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Claws & Saucers: Introduction


As I wrote Claws & Saucers, I imagined it as a dialogue. Many books and websites were my companions, and I'll quote from them often in the entries below. I also consider Claws & Saucers to be a conversation with you, my reader. I imagine a sympathetic reader who approaches the films with the same high standards and the same hopeful eagerness that I do. Thank you, Dear Reader, for delving into my book.


In my entries, I provide basic information about release dates, directors, actors, and running time. I offer brief plot descriptions (not summaries), and I aim at concise characterizations of mode, mood, lineage, style, and gestalt. I try to mention what is most important to genre fans; i.e. when mentioning additional achievements by actors and directors I focus on genre achievements.


Sometimes I recap critical and popular reactions to the films. Because the IMDb is available to all readers, I provide no index, but I cross-reference films, actors, and directors with other films, actors, or directors that I think readers should investigate.


When I'm able, I connect the movies with history, literature, music, or comics. Most of my comic book connections are to the 1950s EC sci-fi and horror comics, of which I have read every issue. EC, whose heyday was 1950-1953, was equally famous for careful artwork and literate stories. Too many stories relied on shock endings, and too many were unoriginal. But the lack of originality makes these comics a good reference for 1950s and 1960s sci-fi and horror films.


Is my guide really "complete"? It is the most complete guide yet written, because I personally watched virtually every 1902-1982 horror, sci-fi, and fantasy film covered in previous guides or listed on Wikipedia. I omitted some TV movies, some comedies, some thrillers (it's hard to say where "horror" ends and where "thriller" begins), some exploitation flicks (it's also hard to draw a line between horror and exploitation), some international pictures never translated into English, a few Japanese horror movies, some Italian sword-and-sandal movies, most pirate movies, and all James Bond movies, Disney cartoons, superhero serials, and Tarzan movies. But I include many giallo films, some jungle adventures, many animated films, and several surreal or psychedelic films that should be of interest to fantasy fans.


In addition to a commentary on each film, I have tried to provide useful categories for easy reference. The "What's Happening" category is straightforward; it is a brief summation of the movie's hook. The "Famous For" category is less straightforward; if the film is famous then I say why, but if the film is not then I try to encapsulate what makes it remarkable, especially in comparison with other films of its type.


I rate each film from 1-10 in the five things that matter most to genre fans. Five is the benchmark; anything above five means above average for that category.


• The "ACTION" rating takes into account hardcore explosions and fight scenes but also suspense and high drama.


• The "GORE" rating is most concerned with graphic blood and guts on screen, but it also considers implied gore such as descriptions of torture or conceptual gore such as disembodied brains in science labs.  In very rare cases when on-screen gore becomes annoying (e.g.images of open sores), the "Gore" rating goes down slightly.


• The "SEX" rating looks at sex appeal as much as actual sex or nudity. On-screen sex/nudity usually raises this rating, but rape and torture usually lower it.


• Films earn a high "QUALITY" rating if they have achieved their aims, whether these aims be high art or cheap thrills.


• Films earn a high "CAMP" rating whether they are consciously or unconsciously silly.


Below the five ratings, in the "DON'T MISS" category, I try to pick out something interesting that viewers might enjoy anticipating as they watch. In some cases (e.g. The Creature from the Black Lagoon) I picked a famous standout moment. It is in this "Don't Miss" category where I try to be a little cute with my writing, sometimes employing puns or elusive humorous phrases. Finally, I include a "QUOTABLE" or "NOTABLE" line for most entries.


 

 



Excerpt: All entries for the letter "C"


THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Robert Wiene, c.72 min, tinted b&w, 1920

What's Happening: Mad doctor commands sleepwalker to commit mysterious crimes

Famous For: Pioneering Expressionist film; sometimes considered first genuine horror film


This is the first of four German silent films to make a huge and lasting impact on the horror genre (the others being Nosferatu, Faust, and Dr. Mabuse). It ought to be seen by anyone interested in the history of film. Of course, its impact is greatly diminished a century later. It intrigues and surprises, and it moves quickly enough, but there is no longer any palpable horror.


Its most famous element - sets and interiors constructed with distorted geometric (Expressionist) shapes - is its most exciting. Expressionism was admired for its fascination with things strange and subversive and for its deliberate use of vibrant, swirling shapes to express the emotions of the artist or the subjects.


The theme has something to do with control - whether self-control, or control of others around you, or control of one's own physical surroundings. Apparently, the writers intended it as a political allegory about European powermongers controlling the rank-and-file infantrymen of World War I.


Most of us just like the images. If you like the images, I suggest checking out Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (his paintings from 1912-1920), Franz Marc (paintings 1910-1915), Lyonel Feininger (paintings 1912-1920) or early Kandinsky landscapes (paintings 1910-15).


A historical note: Werner Krauss (Caligari) became a Nazi and played the evil rabbi in the propaganda film Jud Süss (1940). But Conrad Veidt (Cesare) was Jewish; he fled to Hollywood before World War II and landed a supporting role in Casablanca. Wiene directed Veidt again in The Hands of Orlac.


MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Modern-day commentators hate the framing device, which apparently de-legitimizes the Expressionist images by suggesting they are only the product of a lunatic. But historically, this film's smash success is attributed to its unprecedented merging of high art and pop culture. To movie fans at the time, Expressionism was something weird and subversive. To art fans, movies were a low-class vulgarity. The framing device might have helped the movie bridge this gap. Also, the closing segment does not completely complete the frame; the final closing of the iris seems specifically designed to retain some ambiguity.


The Image DVD includes a commentary by Mike Budd which I found unenlightening. It takes a simple truth about the film - that it merged high art and pop culture - and manages to make it sound confusing and complex. But do check out the weird two-minute clip from Wiene's "Genuine," which features Expressionist sets and costumes.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 9. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Striped hair, striped gloves

Quotable line: "I must become Caligari!"

 

 

CALTIKI THE IMMORTAL MONSTER (Riccardo Freda/Mario Bava, 76 min, b&w, 1959)

What's Happening: Archaeologists in Mexico uncover a giant blob monster

Famous For: Strong gore; Bava cinematography


Both blob fans and Bava fans will really like Caltiki. The blob itself looks sometimes like a thick inflatable bag ("wet leather" says Bill Warren) but, who knows, maybe that's how a giant single-celled organism would appear for real? It looks better in the later scenes ("outstanding" says Warren). At times the picture feels like contemporaneous American sci-fi, but it has several departures from the usual structure.


First, the main monster is destroyed relatively easily, so the suspense comes from wondering what will happen with the dormant fragment recovered from the monster and with the guy whose hand got covered by slime in the first attack.


Second, the team of archaeologists is large and allows for two romantic couples rather than the usual one. We also get rivalries between team members. Eventually, the hero's wife, child, and city are threatened. Bava's shadows and light/dark contrasts are striking throughout.


The main flaws are a dearth of developed characters, a slow middle section, and some awkward outer space special effects. But your viewing experience should be enhanced every time you remind yourself that Caltiki was made in Italy and Spain in the 1950s. Freda made Horrible Dr. Hichcock a few years later.


Action: 6. Gore: 8. Sex: 5. Quality: 7.  Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Sunken skeletons

Quotable supposition: "The Mayans: they may have known more than us."

 

 

CANNIBAL APOCALYPSE (Antonio Margheriti, 96 min uncut, color, 1980)

What's Happening: Vietnam vets return home with a contagious craving for human flesh

Famous For: Most extreme film featuring B-movie vet John Saxon


Despite its title, Cannibal Apocalypse (a.k.a. "Invasion of the Flesh Hunters" or "The Cannibals are in the Streets" in censored versions) is not a disgusting jungle adventure in the Jungle Holocaust tradition. But it's still pretty gross, because it's an action film in the Lucio Fulci (Zombie) tradition.


Saxon plays a veteran officer who, along with two of his men, feels himself succumbing to derangement and cannibalism. It soon becomes clear that he can't save his men, but can he save himself? And if so, then what? Should he try to destroy his men, or does he retain a soldier's sense of loyalty? Saxon is likeable as always; he goes a long way toward adding genuine drama and emotion to this well-made exploitation film.


The two longest scenes are a standoff in an indoor flea market and a chase through the Atlanta sewers. What's interesting about these standout scenes is that they involve guns and bullets, not the usual knives or wooden stakes or kitchen/garden equipment that usually gets used as weapons in gore movies.


Most of the gore comes in the final third, as it should. The most famous moment is a man shot through the middle - you see the hole open up, and you see the shooter behind him, still shooting.


Other gore effects depict a severed tongue and some "meat" cutting via power saw. Very brief nudity is used to augment some gore. Another interesting aspect is that when you turn cannibal, you become crazed and aggressive, but you don't lose your mind - you don't become a zombie. The score resembles theme songs from late-70s cops-and-robbers TV shows; it dates the movie but is fun to hear.


The Image DVD includes an hour-long documentary from 2002 featuring extended interviews with Saxon, Margheriti, and co-star Giovanni Radice (Bukowski in the movie, and the star of Cannibal Ferox). When Saxon signed on to the project, he didn't realize how gory it was going to be; he still hasn't seen the finished project 20+ years later.


Saxon liked the movie's theme: that there is something in war that metaphorically infects people, and people can spread this infection when they return home radiating anger and ill-will. Radice is pleased that Margheriti knew his place as an exploitation director and didn't take himself too seriously. Margheriti is proud that Apocalypse is Quentin Tarantino's favorite of his films - Margheriti mentions Tarantino no less than four times during his interview segments. Tarantino later gave one of his "Inglourious Basterds" Margheriti's name as an alias.


Action: 8. Gore: 8. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Necking in the movie theater

Notable nightmare: "Contagious cannibalism"

 

 

CANNIBAL FEROX - See MAN FROM DEEP RIVER

 

 

CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST - See JUNGLE HOLOCAUST

 

 

CANNIBAL TERROR (Alain Deruelle et al, 94 min, color, 1981)

What's Happening: Three kidnappers hide out in a cannibal jungle

Famous For: Last and least of the first wave of "cannibal" gore pictures


I suppose I'm being inconsistent by giving this thing an entry of its own while relegating Cannibal Holocaust to entry-within-an-entry status. Forgive me, Dear Reader, if I enjoy criticizing this subgenre more than praising it.


At any rate, even the biggest "cannibal" fans routinely give this Spanish-French picture their lowest rating. Not only does it fail to provide what it promises, it appears to have been patched together carelessly by different people in different places at different times. Everything takes forever to happen. At least a third of the running time consists of characters wandering through woods with dull music playing in the background.


One feeble attempt at gore comes at the one-third mark and another comes at the end. The cannibals are obviously just poking the organs of a dead cow. You get a chop here, a stabbing there, a couple of gunshots, a couple of arrows or spears, but everything happens in a fraction of a second.


Most of the guns don't even shoot blanks - you just hear the fake gunshot sounds after the actors point and shake the prop guns. And there's barely even any fake blood! Several women are topless for two seconds each, and one is naked in a bath.


I'll award some points for unwitting camp: with one or two exceptions, the "natives" are obviously regular Spanish men with war paint and loincloths. They don't even disguise their hair and sideburns! The war paint looks like playground graffiti. I'll also award a couple of points for no dead animals and for some good locations, including Benidorm on the Mediterranean.


Action: 4. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 2. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: There is only one single female cannibal
Notable warning: "They'd love to put you in a soup.



THE CAPE CANAVERALMONSTERS (Phil Tucker, 69 min, b&w, 1960)
What's Happening: Two aliens possess two corpses and sabotage American rocket launches

Famous For: Same writer-director as Robot Monster


Like Robot Monster, Cape Canaveral Monsters was apparently made in earnest. Unlike Ed Wood who made most of his movies simply because he wanted to be famous, Phil Tucker actually enjoyed science-fantasy and attempted to do something new and  interesting. Both his movies are far more audacious with plot development than typical 1950s B-fare.


But like Ed Wood, Phil Tucker was incompetent at both writing and directing, and never had a budget or cast to compensate. Luckily for both gentlemen, and luckily for fans of camp, none of the movies are boring, and they are bad in strange and entertaining ways.


Cape Canaveral Monsters and Plan 9 from Outer Space, in fact, are strange and entertaining in many of the same ways. They were made just a year apart, and neither was officially released in theaters. Both feature a male-female duo of evil aliens, an alien commander who communicates from afar, and several animated corpses. Wood uses "Plan 9" while Tucker uses "Expedition 2." Both Wood and Tucker also have sympathy for the aliens.


