sci-fi effort from the team that gave us THE BLOB (1958) is built around a great premise for a cool action-thriller: an island resort is menaced by a pair of prehistoric reptiles accidentally dredged up from the harbor; the brontosaurus turns out to be friendly enough, but the Tyrannosaurus Rex is hungry! The isolated setting forces the characters to defend themselves without help from the army or even much in the way of firepower; they have to rely on whatever is available, leading to a clever confrontation between the Rex and a steam shovel at the climax. The script throws in a cave man as well, who is used mostly for comic relief. In general, the writing, directing, and acting are competent but not outstanding. The stop-motion miniature dinosaur effects may amuse fans for the technique, but only very young viewers will be convinced by them. All in all, this is a pleasant popcorn experience, but it is easy to imagine a better film being made from the central idea. NOTE: Producer Jack H. Harris had hoped that this would be his “forever movie,” the one that lasted in people’s imaginations, because it had more lavish production values than THE BLOB, and it was distributed by a major studio. Although the film turned a profit, it did not become a classic; meanwhile, memories of THE BLOB live on. THE HUMAN VAPOR. Director Ishiro Honda and special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya, the team behind such Toho productions as GODZILLA and RODAN, focus on a human-sized monster for a change: a librarian (Yoshio Tsuchiya) who gains the ability, courtesy of a scientific experiment, to turn himself into a vapor. Cross-breeding science fiction with cop-and-robbers, the script by Takeshi Kimura has the titular human vapor use his abilities to rob banks. The original Japanese titles literally translates at “First Gas Person.” THE LAST WOMAN ON EARTH. Odd-ball effort from producer-director Roger Corman, starring Betsy Jones-Moreland, Antony Carbone, and Robert Towne (who wrote the script) as the last three people left alive on Earth, leading to the ultimate love triangle as the two men vie for the affections of the sole remaining woman. Although shot in color and widescreen, this little movie is a low-budget affair, too slowly paced (in spite of its 71-minute running time) to stand up even as a solid cult film; fortunately, it does have a few things going for it, such as the effective depiction of a depopulated world, realized on location in Puerto Rico with streets full of empty cars abandoned in the middle of the road. The ending even works up a little genuine interest, refusing to cop out with a happy resolution. THE LEECH WOMAN. This black-and-white B-movie from Universal Pictures is too cheap and shoddy to be really good, but like THE WASP WOMAN (see below), it offers some interesting insights on the 1960 male attitudes toward women and aging. It’s about some anthropologists who accompany an old crone back to her village in the jungle, where she reveals a secret that restores her youth; the catch is that the process requires a human victim to work. June Talbot (Coleen Gray) appropriates the secret for her own personal use, more than wiling to have men pay the price for extending her youthful appearance indefinitely. Although June is clearly the villain, the film offers her some measure of sympathy: her first victim is a two-timer who gets what he deserves, and the dialogue explicitly notes the double standards that apply to men and women as they grow older (men earn greater respect, while women are cast aside as worn out and useless). THE LOST WORLD. Irwin Allen’s remake of the 1925 silent classic substitutes live-action lizards for stop-motion dinosaurs. There is a decently sweaty atmosphere to the jungle scenes as Professor Challenger (Claude Rains) leads a team in search of surviving prehistoric reptiles. Michael Rennie (THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), Jill St. John (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER), and David Hedison (THE FLY) fill out the cast, but the humans cannot make up for the fact that we don’t get to see convincing dinosaurs. Charles Bennet wrote the script, based on the fine adventure novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. MAN IN THE MOON. This British comedy, directed by Basil Deardon from a screenplay by Bryan Forbes and Michale Relph, stars Kenneth Moore as a man chosen to be the first to make a flight to the moon. The premise is that Moore’s character is a professional medical test subject who has proven to be highly resistant to disease, so scientists preparing a moon mission decide to use him as a guinea pig, sending him to the moon before any real astronauts go. SHIP OF MONSTERS. 