But Plan 9 is never overly weird. Cape Canaveral Monsters is sometimes grotesque. It's not as disturbing as Robot Monster, but because it makes the two evil aliens the center of attention, it forces itself to feature talking rotting corpses start to finish. There's even a shocking hint, just before the halfway mark, that the non-corporeal aliens will use the corpses to experiment with sex!


Also like Robot Monster, Cape Canaveral Monsters verges on the prurient or perverse in its treatment of helpless Earthwomen (in bondage, undressed, and generally useless). But as Michael J. Weldon notes, there are enough "bizarre and hilarious situations" to keep viewers interested.


The dialogue, for example, is much more fun than that of Robot Monster. We hear a crack about young people ("only the young are so very sure") but later about old people ("ya can't depend on an old man"). The hero tells his girlfriend: "with a little help, we can lick these freaks!" The male alien tells the female: "their science can be of use to us, perhaps the tool by which they die!" Like Robot Monster, it has a trick evil ending.


Bill Warren calls it "a stilted, limited disaster" but admits being entertained by the weird hints about sex. I was glad to see emotional and quarrelsome aliens for a change, not the usual cold fish. Jason Johnson (Hauron) appeared in Invasion of the Saucer Men as a police chief. Katherine Victor (Nadja) starred in Wild World of Batwoman. "Cape Canaveral" was renamed "Cape Kennedy" after the president's assassination in 1963.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 4. Quality: 3. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Phoney Dope

Notable regret: "I've never really felt comfortable in the body of the Earthlings."

 

 

CAPRICORN ONE (Peter Hyams, 123 min, color, 1978)

What's Happening: Government conspirators fake a manned mission to Mars

Famous For: O.J. Simpson's most substantial film role


The exciting Capricorn One is more action/suspense than science fiction, but a brief mention is warranted here. It prompts one to question the Apollo moon missions, which I am sure were genuine but which some conspiracy theorists insist were fakes (as of this writing, spring 2007, half a dozen websites purport to prove the conspiracies). Capricorn One also questions whether space missions are worth their great risks and costs.


Hyams's story and script are frankly illogical (the most glaring loophole, for me, is the conspiracists' half-hearted attempts on Caulfield's life, and Caulfield's half-hearted attempts at escape). But the strong steady pacing is perfect. The film is so exciting you'd swear it was half the length. I saw it at my friend Michael Yudell's 10-year-old birthday party, and we all loved it. For years I considered it my favorite movie.


The terrific cast includes Elliott Gould, James Brolin, Sam Waterston, Hal Holbrook, Brenda Vaccaro, Karen Black, and Telly Savalas. You wait nearly two hours for Savalas but it's worth it. Gould and Holbrook have the largest roles as the hero and villain, respectively.


Holbrook's character should have been developed; we should understand why he lost his idealism; we should see how he gets subsumed by "the system." But the scene-by-scene tension is the point. Jerry Goldsmith did the music. The highlights feature anthropomorphic helicopters.


My guidebooks cite the historical interest as well as the action and excitement: John Scalzi calls it "an entertaining bit of vintage post-Watergate paranoia." The Phantom sees "rampaging 70s paranoia." VideoHound says it was made "with Watergate-era cynicism at its peak." Indeed, one late line of dialogue even calls cynicism a "national epidemic." Not that this film was much help. See also Hangar 18. Hyams also directed Outland.


Action: 8. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 7. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Sandman

Quotable event: "A first-class bona fide made-in-America screw-up!"

 

 

CAPTAIN CLEGG - See NIGHT CREATURES

 

 

CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (Brian Clemens, 91 min, color, 1972)

What's Happening: Wandering swordsman and hunchbacked professor hunt Victorian vampires

Famous For: Admirable attempt by Hammer to spice-up the vampire genre


It sounds like a great idea: a Victorian setting, traditional characterization where the good guys are good and bad guys are bad, swashbuckling swordplay, and a host of new twists on vampirism (i.e. they steal your youth rather than your blood, and they do so with a kiss rather than a bite). It's got a God-fearing aristocratic hero who is also a scarred dour loner (I thought of Solomon Kane without the chastity); he even smokes a mysterious "herb."


Hammer was in decline at this time, but they knew well enough to play to their strengths - invoking English woods in the autumn, utilizing genuine period costumes - while yet offering something new. Virtually every scene begins with a striking image. Caroline Munro appears nearly nude in her most revealing moment as an actress.


Unfortunately, nothing about Kronos completely works. Many elements seem successful in themselves - the casting, the costumes, the weapons, the sets, the plot - but together they add up to a flat and disappointing picture. I really wanted to like it but felt let down. There are no highlights and, indeed, very little action. Even the samurai sword only gets used once.


Atmosphere can compensate for lack of action, but there is no distinct atmosphere. The pace is sluggish. The only memorable scene is the "how do we kill it?" sequence about halfway through. Clemens storyboarded the film with extra care (1300 separate drawings), but this perhaps squelched any sparks of impulsive creativity.


The Paramount DVD includes  an unnecessary commentary from Clemens, film historian Jonathan Sothcott, and the divine Munro. These people are all gentle and kind, and are pleasing to hear, although little of interest is said. No apology is made for the lack of action.  I was pleased to learn that no toads were killed for the "buried toad" scenes; Clemens insisted his crew find or purchase dead ones.


I also enjoyed hearing Clemens point out techniques he learned from watching Orson Welles, John Ford, and other great directors before him. Clemens directed dozens of TV episodes (he's most famous for The Avengers), but Kronos was his only feature film. The title, if not the plot, helped influence the decent anime feature Vampire Hunter D (1985). EC Comics featured a quasi-vampire who sucks youth from female victims in "Fountains of Youth" (Vault of Horror 22, 1951).


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Blood on the bell

Quotable line: "The cross can only protect those who firmly believe."

 

 

CAPTAIN VIDEO, MASTER OF THE STRATOSPHERE (Spencer Gordon Bennet/Wallace Grissell, c.270 min, b&w, 1951)

What's Happening: Captain Video and his Rangers must stop Vultura from conquering the world

Famous For: Only serial adapted from a TV series


Debuting in June 1949, the Captain Video TV series quickly grew popular enough for Columbia to turn it into a 15-chapter serial. Boys without television sets in 1951 were very pleased, although the serial feels flimsy two generations later.


The main flaw is the lack of any standout performance. Neither the hero (Judd Holdren, later of Zombies of the Stratosphere) nor the villain (Gene Roth, the Nazi boss from She Demons) makes much impression. Most episodes unfold as expected, as we watch Captain Video and his young sidekick (simply called "Ranger") thwarting the alien conquerors at every turn. Because Columbia's stuntmen were far less able than Republic's stuntmen, the action sequences all feel weak.


But at least two things work just well enough to keep you interested. First, the plot involves more than simply thwarting thugs from stealing materials from warehouses. Captain Video and Ranger actually get to blast off into space many times, sometimes visiting planet Atoma (red tinted) or planet Theros (green tinted). The animated space sequences are surprisingly energetic. Chapters 10-14 are duller, but the final chapter has good tension.


Second, instead of distracting us with romance (or with a single female character), each episode attempts to outdo the rest with some kind of new sci-fi gadget. Featured gadgets include a Cosmic Vibrator (stop laughing, Dear Reader, it's a stun gun), an Electronic Mind Reader, a Telefinder, a Radionic Directional Guide, Cosmic Vision (a holographic projector), a Gravitational Accelerator, a Space Platform (a small levitating platform), an Atomic Eye (disintegrator ray), a Cloak of Invisibility, a Diatermic Impulse machine, Platinite, an Isotopic Radiation Curtain, Psychomatic Weapons (which turn foes into dimwits), and more. Each gadget gets used only once or twice, but it's hard to complain. The trademark Electronic Guns have spiral bulbs at the tips.


Other notes:  It was produced by B-movie specialist Sam Katzman (The Werewolf). Some early episodes feature the silly robots from The Phantom Empire. The Captain wears a silly helmet for almost the entire running time, but he drives a sleek white convertible.


Chapter 6 has the best cliffhanger resolution, after it looks like our heroes are getting burned to death. Turns out that fire doesn't affect them on Atoma because of "the difference in our chemical properties." Several story elements, such as the treacherous Earth scientist, recall Flying Disc Man from Mars. Bennett also directed The Purple Monster Strikes.


Action: 6. Gore: 4. Sex: 2. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Bronson Canyon

Notable goal: To become "Supreme Dictator of the Universe"

 

 

CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN - See the website's UPDATES page

 

 

THE CAPTURE OF BIGFOOT (Bill Rebane, 90 min, color, 1979)

What's Happening: Townies tangle with Bigfoot monsters in the snow

Famous For: One of last and worst Bigfoot movies


Bigfoot's heyday was 1975-1976, but shlockmeister Bill Rebane popped out a cheap one in 1979. Rebane obviously understood the subgenre well, as the picture opens with
the subgenre's hallmark: rural nostalgia. We see pleasing nature images and we hear acoustic folk. After this we get nothing particularly exciting, with much time spent amongst squabbling townsfolk, but several elements deserve credit.


First, Capture sets itself during the winter, with snow.  This perhaps makes it more of an Abominable Snowman movie than a Bigfoot one. Yet it is American, since the creatures are linked to local Indian tribes.


Second, Capture doesn't make us wait until the end to get some action or to see the Bigfoots. The ones we see are obscured at first, but the early "rescue" scene is pretty fun, with a great tossed dummy. Third, the acting feels genuine, and the actors seem into their roles. We get several gravelly-voiced macho guys, the type common in 70s adventure films.


Overall, it's too long and has bad music. But it's at least marginally better than the 1970 Bigfoot. The actual Bigfoots are played by guys in puffy white ape suits. Character actor George "Buck" Flower plays a bearded mountain man.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 3. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Samoyed sled dogs

Notable project: "A big trap... with live bait."



THE CAR (Elliot Silverstein, 96 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Demonic car runs down victims in small Southwestern town

Famous For: Precursor to Stephen King's Christine


It could have been purposefully campy, it could have been unintentionally campy, but instead it's a steady, serious, often frightening supernatural thriller. The car itself is an indistinct 1950s-style sedan, shiny black, with small rust-tinted windows. The rust-colored "car's-eye view" shots are brilliant. I thought of an evil Batmobile.


It was a great choice to make the car sleek, darkly elegant, rather than huge or clunky. The sleekness makes the car feel coldly and evilly intelligent, which it is. It makes cruel brassy honks before and after each kill. It seems indestructible.


But the film is much more than the car. In structure it most resembles Jaws, with semi-random victims, signs of the killer's approach, no clear look at the killer until the halfway mark, and small-town cops in over their heads as they struggle to understand what is happening. Although the pacing is quick, director Silverstein (most famous for A Man Called Horse) makes sure we get to know all the characters.


John Marley (Deathdream) is the anxious chief. James Brolin (Capricorn One) is the pragmatic deputy. Kathleen Lloyd (It Lives Again) is the brave girlfriend. Ronny Cox (The Mind Snatchers) is the sensitive friend. Every performance is excellent. Every character faces some kind of struggle - family issues, abuse, divorce, loneliness, alcoholism, even racism. The car will destroy some of these people in the midst of the struggles. But the battle with the car may offer chances for redemption. Not a scene, not a moment is wasted along the way.


I felt that some concluding moments, like the coda, could have been more ambiguous. I wished that some of the killing sequences were drawn out. I also felt the arid landscape could have been better used for a bleak existential mood. Otherwise, I thought it was terrific.


Although this is the first feature film about a sentient car, the 1964 Twilight Zone episode "You Drive" and the 1960 episode "A Thing About Machines" both feature cars attacking their owners. Crash! (1977) had a car controlled by a psychic. See also Killdozer. An EC story about a sentient car is Harvey Kurtzman's surprisingly poignant "Gregory had a Model-T" from Weird Science 7 (1951).


Action: 8. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 8. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Rodeo Ruckus

Notable observation: "There was no driver in the car."



CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (Leonard Kirtman, 89 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Grisly murders at Coney Island

Famous For: Filmed on location at Coney Island


To watch this one, you'll need a big tolerance for long meandering conversations. It feels like the amateur actors are improvising, actually speaking to each other for real. They repeat, they backtrack, they interrupt each other. They seem surprisingly in sync for people working on a cheap independent exploitation film.


Weirdness comes several times, most notably during the titles which feature a talking head whose words are drowned out by pounding heartbeats. Gore also comes several times, especially midway and then in the final minutes.


But the weirdness and the gore are completely surrounded by these endless conversations. You can even fast-forward them and find the people still talking about the same things.