81-minute black-and-white Mexican film about women from Venus who coming looking for male breeding stock. When the hero refuses to comply, the Venusians unleash monsters. The ploy does not work, and they return home, defeated. THE SILENT STAR (Der Schweigende Stern). Based on a novel by Stanislaw Lem (SOLARIS), this German-Polish film from DEFA (East Germany’s state-run Deutsche Filmaktiengesellschaft) was intended as serious science fiction effort, with a high-class production values, including color, widescreen, and four-track stereo. However, when it reached American shores in 1962 as FIRST SPACESHIP ON VENUS, the English-dubbed, re-edited version was unimpressive indeed, providing well-deserved fodder for an episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. Fortunately, the original version is now available on DVD and VOD. It’s still not great, but it is better. SPACE MEN (a.k.a. ASSIGNMENT: OUTER SPACE). Italian film directed by Antonio Margheriti (CASTLE OF BLOOD), about a reporter, assigned to a beat aboard a space station, who must disable the photon generators of an errant space ship, the radiation from which is threatening Earth. THE TIME MACHINE. George Pal, who had produced THE WAR OF THE WORLDS in 1953, returns with another adaptation of H.G. Wells, and this time Pal steps into the director’s chair. The story has time traveler Rod Taylor heading to the future, when society has been divided into two segments: one weak and passive, living on the surface; the other strong and cannibalistic, living underground. Wells’ original was a sort of satiric imagination of the direction in which society might be evolving: it’s the bourgeoisie and proletariat taken to extremes; Pal substitutes the idea that things got this way because of nuclear war. This was quite a lavish production for its time; although some of the special effects trickery is visible at the seams, the work is colorful and engaging enough so that you want to forgive the flaws. Overall, this is an enjoyable effort, though not quite as astounding as WAR OF THE WORLDS. VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED. Excellent, suspenseful science fiction film about the misadventures of a small English town, where the residents wake up after a mysterious bout of narcolepsy, and nine months later the women give birth to children with strange powers (including Martin Stephens of THE INNOCENTS). The always entertaining George Sanders plays the man who first tries to teach the children (who have a nasty habit of using their telepathic powers to bump off those who offend them) and later tries to destroy them, putting his own life at risk. VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET. Jerry Lewis stars in this film version of the Gore Vidal Broadway play (which had made its debut as a television drama). Lewis plays an alien who comes to Earth and falls in love. Unfortunately, along with love, come less pleasant emotions, which may not be worth the price. Vidal’s original was a satire about an alien who wanted to study the Civil War; when he arrives too late – in the 20th century – he decides to start a new war. THE WASP WOMAN. This little black-and-white movie, produced and directed by Roger Corman, casts the striking Susan Cabot as Janice, head of a large cosmetics firm, who resorts to wasp enzymes in order to arrest the aging process. The treatment works; unfortunately, it also morphs her into the titular Wasp Woman from time to time. It is hard to take this thread-bare production seriously; its monster is obviously a riff on THE FLY (1958), but the makeup and production values are no real competition for the earlier film. Still, THE WASP WOMAN retains a flash of interest. It’s a male, sexist depiction of how beautiful women handle aging, going to such desperate lengths that they turn themselves into monsters. ALSO OF NOTE: In order to get the running time up to the minimum length needed for a television sale, Jack Hill added a prologue sequence. (NOTE: THE WASP WOMAN was shot in 1959, and some sources list it as having been released in October of that year; others list the release date as February 12, 1960.) WORLD WAR II BREAKS OUT (Dai-sanji sekai taisen: Yonju-ichi jikan no kyofu). This Japanese film from writer-director Shigeaki Hidaka (with a directorial assist from William Ross) portrays the tragic consequences for Japan when a nuclear war erupts between the USA and the Soviet bloc.