The main appeal is the retro aura, the trip back in time to Coney Island, two decades into its decline but still possessed of its classic charm. The film itself is awful, but several colorful characters are sure to stick with you, including Drunken Sailor, Bespectacled Termagant, Gypsy Psychic, and Teddy Bear Dart Guy. Burt Young, who plays the wonderful scarred retarded hunchback Gimpy, later played Paulie in Sylvester Stallone's Rocky series.


Kirtman also made Curse of the Headless Horseman (1974), a cheater horror flick with little gore but a few weird moments. Horseman contains even more bewildering rambling conversations than Carnival. The main fun of Horseman is watching hippies gallivanting around a deserted dude ranch. For more carnivals, see The Incredibly Strange Creatures.  Coney Island fans might also check out the spoken introduction to "Sleep" (2000) by the space-prog band God Speed You Black Emperor. Kirtman also produced a nearly-forgotten witch movie, Death by Invitation (1971).


Action: 4. Gore: 7. Sex: 3. Quality: 3. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Nathan's Famous

Notable declarations: "I have read the future. It is over."



CARNIVAL OF SOULS (Herk Harvey, 78 or 84 min, b&w, 1962)

What's Happening: Girl slips into madness after surviving car crash

Famous For: One of greatest independent horror films of the 1960s


Many unique low-budget horror films came out of the 60s, but only Night of the Living Dead surpasses Carnival of Souls in popularity. Indeed, George A. Romero admitted that Carnival was a prime inspiration for his 1968 zombie classic. Carnival has an exciting history similar to that of Spider Baby: it came and went rather quickly, then developed a cult following little by little over the next 25 years, and at last was re-released to tremendous acclaim.


Carnival is famous for its off-kilter opening credits, its oddball characters, its portrait of an unstable woman, its haunting pipe organ score, and its general atmosphere of weirdness. It has been well-covered in other movie guides, and I'd like to quote a few of my favorite comments here.


John Stanley describes Mary's plight as being suspended "in limbo between life and death, with death symbols tugging at her." The Phantom considers it successful as a straight horror film but also "a dramatization of a mental breakdown"; he includes a brief interview with Harvey that touches on the isolation theme and the organ music. Michael J. Weldon mentions its influence on Blue Velvet (birds) and Eraserhead (music).


I'd add Repulsion (concept). And it seems to me that Carnival was itself influenced by Herman Melville's story of the self-enclosed Bartleby the Scrivener and by John Parker's Beat flick Dementia: Daughter of Horror. I like Dementia better, but most fans prefer Carnival of Souls. Other movies with similar moods are Night Tide and Incubus.


The Rhino DVD includes various extras including (1) a decent 30-minute behind-the-scenes documentary during which Herk Harvey attends interviews and press conferences wearing his original zombie makeup, and (2) a spectacular photo-history of the once-proud Saltair resort - the setting for the unforgettable carnival scenes. This second extra is one of the greatest I have ever seen on any DVD. Also included are 40 minutes of outtakes; those worth watching are the trucks in the alley (15:00), the zombies in the hallway (20:00), and perhaps the car in the river (25:00). Star Candace Hilligoss is interviewed in Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (Tom Weaver, 1994).


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Tremendous pipe organ at Mary's first church

Quotable hope: "Let's have no more nights."



CARRIE (Brian De Palma, 98 min, color, 1976)

What's Happening: Telekinetic teen finally resists those who have hounded and teased her

Famous For: First Stephen King movie; early Sissy Spacek and John Travolta performances


With Halloween, this is probably the most respected B-horror film of the 70s. Like Halloween it is taught, tense, sharp, and finely crafted. Like Halloween it seems uncommonly precise amidst a decade fraught with ponderous and overlong movies of all types.


Lots has been said about Carrie, largely commending Spacek's performance (which modulates effortlessly from naive confusion to girlish joy to teenage angst) or De Palma's direction (which modulates effortlessly from wholesome happiness to shocking bloodshed). Other people praise Piper Laurie's frightening performance as the religious fanatic mother, or the interesting conflict between one kindly couple who wants to help poor Carrie and a second mean couple who wants to humiliate her. The ending was imitated many times, most famously in Friday the 13th.


De Palma uses slow motion or tracking shots to keep visuals lively. He juxtaposes sound and silence to heighten or anticipate moods. He tells the story with an uncanny rhythm; the prom scene begins halfway through the film rather than in the final minutes as we might expect. The calm before the storm is 20 minutes long rather than the expected two. The storm itself strikes more than once.


De Palma is known primarily as a director of thrillers and action films, and his most acclaimed films fall outside the scope of my book, but most of his 1970s output crosses over into horror, slasher, fantasy, or exploitation.


His early films were satires, but starting with Sisters he began to cultivate an intense stylized image-driven directorial style derived from Alfred Hitchcock. He was frank about following Hitchcock right from the start. I also cover Phantom of the Paradise, The Fury, and Dressed to Kill.


Besides admitting his love for Hitchcock, De Palma has also admitted that he intends to be a stylist, fitting his stories around the images rather than vice versa. He has also admitted that he loves to treat the theme of voyeurism in his films. If you can allow him these three caveats - Hitchcock, style over substance, and voyeurism - then you must admit that De Palma's films are fierce, gripping, and hard to forget. See also Jennifer, Ruby, The Initiation of Sarah, or Fear No Evil. An Australian imitator is Patrick (1978).


Action: 7. Gore: 8. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Psycho siren sound effects

Quotable supposition: "Pimples are the Lord's way of chastising you."



THE CASE OF THE SCORPION'S TAIL (Sergio Martino, 91 min, color, 1971)

What's Happening: In London and Athens, money is stolen and suspects are murdered

Famous For: Martino's most highly-praised giallo


Martino is most famous for Torso, but Scorpion's Tail is considered his most precise and stylish film. It has some gruesome kill sequences, and a graphic autopsy slide show, but in comparison with other giallos it relies much more on suspense and drama than on shocks or gore. Nudity is minor, almost incidental.


After a rich man is killed, three investigators - one from the insurance company, one from the local police, one from Interpol - try to piece things together. The dead man's insurance policy pays his widow a small fortune. Was this woman or her lover involved?


Focus shifts from one character to the next, finally settling on the insurance investigator (George Hilton from All the Colors of the Dark) and his photographer girlfriend. Well shot, well paced, well acted from start to finish. As in Brian de Palma films, many characters watch or photograph other characters. An image in an enlarged photograph corresponds to the title. An unusual camera angle takes us "sideways" across a table, at 65:00.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Vague memories

Quotable line: "Even sex maniacs have to pay the piper."



CASTLE OF BLOOD (Antonio Margheriti, 89 min, b&w, 1964)

What's Happening: Victorian-era reporter accepts bet to spend Halloween night in haunted house

Famous For: Barbara Steele's second-best film; a.k.a. "Danse Macabre"


Black Sunday is her greatest, but Castle of Blood is the second choice for Steele's fans. Her huge eyes heavy with mascara, her broad forehead, her pointed nose, her wide lips and teeth, her unbound raven tresses... they await your pleasure in this slow, atmospheric, Gothic horror.


The atmosphere is the main appeal: a deserted castle on the moors, surrounded by briars, filled with dust and cobwebs, creaky doors, a moldy library, a haunted crypt. We (unfortunately) never see the castle exterior, but we see plenty of the inside. Long scenes depict our hero or one of his interlocutors wandering through the castle rooms holding a torch or candelabra.


The concepts are the second appeal: I won't spoil them here, but I'll note the unusually convincing scientific explanation of ghosts. The Victorians often speculated about the continuation of consciousness after death, and here they speculate about the continuation of "the senses" as well.


I found the film remarkable for how old-fashioned it feels. The pervasive darkness, the slow pacing, the minimalist score, the Poe references, the empty interiors all reminded me of Jean Epstein's Fall of the House of Usher. Like all of Steele's Italian films, Castle of Blood is dubbed, and Steele does not speak her own lines. Her appeal is in her bizarre good looks.


A few gratuitous moments were cut from the original US release: brief nudity, a hint of lesbianism, a hint of necrophilia, and the beheading of a small snake. The standout sequence is a multiple murder scene when one lover dies after the next.


The characters and actors  are of lesser importance, but I did enjoy Georges Rivière as our hero, the skeptical reporter Foster. He gets more sympathetic as the film progresses. I also liked Arturo Dominici as the Satanically-bearded Dr. Carmus.  Silvano Tranquilli is fine as Edgar Allan Poe, but he only gets a few minutes' screen time. He quotes from Poe's "Berenice" and "The Poetic Principle."


Overall, the chiaroscuro cinematography is excellent, and many specific sequences are frightening. Note how silence builds the atmosphere as much as sound does. Debased sexuality seems to infect every room of the castle. But the pacing is extremely slow. At 89 minutes it's good, but at 75 it would have been superb. Remade with Klaus Kinski as Web of the Spider. See also Long Hair of Death.


Action: 5. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 7. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Breathing body

Quotable concept: "Death isn't completely accepted unless the victim is ready to die."



CASTLE OF EVIL (Francis D. Lyon, 81 min, color, 1966)

What's Happening: Six strangers are invited to an island castle for reading of an evil man's will

Famous For: Good cast


Gothic horror soon gives way to campy sci-fi, as we find the castle fitted with surveillance cameras and disintegrator chambers. Then the flick enters Old Dark House mode. The matron (an evil countess type) has turned the evil man's corpse into a zombie robot, whose images she projects before the guests like ghosts. Huh?


Don't expect logic, and you have a strange 60s-camp experience in store. The strangest idea is that evil persists in abstract form after evil people die, and this abstract evil can be harnessed by the living.


A slow pace and somber mood mute the camp, but the flick is worth checking out. In the dungeon is a laser cannon! On two occasions, male guests threaten to beat up the matron if she doesn't give them information. Most of the characters are angry and unlikeable, except for the doctor (Hugh Marlowe from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers) and the lounge singer with her red hair and red dress (Virginia Mayo from White Heat). Scott Brady (the cop from Satan's Sadists) gets the best lines. Lyon also directed Cult of the Cobra.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 4. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Pronouncing "Lupe" as "loopy"

Notable declaration: "Evil does live on after death. I have seen it demonstrated."

 

 

THE CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (Luciano Ricci et al, 90 min, b&w, 1964)

What's Happening: Mad taxidermist-count embalms victims in his Gothic castle

Famous For: Christopher Lee, Donald Sutherland, and Michael Reeves were all involved


Certainly, Christopher Lee has played more "counts" than any other actor of the 20th century. Here he plays Count  Drago, a stern nobleman in post-Napoleonic Italy who avoids looking people in the eye. He has a small chin beard, and he has developed an embalming fluid that instantly freezes you once it gets under your skin. He invites some acrobats to his castle because he wants them for his collection of frozen corpses. Lee dubs his own lines.


Sutherland had played TV roles before, but this was his first feature film appearance. Strangely, he plays two roles - a goofy soldier and an old psychic hag. He is good in both roles, although someone else apparently dubbed the old woman's voice. He appears briefly as an old man as well. Michael Reeves co-wrote the story, directed some scenes, and began the journey that would take him to Witchfinder General.


How does Living Dead compare to the many other Gothic horrors coming from Italy in the early 60s? Not very well, unfortunately. The direction is awkward and the pacing choppy. One out of every three scenes is useless. No pretty women, no mysterious music. The count has some personality; he's a troubled and contemplative man who doesn't mean (much) harm.


But other than him, only the energetic long-haired dwarf is fun to watch. Because the hero and heroine are so boring, the dwarf actually becomes the main focus in the second half. We scarcely see the castle exterior, but we often see the interior, especially the grand hall with the stuffed animals and heads.


The hall is perhaps too well lit, but its striking images are the most memorable of the film. An oversized statue with a gaping cave-mouth is also good. The "freezing" fluid is plainly silly, but the freeze-frame effects work reasonably well in b&w. A single gore effect - an arrow through an eye - comes in the second half. See also Monster of Venice.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 5. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Cold cat

Quotable prophecy: "Some will live and some will die before tomorrow's sun is high."

 

 

CASTLE OF THE WALKING DEAD (Harald Reinl, 80 min dubbed, color, 1967)

What's Happening: Four victims trapped in an undead count's torture dungeon

Famous For: Christopher Lee plays Count Regula; torture devices inspired by Poe


Take a little Black Sunday, a little Countess Bathory, a little Roger Corman, mix it up in West Germany and place it in a dungeon... and you've got the fine Castle of the Walking Dead. It's a lot like the Bava or Margheriti-directed Barbara Steele pictures, but better than almost all of them.


Atmosphere is evoked through weird and creative images, some unique to the film: body parts emerging from trees, hanged figures lining a road, skulls studding a hallway, Bosch-style wall paintings, and more.


Low production values and washed-out colors are an asset. We never see the castle beyond the ruins above ground and the dungeons below, but this adds claustrophobic tension. The Italian Gothic pictures are more famous, but most of them spend 60 minutes on exposition and 10 on horror. This German one has the exact opposite proportion, and thank goodness for that.


Lee figures mostly into the introduction and conclusion, but he is fearsome and powerful as the count who returns to life 35  years after his execution. Lex Barker (Tarzan in the 1950s) is the hero searching for clues to his ancestry. Karin Dor (You Only Live Twice) is the wide-eyed heroine. A likeable rogue and servant girl are trapped alongside them. Lee and Barker dub themselves.


I felt there should have been more deaths before the conclusion, and I felt the religious element should have been foreshadowed earlier, but otherwise I felt Walking Dead was excellent. The standout torture sequence features a Poe-inspired pit and pendulum; it's probably the best such sequence ever filmed.


On a commentary included  on the Legend House DVD, Chris D. and Wyatt Doyle also praise the unique images I've cited above. They describe the paintings as a combination of Bosch and graffiti. They praise metaphorical fairytale horror pictures over literal slasher-type horror pictures because the fairytale ones spur the imagination. Reinl directed many German horror and action pictures in the 1950s and 60s. Known also as "Blood of the Virgins," "Blood Demon" or "Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism." An Argentinean exploitation-horror flick from 1967 was also called "Blood of the Virgins."


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Quartered and drawn

Quotable nickname: The Bloody Castle



THE CAT AND THE CANARY (Paul Leni, c.84 min, tinted b&w, 1927)

What's Happening: Heirs gather at midnight mansion to hear reading of millionaire's will

Famous For: Archetypal Old Dark House film; stylized camera techniques


Horror fans should see this original version of Cat and the Canary if only to better appreciate the more famous haunted house films that followed, especially The Old Dark House, House on Haunted Hill, and the two Cat and the Canary remakes (1939, 1979). Mutually mistrustful heirs and - wouldn't you know it - an escaped lunatic are confined overnight in a Gothic mansion replete with trick panels and secret doors. Someone is murdering people by clawing them to death like a cat.


Mike Mayo complains that "the style is much more enjoyable than the substance," and he is probably correct, but the substance is unpretentious - it's a lighthearted murder mystery that doesn't pretend to be shocking or profound. The comic relief guy is also the hero (this is very rare), and this tips us off that the comedy is at least as important as the horror. Michael J. Weldon calls it "the ultimate old-dark-house mystery/comedy... the camera work and some then-new optical effects are still being studied and copied today." Alan Jones includes the film in his horror canon.


With the horror and comedy, the style is the third appeal. German director Paul Leni (known also for Waxworks and The Man Who Laughs) never lets the camera do anything normally. We get high angles, low angles, montages, zooms, distortions, and all manner of p.o.v. tracking shots. I particularly liked a trick involving a curved carnival mirror.


I also liked how when characters show up at the house, there is a brief delay before we see their faces; we always see something else first, like their hand, their hat, their car. The intertitles are also stylized with moving or squiggly type.


This nimble film was based on the popular 1922 play of the same name by John Willard (Willard actually co-directed an ill-received 1930 film version of the story, The Cat Creeps). Also inspired by the play was the  comedic One Exciting Night (1922), technically the very first Old Dark House film.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 8. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Striking of the clock

Notable situation: "...in a cage, surrounded by cats."



THE CAT FROM OUTER SPACE (Norman Tokar, 103 min, color, 1978)

What's Happening: Nervous scientists try to help friendly space-cat repair his ship

Famous For: Excellent cast


I generally avoid Disney films in this book because their vocabulary feels different from that of other genre films, even comedic or family-friendly ones. But I wanted to include a mention of Cat from Outer Space because fans of 1950s sci-fi will enjoy it as a kind of lighthearted latter-day homage.


It takes familiar patterns - saucers landing in Middle America, stern military men, two young scientists falling in love, suspicious foreign spies - and sets them within a topsy-turvy plot that leads from one complication into the next.


It also has a stellar cast of veteran comic actors: Ken Berry (F Troop), Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H), McLean Stevenson (M*A*S*H before Morgan), Roddy McDowall, and Sandy Duncan. Duncan was underused in the film, but her fame grew in 1979 when she played Peter Pan on Broadway. Berry, as the hesitant hero, and Stevenson, as the hero's affable gambling-addicted friend, are particularly in sync.


Jake the space-cat speaks with a young earnest Michael J. Fox-style voice that should be familiar to Disney animation fans. Jake's glowing collar amplifies his thoughts, allowing him to be telepathic and telekinetic. He needs pure gold to repair his ship. Can his friends help him in time?


Viewers need to accept multiple levels of implausibility. Jake's collar allows him to telekinetically manipulate objects and people in the room around him? Ok, fine. But it also allows him to manipulate those he sees on television? Hm, maybe not. Still, the actors and characters are so likeable, and the film is so good-natured, that (dare I say) the whole family should enjoy it. Kids as young as five or six should get it, although they may find it long. Adults will enjoy the sports-betting scenes and the cat flirtation ("Anybody ever tell you you've got a terrific set of whiskers?").


I saw it at age 10 in the theater and liked it. I saw Duncan on Broadway the next year and loved how she flew over the audience at the end of the show. Earlier Disney sci-fi efforts include The Absent-Minded Professor (1961), Son of Flubber (1963), and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), though these three are basically family comedies.


Action: 7. Gore: 2. Sex: 4. Quality: 7. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Ping pong pool

Notable energy: The primal mainstream



CAT O' NINE TAILS (Dario Argento, 112 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Mysterious murders in and around an Italian genetics lab

Famous For: Argento's least favorite of his own films


It's the director's least favorite and it's tied with Four Flies for mine. All of the elements seem to be in place, but many scenes go on too long, and neither the plot twists nor the climactic revelation are surprising or interesting. The title has almost nothing to do with the movie; it's mentioned just once to refer to nine separate clues to finding the murderer.


As a whole, Cat o' Nine Tails combines elements of thriller, Western, and giallo films, and throws in bits of humor and a dash of gratuitous nudity. But something in the center is missing... some kind of gestalt, or omphalos. It's the mark of a director with great potential who hasn't yet hit his stride.


But bad for Argento is still pretty good. James Franciscus (Beneath the Planet of the Apes) and Karl Malden (fresh off the fabulous Patton) contribute forthright performances. It's nice to see them as co-heroes who work sometimes together, sometimes apart. Malden's blind puzzle-solver evokes sympathy without pity. We know almost nothing about Franciscus's journalist-reporter, but we root for him nonetheless.


At least three of the various death sequences are stark and frightening. Ennio Morricone wrote one of his most unusual scores for the film, a combination of dissonant repetition and offbeat jazz. Memorable moments include a barbershop shave, an insult contest, a gay nightclub, and a dank mausoleum.


The most famous stylistic element is the frequent use of "killer's eye view" shots. Argento wanted to imply that the killer was an ordinary person who could be anyone, even you. Also exciting is Argento's affinity for buildings, especially interiors. Note how characters are often blocked off, obscured, trapped, or otherwise circumstanced by rooms, corridors, and windows. A few years later, Suspiria gave Argento even more opportunities to make such things into veritable characters in a film.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 6. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Rendezvous at 5:13

Notable triad: XYY

 

 

CAT PEOPLE (Jacques Tourneur, 72 min, b&w, 1942)

What's Happening: Young bride fears she will turn into panther if kissed by her husband

Famous For: First of two Lewton-Tourneur atmospheric masterpieces


Virtually every great horror film made in the 1940s was produced by Val Lewton for RKO Studios. From 1942 to 1946,  Lewton headed the B-horror unit at RKO. He was given $150,000 for each film and a title. It was his job to write a story to fit the title, and to assemble a director and crew to make the film. He even refused a promotion to A-level budgets so that he could retain artistic control at the B-level.


His horror films are Cat People (see below), I Walked with a Zombie (excellent), The Leopard Man (good), The Ghost Ship (excellent), The Seventh Victim (very good), The Curse of the Cat People (excellent), The Body Snatcher (excellent), Isle of the Dead (good), and Bedlam (excellent).


All these films have a similar atmosphere regardless of director: dark, serious, literate, realistic, subtle, character-driven. The horror is psychological, often based on what is unseen or unknown. Lewton was a small man with a meek personality. Apparently, every time a phone rang on the set, he was positive it was the studio boss calling to fire him.


Cat People, like its equally-famous companion I Walked With a Zombie, has a slow old-fashioned style that will not be to everyone's taste. And while usually classified as a horror film, it feels more like a mystery, albeit laced with elements of psychological horror and expressionistic Noir. Both of these precise yet subtle films need full attention and patience. And both must be viewed at night.


Three things in Cat People made an impression on me. The first, and most obvious, are the pioneering fright sequences in the park and the pool. Tourneur's "false alarm" shocks and "hidden menace" walking/stalking scenes exerted a tremendous influence on subsequent horror films.


Second, having worked in a zoo I was intrigued by the footage of the old-style zoo. The virtues and defects of old zoos are apparent in the movie footage: visitors can get very close to the animals and are guaranteed to see them, but the environments are artificial and cruel, often driving the animals certifiably insane (pacing relentlessly, grooming excessively).


Third, I was drawn into the growing rivalry between the two women: the Serbian Irena (played by the ravishing French actress Simone Simon) and the American Alice (played by the almost-as-ravishing Jane Randolph).


Some have criticized the stilted, two-dimensional personality of the male lead, but I wonder if this might have been intentional in order to give prominence to the two women. The first half of the film centers on the relationship between Irena and Oliver, but the second and more important half centers on the rivalry between Irena and Alice.


The women may be symbolic: a conflict between Old Europe and New America (Alice even declares: "That's what makes me dangerous - I'm the new type of other woman."). The movie's hook - Irena's fear that she will turn into a giant cat if kissed - can be interpreted as lesbianism or repression.


The Warner DVD includes a helpful commentary from genial Greg Mank who describes how Cat People launched Val Lewton's career at RKO, being a big hit that helped the studio recoup losses after Citizen Kane. Lewton had a fear of cats. Jacques Tourneur - like Robert Wise or Terence Fisher - has no distinct directorial style. But he is always competent, and he can achieve drama through fast dialogue or slow subtlety.


"Val was the dreamer, the idealist," Tourneur once said, "and I was the materialist, the realist." Here, he carefully distributed cat imagery throughout the film. Against the filmmakers' wishes, RKO insisted on the unambiguous panther shot toward the conclusion; if not for this shot, the audience could believe (if they wished) that Irena was merely deluded. Overlook thinks this shot is a tragedy, but most viewers consider it a small flaw. A good imitation is 1955's Cult of the Cobra. The purported sequel, Curse of the Cat People, is excellent in itself but virtually unrelated to its predecessor. A belated British imitator is Cat Girl (1957).


Action: 6. Gore: 2. Sex: 7. Quality: 9. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Hissy bus

Quotable line: "I like the dark. It's friendly."

 

 

CAT PEOPLE (Paul Schrader, 118 min, color, 1982)

What's Happening: Thoughts of sex turn brother and sister into killer panthers

Famous For: Gratuitous remake of the Lewton/Tourneur classic


Director Schrader has said repeatedly that he did not intend his film to be a true remake. It was to be a re-interpretation of the original ideas and, in various scenes, a homage. As such, it is a moderate success, albeit an obviously voyeuristic and gratuitous one.


Nudity and gore replace subtlety and finesse here. Nastassja Kinski is naked in many scenes, and the film as a whole is (as Mike Mayo puts it) among the most sexually-charged in the history of horror. Yet since perversion (incest in particular) underlies all the sexuality, the film is not a turn-on. The Richard Avedon-photographed snake poster really was Kinski's crowning moment.


As for the gore, Schrader has a half-hearted approach in which very gross things are shown, but shown only for an instant. The ultimate result, as John Stanley says, will satisfy neither a mainstream audience nor horror/gore fans. Overlook calls it "a pointless mess."


The concept (from director Schrader and screenwriter Alan Ormsby of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) is a good one: the brother and sister change into panthers when they think about sex, and they can only change back after they have killed; but they won't change form if they make love with each other. The brother (Malcolm McDowell) is ready for love, but the sister (Kinski) is falling for someone else. It's a pretty good bet this won't end happily. Along the way are various nods to the 1942 film, including an old woman in a restaurant, a trolley bus, a swimming pool, and various images of cats in the background.


I don't like Schrader's film, but fans of Kinski and McDowell should see it, as these co-stars are both excellent. The most famous gore effect involves Ed Begley Jr.'s arm. Kinski features into the very brief transformation sequence. Schrader also wrote Scorsese's Taxi Driver.