-1960 FANTASY FILMS-
THE 3 WORLDS OF GULLIVER. The men behind THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1957) – producer Charles H. Schneer, actor Kerwin Matthews, and (most importantly) special effects supervisor Ray Harryhausen – reteamed for this film version of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Although much of the Swiftian satire is lost in the screenplay by Arthur A. Ross and director Jack Sher, the film emerges as another colorful showcase for Harryhausen’s visual effects. Without much in the way of monsters to animate, Harryhausen focuses on the miniature and composite effects necessary to make Matthews look either larger or smaller than everyone else (depending on which of the three worlds he is in at the time). The result is an adequately entertaining fantasy for children. Swift fans will probably prefer the original novel. Harryhausen fans will probably prefer anything with more monsters. THE DEVIL’S EYE. Writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s fantasy-comedy is based around the folk saying that a woman’s virtue is like a stye in the Devil’s Eye. In this case, Satan (Stig Jarrel) sends Don Juan (Jarl Kulle) up from hell in order to seduce a virtuous vicar’s daughter (Bibi Andersson). Bergman’s comedies (such as SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT) are not so much “funny” as they are light-hearted counterpoints to his more serious work. Unfortunately, this film has never been released on Region 1 DVD. FAUST. A German film version of Goethe’s play, starring Will Quadflieg as Dr. Faust and Gustaf Grundgens as Mephistopholes. Unavailable on Region 1 DVD, the color, 128-minute film has a decent rating on IMDB. GOLIATH AND THE DRAGON (La vendetta di Ercole [“The Vendetta of Hercules”]). This is one of many Italian beefcake epics from the era; many were simply muscle-men movies, but others included fantasy elements, often borrowed from Greek mythology. In this film, Goliath/Hercules (Mark Forest) battles giant bats, a three-headed dog, and a dragon. Broderick Crawford (from the 1941 version of THE BLACK CAT and, later, television’s HIGHWAY PATROL) provides a little American name value as King Eurystheus. LA TESTAMENT D’OPHEE. The last film from the highly regarded surrealistic filmmaker Jean Cocteau (BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) portrays an 18th century poet who travels through time seeking divine inspiration. THE WILD BEAST OF CRETE. Inspired by Greek mythology, this Italian peplum film is about an evil ruler in Crete, who keeps the dangerous man-monster hybrid the Minotaur at bay by sacrificing island virgins. THE WIZARD OF BAGHDAD. Dick Shawn and Diane Baker star in this comedy spin on THE THIEF OF BAGHDAD, written by Jesse Lasky Jr. and directed by George Sherman.
-1960 HORROR FILMS-
13 GHOSTS. Gimmicky William Castle film, written by Robb White, for which audience members were given special tinted glasses that allowed them to see the ghosts on screen. ATOM AGE VAMPIRE. Italian rip-off of EYES WITHOUT A FACE (see below), with a mad doctor who is able to turn himself into a monster, so that he can abduct women in order to use their skin to restore the face of his disfigured daughter. THE AVENGER. Germanpsycho-thriller set in England, about a killer who decapitates his victims and sends the heads through the mail. Based on an Edgar Wallace novel. BLACK SUNDAY. Widely regarded by fans as a genre masterpiece, BLACK SUNDAY is a magnificent work of black-and-white horror, filled with wonderfully atmospheric effects and punctuated by moments of brutality quite grizzly for their time. Also known as “The Mask of Satan,” ”Mask of the Demon,” or “Revenge of the Vampire” (depending on the country of release), the film simultaneously harkins back to the Universal classics of the 1930s and emulates the then-contemporary verve and dynamism of Hammer Films productions like HORROR OF DRACULA (1958). The result is a unique piece of Gothic visual poetry that retains its power to thrill and entertain with all the tenacious vivacity of its centuries-dead vampire-witch, who refuses to lie quietly in her grave. This marks the official directorial debut of cinematographer Mario Bava, who would craft several excellent horror and science fiction films over the course of the next two decades. BLOOD AND ROSES. French director Roger Vadim’s adaptation of J. Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla has its defenders, but the Overlook Film Encyclopedia: Horror faults it for “stilted performances…bathetic dialogue, and direction too prosaic to achieve the necessary intensity.” THE BRIDES OF DRACULA. This is Hammer Films’ first sequel to their 1958 classic, HORROR OF DRACULA. Made at the height of the studio’s success, BRIDES OF DRACULA features the familiar elements (beautiful color cinematography, lavish sets, solid writing, strong performances), making this a worthy heir to its predecessor. However, it is perhaps most notable for the obvious absence of the king of vampires, Count Dracula; instead, we get a blond, youthful vampire named Baron Meinster (David Peel). Directed with assurance by Terence Fisher, BRIDES is lavish and beautiful, filled with interesting ideas and memorable scenes. In the end, however, this sequel cannot surmount the absence of Count Dracula. Having dispatched the Vampire King in the previous film, Professor Van Helsing (Peter Cushing) is the Gothic equivalent of the world’s heavyweight champ, and Baron Meinster is a comparative light-weight, making his defeat feel like a foregone conclusion from the very beginning. CIRCUS OF HORRORS. Anton Diffring gives a fine performance in this lurid film directed by Sidney Hayers, from a script by George Baxt about a crooked plastic surgeon who evades the police by assuming a new identity as the proprietor of a travelling circus – which soon becomes famous (or infamous) for a series of tragic accidents, which seem only to increase tickets sales. Besides the visceral kick of trapeze artists falling to their deaths, or lion tamers mauled by the big cats, the film gets its biggest charge from Diffring’s character – essentially a tempermental artist who fashions his female patients to suit his classical ideas of beauty, and then destroys them when no longer satisfied with his own results. Not exactly reputable, but fascinating to watch. Donald Pleasence (YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE) appears early on, as the previous circus owner, mauled to death in a drunken stupor by his favorite performing bear. CITYOF THE DEAD (a.k.a. HORROR HOTEL). This excellent spookfest – about student who gets more than she bargained for when she goes to a small New England town to do research on belief in witches – stops just short of being one of the all-time great horror films. It is drenched in black-and-white atmosphere, and things that should be wrong actually end up helping: the budget-dictated lack of exteriors location shooting, plus the English actors trying to sound American, combine to create a limbo-like feeling, as if the film is set in its own weird little universe. The only drawback is that director Moxie lays it on so thick that sometimes you have to giggle. Fortunately, he redeems the misstep with the wonderful finale – one of the greatest endings you will ever see in a horror film. CREATURES OF THE WALKING DEAD. A mostly forgotten Mexican horror film about a mad doctor’s great grandson, who inherits the family castle and revives his ancestor. THE CURSE OF NOSTRADAMUS. Entertaining opening salvo in Mexico’s series of films about the vampiric son of the famous prophet. Nostradamus fils (Germain Robles) is as much super-villain as vampire, revealing his existence to a professor and challenging him to prevent a series of 13 murders that blood-sucker proposes to commit (all of this is to prove that the powers of darkness and the supernatural are far stronger than those of modern science). The clever concept is somewhat marred by bad dubbing in the U.S. versions, but the film is richly atmospheric, with nice Gothic sets benefiting from some fine photography, and Robles is impressive in the title role. Three sequels followed. THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE. Mexican horror film on the voodoo theme. DOCTOR BLOOD’S COFFIN. A surgeon exhume the body of his receptionist’s husband and attempts to implant a living heart. The wonderful Hazel Court is the receptionist – perhaps the only point of interest to this obscure flick. EYES WITHOUT A FACE (Les Yeux sans Visage, 1960). This brilliant film from director Georges Franju is a compelling and clinically brilliant combination of French art film and shock horror. The plot reads like little more than conventional B-movie schlock: Doctor Genessier, driven by guilt for disfiguring his daughter in a car accident, is the archetypal mad scientist who will stop at nothing to restore her face – even murder. What raises the film to the level of a masterpiece is the thorough conviction with which the story is treated, at all levels: the performances, direction, photography, and art direction – all combine to create a world in which fragile, poetic beauty is periodically shattered by clinical horror. The juxtaposition of the contrasting imagery is, in some miraculous fashion, entirely seamless, all part and parcel of the same picture, never feeling gratuitously grafted on. The result is not merely frightening but also genuinely disturbing – and thoroughly engrossing from start to finish. This is the first “art” horror film, and it’s