In commentaries and interviews from 2000 included on the Universal DVD, Schrader says he wanted to "keep them [the audience] a little off" by promising sex but showing violence, or promising violence but showing sex. Many different big cats were used, but most of the panthers and leopards were California mountain lions dyed black, because real panthers and leopards are nocturnal and arboreal - all they want to do is jump up to high places in the dark.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 5. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: David Bowie theme song at the end

Notable query: "Leopards eat pizza?"

 

 

CATACLYSM - See THE NIGHTMARE NEVER ENDS

 

 

CATHY'S CURSE (Eddy Matalon, 81 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Eight-year-old girl gets possessed by spirit of dead evil aunt

Famous For: Yet another Exorcist imitation


They were still making Exorcist imitations four years later. This French-Canadian one is wholly unlikeable - annoying characters, dull direction, trite shocks. Yet I must give credit for the high percentage of activity and action. After the initial 20-minute setup, something happens every five minutes.


Few of the happenings are surprising (ghostly voices in bedroom, evil spirit manifesting in evil-looking doll, babysitter falls out window, dog gets killed, mom thinks she sees something but when dad investigates he finds nothing, etc.). You can't fault the filmmakers for skimping.


It would have been better if all the supernatural tricks had something in common, like all related to fire, or all having to do with women, or all related to the doll. As it is, many of Cathy's powers are random, like suddenly teleporting downstairs or making a statue explode. And we never care what happens to her since we never got to know her before the possession. John Stanley pans it and cites the possible influence of Carrie. I'd say The Bad Seed is another influence.


Mostly it's a toned-down Exorcist, with Cathy insulting an old woman by calling her a "filthy female cow."


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 2. Quality: 2. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Rotten meat

Quotable line: "Old people like to see others die."

 

 

THE CATMAN OF PARIS (Lesley Selander, 63 min, b&w, 1946)

What's Happening: Catlike killer stalks victims in Victorian-era Paris

Famous For: Republic's attempt to make a cat-people or werewolf picture


I must partially spoil things here by revealing that the killer really is a supernatural were-cat; he is not explained away; he is not a regular man in disguise. He looks good with his catlike face and top hat. Remarkably, he is fully conscious and intelligent even in were-cat form; unlike most cinematic were-creatures, he never loses his human faculties.


Unfortunately, only the final minutes give us a chance to appreciate the above, which means that the "catman" idea is basically a gimmick. Everything else is a draggy detective story, with little for fans except some elegant costumes and interiors.


Conversations are supposed to be elegant, but they're boring. Some actors speak regular English while others attempt French accents. All action is toned down except for a brief fistfight at 35:00 that employs Republic's famous serial stuntmen. The droll Gerald Mohr (Angry Red Planet) is the detective. More of him and less of the stiff hero and heroine would have been nice.


Action: 4. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 3. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Storm montages

Notable description: "Clawed to ribbons as if by a cat!"

 

 

CAT-WOMEN OF THE MOON (Arthur Hilton, 64 min, b&w, 1953)

What's Happening: Moon expedition encounters seductive women in black leotards

Famous For: Early 1950s sci-fi camp; originally 3D


In some quarters loathed  as useless junk (John Stanley considers it nothing more than "dreadful") but in others lauded as a camp classic, Cat-Women of the Moon is the best of many 1950s space adventures in which male astronauts encounter an alien society ruled by ruthless women.


Here, evil moon-women send telepathic messages to the lone female member of Earth's first moon mission. They will control her to lure the unsuspecting crew into a trap. As the lone female leads her suspicious companions to the moon-women's cave, she asks them, "Why can't we expect love and friendship instead of death?"


I really liked this movie. I was pleasantly surprised at the mystery and suspense, the combo Asiatic/Art Nouveau props and sets, Elmer Bernstein's music-boxish soundtrack, pleasingly bland Sonny Tufts, and the genuinely sweet moody moment when the astronauts first set foot on the moon. As with all camp classics, there is a tiny bit of quality in the mix. But certainly the camp is the main appeal.


The trailer trumpets Cat-Women as "the most startling picture of the century." And in some ways maybe it is, with stock characters wearing velvet spacesuits, a silly love triangle, a script that tries and fails to be witty, a ballet dance that tries and fails to be sexy, amateurish special effects, and (of course) vampy brunettes in tight cat-suits.


The women often resemble Vulcans such as T'Pal from Enterprise. Copied as Fire Maidens of Outer Space and remade as Missile to the Moon. See also 12 to the Moon and Queen of Outer Space.


Action: 6. Gore: 5. Sex: 7. Quality: 7. Camp: 9.

Don't miss: Hairy spider attack

Quotable lines: Many. My favorite: "There is too much infantile romanticism in this crew!"

 

 

CAULDRON OF BLOOD - See BLIND MAN'S BLUFF

 

 

CAVE OF THE LIVING DEAD (Akos Rathonyi, 86 min, b&w, 1965)

What's Happening: Professor-vampire occupies a castle and creates a female vampire harem

Famous For: Adrian Hoven performance; a.k.a. "Night of the Vampires"


Adrian Hoven was famous for his ego, and he probably imagined himself as a supernatural James Bond as he strutted and smiled his way through this dubbed German horror/exploitation vampire picture. He plays the heroic inspector investigating mysterious deaths in a remote mountain village.


Unfortunately, the focus should never have been on the inspector to begin with. The focus should have been on the sneaky erudite vampire-professor (Wolfgang Preiss of Mill of the Stone Women) or the sultry blonde heroine (Karin Field of The Mad Butcher). The inspector has nothing to prove, no personal connection to anything until a late perfunctory romance with the heroine. Along the way, there's much talking and little action.


But Hungarian-born  director Rathonyi keeps everything visually interesting with extensive use of flickering fires and torches, chiaroscuro, shadows, doorways, and some wonderful stone steps that lead down from the castle into the caves. Interiors are sparse but convincing, with old cracked white stone walls, wooden ceilings, and a wonderful firepit above which the innkeeper cooks stew and warms wine. Everything feels bleak and cold. You can see the actors' breath.


If the score had been good, and if there had been more silent impressionistic sequences and less talking, the film might have been great. Standout sequences - like the hands with lit-up fingernails opening the window at 12:00 - still make it worth the watch. Our heroine wears black lace underwear and is nearly topless.


The vampire-professor apparently has a black underwear fetish (!) but little is made of it. The vampire-professor's (good) servant is black. Vampires are treated traditionally throughout.


Hoven wrote, produced, directed, or acted in dozens of exploitation flicks, 1950s-1970s. He appeared in Succubus and produced the sequel to Liane. Rathonyi made other films but this is his most famous.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Fire dancers

Notable line: "These are dead who rise at midnight... in search of human blood to drink!"

 

 

CEMETERY GIRLS - See COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE or VAMPIRE HOOKERS

 

 

CHAMBER OF FEAR (Juan Ibanez/Jack Hill, 87 min, color, 1968)

What's Happening: Scientists find and keep a living rock, but it needs to eat people to survive

Famous For: One of Karloff's last films; a.k.a. "The Fear Chamber"


Chamber of Fear is probably the best of the four cheap Mexican-made pictures featuring Karloff just before his death. It's still really bad. The outlandish premise is this: scientists find a living rock inside a volcano, and then communicate with it electronically. To survive on the surface, it needs to consume a special hormone produced by people in a state of fear.


The scientists then lure young women into a "fear chamber" in which they frighten them into producing this hormone. The chamber itself is a stereotypical classic torture chamber. The scientists dress up like Satanists to scare the women.


Karloff plays the chief scientist, and he is uncertain about continuing these controversial experiments. But other scientists insist on keeping the rock well fed so that it will tell them where to find diamonds. Sounds like a good B-movie, or even a parody of B-movies. But it's either boring, silly, or both. It should be seen only by Karloff completists, if anyone.


But I will give some credit for gross scenes of torture and lecherous shots of women in their underwear. I also enjoyed some of the weeoo-beeoo electronic rock sounds. Once-popular Mexican actress Julissa plays Karloff's daughter.


The RetroMedia DVD includes a 15-minute interview with Robert V. O'Neil who worked as a prop manager on these four last Karloff films. He offers a few anecdotes about Karloff, whom he says was gentlemanly, professional, and perfect with his lines despite being sick for the entire stretch of filming.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 3. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Gratuitous stripper scene

Notable quality: "It's capable of feeding itself!"

 

 

CHAMBER OF HORRORS (Norman Lee, 86 min, b&w, 1940)

What's Happening: Schemers and murderers plot to acquire seven keys to a rich lord's tomb

Famous For: Good old-fashioned British horror; a.k.a. "The Door with Seven Locks"


Based on an Edgar Wallace story, Chamber of Horrors (renamed by Monogram for American release) is quite a treat for fans of quirky, lighthearted, old-fashioned Old Dark House mysteries.


Actually it's more thriller than mystery, since we know very quickly who the bad guys are. The question is how the blonde heroine, her detective boyfriend, and her chatty roommate will outwit the gang of baddies led by crafty torture-apparatus aficionado Dr. Manetta (Leslie Banks, revisiting his role from The Most Dangerous Game). Can they keep the last key safe?


The horror elements include images of a cobwebbed tomb and Manetta's collection of torture devices (branding irons, anyone?). Mostly it's a lighthearted thriller with memorable characters including a mischievous monkey and a mute butler with a bowl haircut. The Quality rating, below, is for people interested in this sort of thing. Others will find it stuffy or naive.


I thought it was quite well-paced, with a plot that deepens after nearly every scene and a conclusion that, while light on action, resolves everything in a surprising and satisfactory way.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 8. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Iron Maiden

Notable tally: "We have six keys between us, and the girl has the seventh!"

 

 

CHANDU THE MAGICIAN (Marcel Varnel/William Cameron Menzies, 71 min, b&w, 1932)

What's Happening: In 1930s Egypt, good sorcerer Chandu fights evil sorcerer Roxor

Famous For: Intense Lugosi performance as Roxor


The same year that Karloff  made the incredible Mask of Fu Manchu, Lugosi made the great Chandu the Magician. Each of the famous horror actors was given a chance to shine as a pulp villain, and each lived up to his promise. Whereas the sleazy Fu Manchu was aimed at adults, Chandu was aimed at juveniles. But Fox's Chandu still feels pre-code, especially during a brief torture sequence and a revealing white slave auction halfway through.


Based on an immensely popular radio show that ran from 1931-1936, Chandu is essentially an episodic pulp thrillride. Something nutty happens every five minutes. Chandu himself has an array of magic powers, including creating illusions, creating doubles of himself, and transforming one object into another. He generates his powers through his intense gaze.


Roxor, unfortunately, has little magic power (I was hoping for a magician's duel like in Corman's The Raven). But Roxor has kidnapped the inventor of a massive death ray and plans mass destruction until all humanity grovels at his feet.


With Menzies constructing  the sets and miniatures, you can bet that everything looks terrific. The stone temple in the mountain, and Roxor's hideout beneath the temple catacombs, are standouts. Complementing the sets are striking special effects co-created by cinematographer James Wong Howe. Lugosi is in top form and looks young and dashing in his dark robe, sash, and turban.


The weak point, as many before me have noted, is Edmund Lowe as Chandu. Lowe seems uninspired the whole way through. He also speaks with a high squeaky voice. His love affair with Irene Ware (of the 1935 Raven) is unconvincing. Some viewers may also complain about Herbert Mundin (Adventures of Robin Hood) as the comic relief camel keeper, although I thought his appearances fit the episodic rhythm quite well.


The 20th Century Fox DVD includes 2007 commentary from Greg Mank, who offers lots of interesting facts. "Chandu" was slang for opium. Historians estimate that 60% of US households listened to the radio show several times a week in 1932. Lugosi was paid $2500 for his performance, but went bankrupt a year later. The film was a big hit.


Lugosi played Chandu in the ill-received Return of Chandu. The whole Chandu series seems an obvious inspiration for movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and comics like Dr. Strange.


Action: 8. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 8.

Don't miss: Drinking buddy

Notable proclamation: "Roxor the god, whose hand deals death!"

 

 

THE CHANGELING (Peter Medak, 107 min, color, 1980)

What's Happening: Widower composer rents house haunted by ghost of long-dead child

Famous For: George C. Scott performance; one of most erudite horror films to date


Among the most respected of all haunted house movies, The Changeling does a fine job of balancing familiar ideas with fresh characters and situations. Horror fans will recognize the tell-tale signs of the ghostly presence, the use of a medium to question the restless spirit, the protagonist's willingness to explore the secret boarded-up corners of the house.


New elements include the older male protagonist (no sex-starved teens here), the unusual "changeling" explanation, and many striking visuals and sound-effects. The prominent sound effects, including music-box and piano tunes, are particularly fitting for a movie whose protagonist is a classical composer and music professor. The séance scene is one of the greatest.


I was very impressed with George C. Scott's performance. He never reacts to the paranormal phenomena with foolish denial or feigned shock. He accepts very quickly that something is wrong with the house, and he seeks trustworthy help.


Simply put: he acts as we would, and makes for one of the most empathetic protagonists in any movie of this type. See him, and wife Trish Van Devere, also in Day of the Dolphin.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 8. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Bouncing ball

Quotable qualities: "It's an old house. It makes noises."

 

 

CHARLY (Ralph Nelson, 103 min, color, 1968)

What's Happening: Surgery and treatments turn mentally retarded man into a genius

Famous For: Acclaimed adaptation of "Flowers for Algernon"


The original "Flowers for Algernon" novella appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction April 1959. It was such a hit that  author Daniel Keyes soon adapted it into a play and a novel. Cliff Robertson played Charly on a TV special in 1961 and enjoyed the role so much that he personally financed the full-length film. The film was a hit and even won Robertson an Oscar for best actor.


There's something inherently fascinating about the concept: taking someone with low intelligenceand boosting them to the level of a genius, watching them come to profound revelations about their being and their world. Keyes knew just how to explore this concept with an exciting and moving novel. The film is quite faithful to the book.


The novel was widely read in American schools in the 1970s and 80s, when I was an adolescent. I remember reading it for junior high school English at age 12 or 13. I loved how everything came from Charly's point of view; you could read his letters and journals and see directly how his spelling and thinking improved as he got smarter. Our teacher, Mr. Carbonara, showed the movie in class.


Over the decades, the only details I remembered were the images of Charly on the swings and the moment when Charly sneaks a peek at Ms. Kinian's cleavage. But I remembered the overall feeling that the film was good.


Watching it 25 years later, Charly is still good, although occasionally dated. Robertson masterfully navigates from the most foolish person on the screen to the most brilliant. He is particularly excellent during the standout Q&A sequence late in the film. I found Claire Bloom (The Hauntingsomewhat cold in her role as Ms. Kinian, but perhaps this was intentional.


Ravi Shankar's score is wistful and worried. Boston's parks and landmarks look beautiful in the fall and winter. The screenplay offers many enticing moments of scientific speculation, especially in the final third. I often had to pause the film to ruminate over the ideas.


The only real flaw, as various critics have noted, is that the stylized sequences are distracting and dated. Split-screen effects work well in suspense films (cf. Sisters) but not in dramas. The two-minute hippie interlude is also faintly fatuous with its little psychedelic lines and boxes, appropriate for drug films or camp films, not serious films. I also dislike the freeze-frame ending, the kind of ending that I always find obvious and manipulative.


Despite the flaws, Charly is recommended. It got me thinking about education, and how one needs to educate oneself emotionally as well as intellectually. Because of emotions, I'm a big believer in experiencing life in phases, educating people in stages. For example, I strongly support idealism in childhood. Let us help our children believe in fairies, in Santa Claus, in magic, in dragons, in a world with a wondrous future.


Of course they must eventually learn the truth. But having this idealistic period in their lives ultimately makes them happier, kinder, more mature adults. Everyone who had such a childhood sees it as an essential gift for their own children.


Perhaps I am rambling, but I hope to demonstrate how a rich film can inspire viewers in unexpected ways. Robertson later played Uncle Ben in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. The Mind of Mr. Soames (1969) had similar elements. See also Embryo.


Action: 6. Gore: 4. Sex: 5. Quality: 8. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Play dough

Notable query: "Is that an automatic law? Increased intelligence equals lost friends?"

 

 

THE CHILD (Robert Voskanian, 82 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: New nanny must confront sinister girl with psychic link to creatures in woods

Famous For: Unrelenting piano and percussion; a.k.a. "Kill and Go Hide"


An odd stylized score for an odd stylized movie. Neither the score nor the movie are very good, but both offer just enough to keep your attention. Set (unconvincingly) in the 1940s, the simple story follows a young nanny employed in a remote farmhouse with a mean girl, her callous father, and her soft-spoken brother. Supposedly her mother is dead, but we know that the dead can rise again, don't we, Dear Reader?


While the artificial style is interesting at first, its lack of subtlety makes it increasingly unwelcome. At least half the movie depicts people sitting or wandering alone in the dark with weird sounds in the background and the aforementioned music blaring around them. Two or three times is effective, but half the movie? The heroine is unlikeably helpless.


Still, some of the foggy forests and red-yellow glowing colors are enjoyably creepy. The gore effects and zombie makeup are above average. An early conversation at a dinner table makes an unlikely highlight. Since everyone involved is unknown, we can assume the production was an amateur labor of love.  See also The Pit.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 3. Quality: 4. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Memento mori

Notable reasoning: "The woods made them nervous. They said something was out
there."

 

 

THE CHILDREN (Max Kalmanowicz, 90 min, color, 1980)

What's Happening: Radioactive gas turns six kids into killer zombies with black fingernails

Famous For: Most extreme of the 70s and 80s "killer kids" movies


Wisely, our filmmakers realized that such an audacious idea deserved not seriousness but camp. The first 20 minutes seem serious, but it gets funnier as it goes, especially in the final third when it purposefully copies Psycho and Jaws in the score. A mere touch from the kids' fingertips burns grownups to a crisp.


It's highly entertaining to watch grownups encounter the kids standing alone in the middle of the highway, grinning with their arms outstretched. It's likewise fun to watch the kids return home chanting da-dee or ma-ma as they lumber toward their confused parents.


As with 1950s monster movies the story is set in a small rural town, and the plot flips between unlucky victims dying one by one and lucky (or are they?) survivors who slowly catch on to the threat. The "one thing" that will destroy the kids is cutting off their hands, which is a fine idea, following nicely from the original premise and getting even more perverse.


The two main flaws are (1) a lack of empathetic characters, and (2) an overlong length. I also thought it should have been funnier, with double entendres in the screenplay. A possible third flaw is a surprise ending that most viewers will guess during the "sorry cigarette" scene, but the ending is still satisfying in itself.


The acting and gore effects are surprisingly strong. John Stanley calls it "kind-of-fun" and the Phantom calls it "pretty funny most of the way." For a serious movie with the same theme, see Who Can Kill a Child?


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 6. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: 1970s-style car phone

Notable finding: "We've got to cut off their hands!"

 

 

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (Bob Clark, 87 min, color, 1972)

What's Happening: Actors play at raising the dead, but then the dead rise for real

Famous For: Offbeat variation on Night of the Living Dead


What a strange little movie. The plot and situation are routine, but the characters and the dialogue are something unique. Co-screenwriter Alan Ormsby plays the self-important leader of a troupe of amateur actors, all of whom are reluctant to follow him but need him for their careers. The dialogue is lively enough to keep things interesting throughout... provided you enjoy the sort of snide witty banter typical of young artsy-fartsy theater types.


If you're not in the mood for this kind of thing, you might very well hate this movie. But if you like faux British accents, crude puns, rivalry, and teasing, then you might enjoy Dead Things quite a bit. You should also be in the mood for bottom-budget production values, but the zombie makeup and masks are very good. There are scares, and there is gore.


For me the key was the dialogue. And the title. Bob Clark also made Black Christmas, Murder by Decree, and Porky's. Alan Ormsby wrote the Cat People remake and the gruesome Deranged.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Spider and moth

Quotable line: "The magnitude of your simplitude overwhelms me."

 

 

THE CHOOPER - See BLOOD SHACK

 

 

CHOSEN SURVIVORS (Sutton Roley, 99 min, color, 1974)

What's Happening: Nuke war survivors in underground complex are attacked by bloodsucking bats

Famous For: Combination of Day the World Ended and Andromeda Strain


Try as I might, I was unable to take this US-Mexican co-production seriously. The serious themes it touches upon are subsumed by the silly storyline and heavy-handed direction and performances.


But it's lots of fun as a campy B-movie. Can they fight the bats? Can they escape? Or might there be something secret about the complex that unlocks their whole situation.


Fans of camp should enjoy the cheap "bat attack" sequences, the big whirring and blinking machines, and the seemingly endless closeups on our various characters' sweaty desperate faces. Although there are but a few action sequences, all are memorable, and some are surprising.


The squabbling debates never get beyond the obvious post-Watergate cynicism: government keeps secrets from us, society destroys the individual, etc. But one character, the rebel novelist, has an interesting epiphany halfway through.


Although the sets can't match those of The Andromeda Strain, they make impressive use of their limited space and budget. By my count, the complex was filmed in just three rooms and one corridor, each of the rooms given a different look or color when appropriate. I also liked how real vampire bats were used in many scenes (although it's never made clear how they could actually kill anyone).


To make this movie a success in a serious way, the filmmakers would have had to treat five or six characters rather than the film's bloated cast of 11. We might have learned to empathize with an intimate cast. Here, we only learn about three or four of the characters, including Jackie Cooper's troublemaking businessman, Lincoln Kilpatrick's has-been athlete, and Richard Jaeckel's practical-minded major.


Jackie Cooper played newsman Perry White in the Superman movies. Lincoln Kilpatrick had a small role in Soylent Green. Richard Jaeckel starred in Latitude Zero. Diana Muldaur (the congresswoman) appeared in two great Star Trek: TOS episodes and was the ship's doctor for the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Bradford Dillman (the psychologist) starred in Bug. Roley directed lots of genre TV show episodes. Pitch Black (2000) had a similar premise.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 6. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Shafted

Quotable line: "The law of all life is cooperation within the species."

 

 

CHRISTMAS EVIL (Lewis Jackson, 94 min uncut, color, 1980)

What's Happening: Repressed toy factory manager rewards kids but kills adults

Famous For: First killer Santa Claus; a.k.a. "Terror in Toyland" or "You Better Watch Out"


Take one part Taxi Driver, one part Halloween, a little camp, and Christmastime in the New York suburbs, and voila... you've got the fascinating Christmas Evil. Opinions have been sharply divided on this weird and extreme film, with many people understandably offended by the image of a killer Santa Claus.


But - here come some MINOR SPOILERS - let us note that the killings do not begin for almost an hour, the people killed are jerks, and the body count is very low (so low, I'd say, that this can scarcely qualify as a slasher film).


The focus is squarely upon socially inept Harry Stadling, traumatized as a boy when he glimpsed his dad in a Santa suit romancing his mom. He laments the loss of childhood innocence (his own innocence and other children's) and becomes obsessed with the idea of Santa as godlike judge, rewarding good kids and punishing bad kids, not to mention bad adults.


He keeps log books on neighborhood kids with remarks such as "has to be first in everything," "spits in street," or "throws rocks at dogs." His characterization is obvious and one-dimensional, but Brandon Maggart's performance more than compensates. We can't help but like this guy.


Every scene is weird, with all conversations feeling a bit off. Happy Christmas songs play in and out, but often we hear discordant notes in the background. Obvious references to classic horror films like Psycho and Frankenstein are included for camp. Standout sequences include smashing the globe, pulling the beard ("it's me!"), delivering gifts to the children's hospital (a brief but heartwarming scene), pretending to whip reindeer while driving the van, and lecturing the kids at the dance.


I loved the film and could scarcely turn away, and I think the only possible flaw is the nutty Grease-inspired ending (there are times when a conventional ending is the best choice). As for my guidebooks, Mike Mayo admits "inspired moments" but is otherwise unimpressed. John Stanley calls it crass exploitation. Jim Harper admires the attack (minor but apparent) on Christmas commercialism. He also reports that this is John Waters's favorite Christmas movie. I'm with Waters on this one.


Writer-producer-director Lewis Jackson made no other movies. Similar contemporaries are Maniac and The Toolbox Murders, which also feature lone babbling protagonists out to cleanse the world of evil in their own unique fashion. See also Don't Go in the House, featuring a gentle soft-spoken murderer. To All a Goodnight (1980) had similar elements. Killer Santas returned in the Silent Night, Deadly Night series (1980s and 90s).


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 3. Quality: 9. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Many strange images. Most famous: Santas in police lineup

Quotable announcement: "I found it. I can play the tune now."

 

 

CIRCUS OF FEAR (John Llewellyn Moxey, 91 min, color, 1966)

What's Happening: Stolen money ends up at a circus where every performer is a suspect

Famous For: Christopher Lee plays a hooded Russian lion tamer; a.k.a. "Psycho Circus"


Disappointing but decent, Circus of Fear is a belated imitation of Circus of Horrors mixed with crime and intrigue. Based on an Edgar Wallace novel, it's actually a heist film first and horror film second. The opening robbery sequence is the best part.