cross-over appeal between the art house and the grindhouse should not be overestimated. THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS. Black-and-white British horror movie, written and directed by John Gilling (THE REPTILE, PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES, THE GORGON), based on the true-life story of Burke and Hare. Peter Cushing stars as Dr. Knox, the surgeon-teacher who pays the grave robbers to provide corpses for his anatomy students. Donald Pleasence co-stars. THE HANDS OF ORLAC. Mel Ferrer stars in this film, one of several adaptations of the Maurice Renard novel about a pianist who loses his hands in an accident and has the hands of a murderer grafted on in their place. Christopher Lee co-stars. HOUSEOF USHER. With this thick slice of atmospheric horror, producer-director Roger Corman (mentioned only a few paragraphs ago in reference to THE WASP WOMAN) finally got a chance to prove that he could handle a relatively lavish and respectable film. Though still working on a small budget, Corman put together an excellent team that provided lots of bang for the buck, including cinematographer Floyd Crosby and production designer Daniel Haller. Based on Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” the screenplay by Richard Matheson has a bit of trouble expanding the story to 80 minutes, but it manages to convey the gist of the original, while providing an excellent vehicle for star Vincent Price, who became this generation’s heir to the throne of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Corman and Price would go on to collaborate on numerous, even better Poe-based movies, but this is the Big Bang that started it all. HOUSE OF TERROR (La Casa Del Terror). Infamous patchwork Mexican film featuring comic star Tin Tan, which is known in the U.S. in a radically altered form as FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF. Lon Chaney Jr. is on hand as resurrected mummy who turns out to be a werewolf. Wow! THE INVISIBLE CREATURE. Innocuous variation on the familiar story of a scheming adulterous couple out to kill the man’s wife. This twist is that their plot is foiled by the titular invisible creature, a poltergeist. Also known as THE HOUSE IN MARSH ROAD.
JIGOKU. That’s Japanese for “Hell” – in the Buddhist sense. Nobuo Nakagawa, who had previously helmed GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA (1959), directed and co-wrote this bizarre movie about damnation. Nakagawa is sort of the Japanese equivalent of Terence Fisher or Roger Corman, who were active in England and America, respectively, around the same time, and this is probably his most impressive effort. JIGOKU is divided into two sections. The first two-thirds focuses on a grad-school student led into temptation by his Mephistopholean friend, although in this case, temptation consists mostly of passively not doing the right thing, as opposed to actively performing evil actions. This portion of the film goes on a bit long, as we encounter numerous other characters performing actions that will send their souls into perdition; fortunately, it is redeemed by some eccentric stylistic flourishes: the tempter friend is never shown entering a scene; his arrival is heralded by off-screen sound effects (e.g., a train), and then the camera angle shifts to reveal his sudden presence. The film really takes off when everyone dies and goes to hell, at which point, Nakagawa more or less drops the usual tropes of narrative cinema in favor of aiming the horror straight out of the screen at the viewer. In what amounts to an early form of torture porn, we witnesses the various punishments inflicted on the damned (such as having limbs hacked off) for all eternity. Definitely a must-see. GHOST CAT OF OTAMA POND. Writer Yoshihiro Ishikawa, who had contributed to the script’s for Nakgawa’s GHOST STORY OF YOTSUYA and BLACK CAT MANSION (1958), takes a place in the director’s chair for this Japanese horror effort, one of many “ghost cat” movies that were popular around this time. The fairly typical story is filled with intrigue and murder; as usual for this type of tale, the unjustly dead extract vengeance in the form of a cat. THE HAUNTED CASTLE. A German comedy in which the ghosts of a gang of thieves help a financially strapped Countess to overcome her money problems. THE HELL OF FRANKENSTEIN. Mexico’s stab at the Frankenstein story features a body snatcher who gains control of Frankenstein’s creation and uses it to carry out his revenge against those who imprisoned him. THE LAST VICTIM OF THE VAMPIRE. This is the second of two Italian vampires films starring Walter Brandi released in this year. The story has five show girls taking refuge in a castle, where Brandi plays both a friendly count and his vicious vampire ancestor. From available descriptions, it sounds as if the focus is less on horror than on the skin revealed by the showgirls. Also known as THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Roger Corman certainly deserves some recognition for being the only film-maker with three titles on this list. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a cult horror-comedy about a goofy guy who accidentally cross-breeds a carnivorous plant – which not only craves humans for food, but also talks. (“Feed me!”). Except for a couple of cops doing a dead-pan DRAGNET impersonation, the performances tend to be broad, and not everything works, but the film is so off-the-wall ithat you have to sort of like it anyway. Essentially, this is a remake of Corman’s earlier BUCKET OF BLOOD: both films, scripted by Charles B. Griffith, feature lonely losers who accidentally become murderers while seeking fame and success. Although LITTLE SHOP has gained greater fame because of its talking plant (leading to an off-Broadway musical that was turned into a 1986 movie), it is the lesser of the two films; its skid-row setting (indicative of the poverty row production values) offers some comic potential, but it is no match for the Beatnik coffee house of BUCKET. Still, you can’t totally knock a film that so joyfully embraces its own absurdity. THE MASTER OF HORROR. Argentinian anthology featuring episodes based on three Poe tales: “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN. Italian horror film, dedicated to Hammer director Terence Fisher, about a professor who drains blood from beautiful women so that he can inject it into his daughter. The victims are turned into statues, which attract the attention of an art student. MY FRIEND JEKYLL. Italian spoof, about a professor who transfers his personality into the body of a teacher at a girl’s school, where he tries to organize orgies with the students. PEEPING TOM. Michael Powell – a renowned director known for such wonderful films as STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN (a.k.a. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH, 1946) – more or less destroyed his career with this impressive study in voyeuristic horror. It’s about Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm), a crazy camera operator who has a strange compulsion: he likes to kill beautiful women while recording their deaths on film. Steeped in Freudian psychology, the screenplay by Leo Marks has several parallels with Hitchcock’s PSYCHO (both feature likable young men who turn out to be serial killers), but Powell’s film is in some way the more disturbing of the two, perhaps because Mark is more self-aware than Norman, lacking a split personality to keep the likable side of himself separated from his murderous impulses. There is also something about the obvious seriousness of intent that gets under you skin: if you go to PEEPING TOM just looking for a thrill ride, you may be disappointed, but if you allow yourself to be drawn into its world, it will creep you out.
PSYCHO. This low-budget black-and-white shocker is one of the great achievements in the horror genre, although it eschews the monsters and supernatural trappings usually associated with the genre at that time, in favor of a psychologically based approach to terror. As producer Howard Hawks had done with THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, producer-director Alfred Hitchcock took the familiar horror movie clichés and reused them in a new, contemporary setting. Although a realistic tale (loosely—very loosely—inspired by actual events), the approach to filming is full-blown Gothic. The lonely road and the rain the drives a victim to seek shelter where there is only danger—this is the stuff of classic horror movies, as is the spooky house, a fine 20th Century stand-in for Dracula’s castle. And of course, the lurking menace hiding in the attic or the basement—what more could you ask of a horror movie? THE SNAKE WOMAN. Another film from the team behind DR. BLOOD’S COFFIN, about a mad doctor whose injections inadvertently turn his daughter into a cobra. THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY. Although loosely based on the real-life Thuggee cult, whose members killed travelers during the British occupation of India, this Hammer Film earns its place in the horror genre thanks to the fine effort by director Terence Fisher, working from a script by David Zelag Goodman. The story has Captain Harry Lewis (Guy Rolfe) eager to investigate the disappearances of numerous locals. Although the film does not apologize for colonialism, it is smart enough to cast a cynical eye on Lewis’s superiors in the army, whodismiss his concerns, claiming that the Indian populace have a tendency to wander off simply because don’t have the same ties to family and home that the superior English do. Lewis’s pursuit of the truth loses him his job and puts his own life at risk, leading to a confrontation with the cult of Kali, in the form of a high priest played by George Pastel (THE MUMMY). Here, the film enters horror territory, played out in the form of a battle between Lewis’s pet mongoose and the cult’s cobra. In a startling moment, the life-or-death struggle becomes more than two animals fighting, taking on a larger symbolic significance as the creatures embody the opposing forces of light and dark, good and evil. Although not as famous as other Hammer films, this ranks very highly. THE TELL-TALE HEART. A short but fairly well regarded British feature-length treatment of Poe’s story, with a screenplay co-written by Brian Clemens (THE AVENGERS). TERROR OF THE TONGS. Like THE STRANGERLS OF BOMBAY, this is not exactly a horror film; it’s more of a crime melodrama, but the association with Hammer Films, the British House of Horrors, drags it into the horror genre. It’s about a British sea captain (Geoffrey Toone), who runs afoul of the “Red Dragon Tong” while in Hong Kong. Christopher Lee (who deserves credit for being the only actor to show up three times on this list, with appearances in CITY OF THE DEAD, HANDS OF ORLAC, and TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL) plays the Tong’s evil leader, Chung King (yes, he wears slant-eyed makeup). This is not one of Hammer’s best efforts, but the captain’s pursuit of the Tong, no matter the odds against him, generates considerable interest. And the film features one of cinema’s most diabolical lines of dialogue when Chung King, preparing to torture our hero, asks him, “Have you ever had your bones scraped?” TORMENTED. Producer-director Bert I. Gordon, more known for sci-fi flicks like THE AMAZING COLOSSAL MAN, tries his hand at a supernatural thriller, scripted by George Worthing Yates. Richard Carlson (THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON) plays a jazz pianist, whose engagement to a wealthy heiress is jeopardized by his mistress – until said mistress conveniently falls from the top of a lighthouse. However, the spirit of the dead woman, whose body is never found, returns to torment her lover; the haunting is visualized with special effects of crawling hands and ghostly footprints. The film aims for a fatalistic tone by focusing on a protagonist who deserves – and eventually succumbs to – the terror being visited on him, but it doesn’t quite come off. The film was spoofed on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL. Bold and colorful, this imaginative and original take on the old Robert Louise Stevenson tale, smartly scripted by Wolf Mankowitz, is one of the best and most underrated efforts from Hammer Films. After the box office success of CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN in 1957 and HORROR OF DRACULA in 1958, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL sees Hammer pushing the boundaries of the horror genre, emphasizing the drama, characterization, and even philosophic undertones. Director Terence Fisher eschews the usual suspense set pieces in favor of lavish, widescreen production values that suggest an opulent costume drama rather than a tawdry terror tale; with a few exceptions, the horror on display is moral rather than visceral. Unfortunately, this sophisticated approach was not a success, and after another ambitious failure a year later (with THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA), Hammer horrors would retreat to more conventional territory. THE WITCH’S MIRROR. A fairly well regarded Mexican horror film about a witch who enables her murdered god-daughter to extract vengeance against the faithless husband who murdered her. WORLD OF THE VAMPIRES. An eccentric Mexican variation on the vampire theme, in which for some reason the undead can be disabled by particular sound waves, leading to a dubious conclusion in which the villain is defeated by someone playing a tune on a pipe organ. THE VAMPIRE AND THE BALLERINA. Also known as THE VAMPIRE’S LOVER, this Italian production stars Walter Brandi in an attempt to cash in on the recent success of the Hammer Dracula films. It was followed later the same year by THE LAST VICTIM OF THE VAMPIRE (see above). THE VIRGIN SPRING. Director Ingmar Bergman’s film (one of the few he did not write himself) is not really horror, but its story, based on a legend of a father (Max Von Sydow) taking revenge for his daughter’s murder, earned a place in horror history when it served as the basis for Wes Craven’s THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), which was subsequently remade in 2009.
Originally published on July 2, this article has been updated with subsequent entries.