After the opening, we are treated to dozens of interesting images, characters, or situations, but every element feels diffuse and underutilized. There is no central character, no definite hero or villain. When developments and surprises arise in the final third, it's too little too late. It's unfortunate that the developments were not set up earlier in the film. Also unfortunate is off-kilter pacing for the whole second half when tension is never allowed to build before being quickly released.


Horror fans will appreciate Christopher Lee, though he scarcely shows his face. His distinctive baritone voice fits wonderfully with his Russian accent. Horror fans will also enjoy various knife-throw murders.


Other small elements make the film worthwhile, including unusual features on every character's face: Gregor (Lee) with his hood, Barberini (Anthony Newlands) with his curly moustache, Inspector Elliot (Leo Genn) with his upturned eyebrow, Gina (Margaret Lee) with makeup that she never takes off, Carl (Heinz Drache) with his turtle eyes, Manfred (Klaus Kinski in a small role) with his carved jaw. A final point of interest is a great Spanish-Italian theme song featured prominently at the opening.


Circus of Fear does not deserve a commentary, but the Blue Underground DVD includes one anyway, featuring the septuagenarian Moxey. I skimmed the commentary and found little of interest except Moxey expressing surprise that the film was marketed as horror, since he had filmed it as "a whodunit." I also admired Moxey's admission that the stock footage of the audience, the acrobats, and the fire-eater was the same stock footage used in Circus of Horrors.


At any rate, Christopher Lee fans should check it out, but everyone else should see Murders in the Rue Morgue or Circus of Horrors instead. In 1966, Lee also made the thriller Theatre of Death, with similar elements.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Guillotine goof

Quotable line: "The dark's a place to hear things, isn't it?"

 

 

CIRCUS OF HORRORS (Sidney Hayers, 92 min, color, 1960)

What's Happening: Evil surgeon recruits criminals to work in his accident-prone circus

Famous For: Best-ever horror film with a circus theme


A vintage ad for the British Circus of Horrors proclaims it "The exploitation picture of the year!" And for once the claim is valid. It might even be the best of the decade. It offers the requisite grisly deaths and scantily-clad babes, but it also offers a mesmerizing performance by Anton Diffring as the clipped calculating cold-hearted Dr. Rossiter. He's twisted and classy at once, as is the entire film.


But the film even offers some emotional relief in the character of sweet innocent Nicole and her father Vanet (Donald Pleasence in a small role), and in the victimized brother and sister Martin and Angela. Hayers (who directed dozens of British and American genre TV episodes) focuses on Dr. Rossiter for maximum intensity, and yet the film feels well-rounded.


The death scenes remain brutal and gory half a century after the making, but they do not overwhelm the continuous intrigue and atmosphere of depravity. A wonderfully hokey theme song "Look for a Star" adds yet another charming touch.


The plot is ridiculous - a disgraced plastic surgeon decides to hide from authorities by becoming a prominent circus magnate - but in the context of the film, it works. It could have used one additional grisly death scene (we are told of a dozen deaths but only witness a few) but is otherwise perfect. The villainous doctor is beset by no less than four antagonists one after the next during the climax.


Anton Diffring starred also in The Man Who Could Cheat Death, but Circus of Horrors is his signature film. The Phantom calls it "surprisingly sadistic" and John Stanley calls it "sick but engaging." It might be compared with The Abominable Dr. Phibes or perhaps Bloody Pit of Horror.


In the 1990s, major circuses began phasing out elephant and lion acts because these mighty creatures require vast living spaces that confined circuses cannot provide. But even animal-loving viewers like myself should enjoy the vintage footage here.


Action: 8. Gore: 8. Sex: 7. Quality: 8. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Chimpanzee acrobats

Quotable line: "We're the Jinx Circus now... rising to glory in a trail of blood!"

 

 

CITY OF THE DEAD- See HORROR HOTEL

 

 

CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (Lucio Fulci, 93 min, color, 1980)

What's Happening: A priest hangs himself, returns as a ghost, and causes the dead to rise

Famous For: Second of Fulci's four zombie-gore films


Ghosts more than zombies are the main antagonists. And even the zombies act like ghosts, suddenly appearing or disappearing. The gore sequences are all excellent, although one - ripped brains - is repeated several times. The most famous gore sequence is the vomiting up of one's own innards. Watch also for an amazing drill through a head.


I was interested throughout, but I wasn't motivated by the simple plot. Nearly everything unfolds predictably, and the rest is confusing, like the coda. It vaguely attempts to be epic but can't coherently combine Salem witch elements, Lovecraft elements, and a doorway to hell. Perhaps it should have stayed small-time, like House by the Cemetery.


Fulci's camerawork is also too obvious, as it often is. He never trusts his audience to "get it" without zooms or Mickey Mousing. Neither Christopher George (Grizzly) nor any of the actors make much impression. But gore is the main point, and gore is very good here. The zombie-ghosts appear dark and still, as they are menacingly lit from below. Fulci's next film, The Beyond, was finally able to achieve epic scope.


Action: 7. Gore: 9. Sex: 2. Quality: 5. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Premature burial

Notable foe: "A demanding implacable enemy whose search for blood is never satiated."

 

 

CITY OF THE WALKING DEAD - See NIGHTMARE CITY

 

 

 

CLASH OF THE TITANS (Desmond Davis, 118 min, color, 1981)

What's Happening: While the gods watch, Perseus must slay Medusa and rescue Andromeda

Famous For: One of best Greek Myth movies; last film with Ray Harryhausen animation


Neither critics nor fans were impressed when Clash was released. Personal computers, New Wave music, and video games were in. Stop-motion animation, not to mention Greek mythology, seemed foolishly old-fashioned. Even Harryhausen fans considered it a lesser effort.


But as the years passed, both critics and fans gradually changed their minds. No one considers this the best movie of its type (Jason and the Argonauts usually gets that honor), but everyone finds something to enjoy.


In fact, everyone seems to have a different favorite moment from the film. VideoHound praises the climactic medusa sequence, calling it Harryhausen's scariest sequence ever. John Stanley considers Burgess Meredith to be the standout. The Phantom likes veterans Laurence Olivier, Claire Bloom, Ursula Andress, and Maggie Smith as the Olympian gods. Many viewers remember Pegasus the most. Me? I liked the massive flood sequence toward the beginning.


Sadly, two obvious flaws drag this movie down from potential greatness. First, lead actors Harry Hamlin and Judi Bowker are boring and routine; neither has any screen presence. Second, the movie is too long and slow between action sequences, especially in the last hour. You'll wish that Pegasus would fly faster. Another possible flaw is the campy owl which was probably unnecessary.


Although it is a belated entry in the Greek myth subgenre, it doesn't seem to realize this. Because it shows no consciousness that it marks the close of an era, Clash of the Titans feels enviably innocent.


Action: 8. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 7. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Calibos transforming

Quotable line: "There is sufficient cowardice, sloth, and mendacity on Earth to last forever."

 

 

CLAW OF TERROR (Marc B. Ray, 86 min, color, 1973)

What's Happening: Hook-handed youth kills men and women, imagining they are his parents

Famous For: A.k.a. "Scream Bloody Murder"


You get cheap unabashed exploitation, but with some admirable restraint - nudity partial and gore frequent but brief. The first half follows the one-handed Oedpial (but non-sexual) Matthew as he kills several men and women, including his own parents but also other couples he imagines are his parents. He kills the women only accidentally.


The second half is less fun, as Matthew kidnaps an artist/prostitute and insists she pretend to be his mother. In-camera effects and some surprisingly good camera angles make the killings and fantasies very entertaining. Matthew should have used his claw more often, but at least he uses it at the end.


Many scenes are too long, and many conversations repetitive, but the exploitation elements are well handled. Recommended if you like Southern-type exploitation such as Axe or Evil Come Evil Go.


The actor who plays crazy Matthew is obviously an amateur, but he really does seem pathetically sweet one minute and pathetically violent the next. He has many funny lines including, before killing a housekeeper: "sorry, lady, I need the house." Tom Willett, posting December 2008 on the IMDb describes the plot as "a hooker vs a hook." Angus Scrimm, who shows up late in the film, was The Tall Man from Phantasm.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Art critic?

Notable achievements: "See what I do for you? I get groceries and clothes and art stuff, and kill people!"

 

 

THE CLIMAX (George Waggner, 86 min, b&w, 1944)

What's Happening: Obsessed opera house doctor tries to destroy a beautiful young singer

Famous For: First Boris Karloff film in color; same director as The Wolf Man


Opera fans will find plenty to like here, but horror fans will not. It's really a kind of alternate version of Phantom of the Opera, and in fact uses the same sets as the 1943 Universal Phantom with Claude Rains. Like the 1943 Phantom, emphasis is placed on costumes and romance. Horror is a distant third. In fact, only two or three scenes in The Climax might be horrifying at all.


Karloff gives a "one-note performance" (as the Phantom of the Movies puts it); this is partly his fault and partly the fault of the Curt Siodmak screenplay which does not make him sympathetic. Unlike the Phantom of the Opera who was legitimately wronged and legitimately in love, Karloff's Dr. Hohner is merely a self-centered obsessive. His hypnotist scene is the highlight.


I believe, however, that the opera scenes are well done. I'm not an opera fan, but this is my educated guess. Any opera-loving readers who don't mind a little murder and hypnotism with their dances and arias should check the film out. Also worthy of attention is Turhan Bey (Amazing Mr. X) who gives a wonderful performance, sweet and energetic, as the hapless diva's fiancée. Bey, more than Karloff, is the film's focus.


Finally, mention should be made of the film's beautiful color print - gorgeous Golden Age Technicolor, where every costume and interior is crisp and full, where every hue has a kind of slight warm antique tinge. I thought of 18th-century painters like Thomas Gainsborough or Francois Boucher. I was also reminded of The Red Shoes (1948).


Action: 5. Gore: 4. Sex: 5. Quality: 5. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Tasty libretto

Notable suggestion: "Your voice will no longer answer your brain."

 

 

A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (Stanley Kubrick, 136 min, color, 1971)

What's Happening: Gang leader undergoes experimental mind-control therapy

Famous For: Same director as 2001:A Space Odyssey


As with 2001, Star Wars, and a few other movies in this book, the comments have been so copious and the praise so plentiful over the years, that I simply cannot add anything new. I will offer a bit of background and history here.


Anthony Burgess wrote the Clockwork Orange book in 1962 partially to help himself deal with a savage beating (not a rape, as Guttmacher and other sources incorrectly claim) that his wife had experienced during World War II at the hands of AWOL American soldiers. The book was told from the protagonist's point of view, with cynical, amusing, half made-up slang "nadsat" words, some of which were incorporated into the film.


The title phrase apparently refers to a Cockney expression, "as queer as a clockwork orange" to denote something natural yet also bizarre. Kubrick read the book half a dozen times before starting the film. Kubrick made the gang older than in the book, and gave them their weirdly stylish white uniforms, codpieces, and black hats. He cast Malcolm McDowell after seeing him in If.... (1968). Both Burgess and Kubrick wanted to portray the importance of - but also the dangers of - freewill.


Note how the film depicts a realistic world and not a typical future dystopia. The Pavlovian "Ludovico" mind-control techniques are straightforward rather than mysterious. Note also how Alex is evil and predatory, yet possessing of an intelligence and charm that is hard to resist. Like most viewers, I hated him... but not completely. Both the film and book are clearly sympathetic to him.


The harsh, violent, and yet funny film caused a critical and popular sensation upon release, and apparently inspired copycat crimes in England, where it was banned until the 1990s. If anyone wished to claim it as Kubrick's best, I would not argue. Of my guidebooks, John Scalzi's provides the most substantive commentary.


Action: 8. Gore: 8. Sex: 5. Quality: 10. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Many great moments, including a face like Beethoven's

Quotable words and phrases: "Droogs," "The old in-out," and many more

 

 

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (Steven Spielberg, 137 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Aliens cause strange disturbances worldwide... are they friend or foe?

Famous For: With Star Wars, one of the crowning achievements in 70s science fiction


Close Encounters was too dramatic and mature to have an immediate emotional impact on nine-year-old kids like myself. It was Spielberg's E.T. exploring similar themes five years later that really got us. Nonetheless, Close Encounters was unforgettable - the type of movie that left a good feeling behind, the type we rented years later and finally understood, and loved.


Every scene stands on its own both visually and thematically. Every scene contributes to the whole. Douglas Trumbull's effects seem flawless, even  30+ years later.


MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Most viewers, myself included, find Close Encounters to be a gorgeous, moving, hopeful, and affirming vision of an extraterrestrial visit to Earth. But some hardcore science fiction fans find it hokey and naive. With the exception of Ray Bradbury, "old guard" SF writers such as Isaac Asimov and Harlan Ellison lamented the film's wish-fulfilling sweetness. Harry Harrison (in his foreword to Brosnan's Future Tense) even called it cynical and anti-science. Among critics of my generation, John Scalzi calls it "a fuzzy-headed New Age mess."


But I respectfully disagree. Why shouldn't we have a positive and reassuring portrayal of a close encounter? There have been plenty of nasty invasions, plenty of hideous space monsters. Why not admit a happy story into our canon?


I find Spielberg's portrait of the close encounters to be brilliant. The use of music as a universal (literally!) language makes perfect sense: it is the most timeless of art forms and the only intangible one. The aliens can be mischievous or careless, and while their actions seem quasi-random to us they are also obviously planned and purposeful.


If anything about the film struck a discordant note with me, it was the meticulous nature of the operations at the landing site. In an early-80s conversation with my family about this movie, I remember my Uncle Lenny perceiving something "fascistic" about the matching red uniforms and the straight-line march of the volunteers who will board the mother ship. I didn't understand him at the time, but I understand him now. The "authorities" cook up a scare-story to keep the civilians away so that only the Right People will be allowed at the site. But who are the right people? Who would I trust to greet the extraterrestrials? The US government? The President? Senators or Governors?


I can think of few authorities who could represent humanity with dignity, tact, and honor. Scientists? Perhaps, but many of them lack social skills, imagination, or romance. I also dislike the pervasive atheism of scientists.


Would I trust artists and poets? Perhaps, but many of them are self-indulgent and therefore out-of-touch with the greater bulk of mankind. Who would I trust? Would I even trust myself?


At any rate, Spielberg seems to be criticizing the governmental/military takeover of the landing site. The Francois Truffaut and Bob Balaban characters voice their discontent. And when Richard Dreyfuss's "Everyman" does get to make the journey, he looks conspicuously different from the government-bred crew. Overlook credits the movie with "the most gloriously optimistic ending in the history of the science fiction film."


Action: 7. Gore: 4. Sex: 4. Quality: 10. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Mashed potatoes

Notable justification: "They were invited!"

 

 

COBRA WOMAN (Robert Siodmak, 70 min, color, 1944)

What's Happening: Hero's fiancée turns out to be twin sister of evil island cobra queen

Famous For: Sabu and Lon Chaney Jr. in supporting roles


This lavish Technicolor production offers some grand sets with pagodas, pillars, palms, braziers, altars, thrones, and a giant golden cobra. It also features scenes of a lush tropical island with palms, vines, grasses, pools, cliffs, and a simmering volcano.


It's basically an old-fashioned Golden Age of Hollywood fantasy inspired by Thief of Bagdad. It's tame and predictable, and poorly acted all around, yet it is well-shot and well-paced, and almost never boring. If you've seen Arabian Nights and are hungry for more, then you'll enjoy Cobra Woman.


Just make sure you're in the mood for scripted broken English such as "I are coming!" or "Little boy gone from tree!" At any rate, Maria Montez ("The Caribbean Cyclone") is an unforgettable screen presence; her two sexy cobra-dance sequences, performed in tight sequined dresses and gemmed headdresses, are the key scenes. A better and more literal cobra-woman film is Cult of the Cobra.


Action: 6. Gore: 5. Sex: 7. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Cobra salute (heil cobra?)

Notable distinction: "The eyes of love are sharp, but they can be deceived.  The lips, never."

 

 

COLOR ME BLOOD RED (Herschell Gordon Lewis, 79 min, color, 1965)

What's Happening: Crazed painter kills women and paints with their blood

Famous For: Last of the Lewis-Friedman gore films


Most follow-ups, especially horror movie follow-ups, attempt to give the viewer more-more-more of what they liked in the first place. But after Blood Feast, H.G. Lewis and David Friedman took things in the other direction, subtracting guts and gore but adding humor and story. Color Me is the funniest and least gory film of the Blood Trilogy (there are a few gore scenes but only one is extreme).


Overall, Color Me is inferior to its predecessors on every level except humor, but I really liked it. It has an exuberant (if canned) 60s jazz soundtrack. Other 60s camp comes from the copious shots of big cars, puffy hairdos, and slang-speaking teens having fun in the sun. There is even an element of the Beach Party movie here; such movies were big business in the early 60s.


Color Me features glimpses of many unusual abstract and surreal paintings. According to the commentary on the Something Weird DVD, these works were commissioned from a Sarasota (Florida) painter who produced promotional art for a circus. The paintings are now lost, which seems a great shame. Redness is used as an obvious but effective motif to foreshadow the murders and add unity to the visuals: red shirts, red bathing suits, red carpeting, red nail polish, etc.


Color Me would make a nice comparison with Bucket of Blood, Track of the Vampire, and perhaps House of Wax. For a more serious film about an artist-murderer, check out Driller Killer. For an EC Comics story about an artist who gets inspired by real-life blood and killing, check out "Easel Kill Ya" in Vault of Horror 31 (1953).


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 8.

Impossible to miss: Bicycle paddle-boats

Quotable query: "Are you a painter or a butcher?"

 

 

THE COLOSSUS OF NEW YORK (Eugène Lourié, 70 min, b&w, 1958)

What's Happening: Scientist's brain transplanted into mechanical body slowly goes insane

Famous For: Combination of "brain movie" and Frankenstein movie


Try to enjoy the strange scary atmosphere rather than the illogical derivative plot, and you will have a good experience with Colossus. The score, by Van Cleave of Space Children, is solo piano and nothing else. For most movies of this type (or any type) such a score would be inappropriate, but since Colossus is shot and performed in a cold impersonal fashion, this score seems to fit.


Everything gets weirder and weirder, as the story moves from a happy family drama into a tragedy with a robo-man shooting death rays from his eyes. The family element gives the film what little emotion it has: the poor scientist's own father and brother encase him in his metal shell.


The clunky Frankensteinesque mechanical body feels out of place. Many of the Colossus's abilities arise confusingly out of nowhere: Hypnotism? ESP? Death rays? The nine-year-old boy (Charles Herbert from The Fly) speaks like a four-year-old. But for all of the first half and most of the second half, the strange scary atmosphere makes the film eerily compelling. It is well-intended.


Brain fans should see it, although the similar Donovan's Brain is superior. The highlight comes when the brain first awakens in the robo-body, images coming into focus like a TV with bad reception.


John Stanley calls it "excellent." Bill Warren calls it "dry and ponderous" although he allows it has potential. Warren notes a conclusion similar to that of the 1920 Golem. At one point, Robert Hutton says: "Any brain divorced from human experience must become dehumanized to the point of monstrousness." Warren questions this idea, noting that quadriplegics are divorced from human experience but continue to think and feel like the rest of us. Warren also reports that Lourié made the film mostly because he had time available before making The Giant Behemoth.


I wonder if Colossus helped inspire the acclaimed 1980s-90s Concrete comic book series by Paul Chadwick. In this series, a writer's brain is transplanted by aliens into a near-indestructible golem-like body. Naming himself "Concrete," the writer uses his body for good deeds around the world.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 6. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Emerging opening credits

Notable irony: "The brain of a genius... operated by push-button."

 

 

THE COLOSSUS OF RHODES (Sergio Leone, 128 min, color, 1961)

What's Happening: Tyrants and rebels fighting for control of towering colossus

Famous For: Combination of Italian pepla and Hollywood biblical epic


Who doesn't love the Colossus of Rhodes? Whenever I play the computer game Civilization, I always build it. I like it even better than the pyramids. The real one was built in 280 BC and stood for 60 years until an earthquake destroyed it. This fictional one gets destroyed a lot sooner. And while the real one was 105 feet high, this fictional one stands at least 300-350, taller than the real-life Statue of Liberty.


So the film not historically accurate. But what's a peplum without a little fantasy? This Italian-Spanish-French co-production is the most lavish of all sword-and-sandal films, so lavish that it's really more of a Hollywood epic.


The hero (Rory Calhoun who later made Motel Hell) is a Greek visitor to the island nation of Rhodes. "Is this a celebration or a massacre?" he asks rhetorically. During his visit, Macedonian slaves plan a revolt and Phoenician traitors plan a coup. Pacing is slow, partly because the story is too complex for its own good. Several scenes strain credibility when people are able to sneak in or out of key locations that are conveniently unguarded.


But the film is very exciting, with a near-perfect mix of action, drama, and romance. The Colossus, and everything else, is spectacular. A torture scene and gladiator scene are fairly graphic. A giant evil cat mouth-door is a standout image. Georges Marchal (the Cameron Mitchell-type Macedonian leader) appeared also in Ulysses Against the Son of Hercules and Last Days of Pompeii (1950). Colossus is Leone's first credited job as director. Three years later he would make the pioneering Fistful of Dollars.


The MGM DVD has commentary from Leone biographer Christopher Frayling that offers a refreshing amount of good-natured criticism. Frayling notes how Leone had not yet "cut loose" from his teachers and stuck close to sword-and-sandal conventions. Only one or two uses of visual surprises presage the Leone of later years.


The faux crown Statue of Liberty parody was perhaps a result of Leone's thinking so hard about the United States, wanting so badly to begin making Westerns. The Spanish co-producer wanted the Colossus to come to life, but Leone was determined to make the film more realistic. The first giant evil mouth appeared in the Italian Cabiria (1914).


Action: 8. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Ear they come

Quotable truth: "Our footprints are temporary."

 

 

COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (Joseph Sargent, 100 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: US and USSR supercomputers decide to link selves and rule world

Famous For: Tense combination of sci-fi and Cold War thriller


Somehow, this frightening technology-run-amok political thriller is little known among B-movie fans. Critics know it but fans do not. Here's hoping its fame will spread, because it is a seminal Evil Computer film, preceding Demon Seed, Tron, WarGames, the Terminator series, the Matrix series, and many more.


The Invisible Boy was first, but it became known as an invisibility film or a robot film, not a supercomputer film. Computers had ruled societies before in Twilight Zone and Star Trek episodes, but had never been given such presence in a feature film. Hal from 2001 is a Colossus/Guardian progenitor, but Hal was never a threat of this magnitude.


Events unfold before us in cinéma vérité style as we follow computer expert Dr. Forbin and a host of US and Soviet officials trying to break the links between the supercomputers and disable their stockpiles of nuclear weapons. Many scenes give exposition, but the stylized camerawork, the fast pacing, and the clipped dialogue create near-continuous tension. The film feels half its length. It resembles Cold War thrillers like Fail-Safe (1964) or Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977), but its science fiction element is essential.


German-born Eric Braeden (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) gives a no-nonsense performance as Forbin who designed the "impartial, emotionless machine, a paragon of reason." Braeden will remind viewers of Sean Connery in the James Bond films or perhaps Patrick McGoohan in the Prisoner TV series. The entire cast, while relatively unknown, does a great job with the material, one line following the next. See Susan Clark (Forbin's "mistress") as Saucy Jack's last victim in Murder by Decree.


Some viewers will enjoy psychological analysis of the film, noting apparently sexual images, exploring the reverse father/son relationship between Forbin and Colossus, speculating about whether machines can develop creativity or emotions.


Other viewers will enjoy the politics which depict the Russians as virtual doubles of the Americans, doing the same things, making the same mistakes (cf. The Day the Earth Caught Fire).


Others will note comments on the nature of science, which apparently has yet to learn from Frankenstein. Still others, like myself, will simply enjoy the spectacle, the breakneck intensity that never lets up and yet finds moments for unexpected humor. In 2008 as I write, the film has aged very well, not least because women and minorities make up a huge percentage of the officials and technicians.


Colossus has one glaring flaw: the incredibly low possibility that any nation (let alone two superpowers at once!) would ever want to permanently relinquish control of nuclear weapons to an automatic computer that thinks for itself and can never be disconnected. But if you can get over this flaw before you start the movie, you will be dazzled by what you see.


Veteran TV-show director Sargent also directed Star Trek's "Corbomite Maneuver" in 1966. In that same year, British-born D.F. Jones published the novel upon which Colossus was based. The book was simply called "Colossus," and the film should have taken the same one-word title. Jones published two sequels in the 1970s.


Action: 8. Gore: 3. Sex: 6. Quality: 9. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Multiplication

Quotable line: "There is another system."

 

 

THE COMEBACK (Pete Walker, 96 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Singer working on a comeback is haunted by ghost of his murdered ex-wife

Famous For: Same director as Frightmare


Having made a dozen provocative cult flicks, British filmmaker Pete Walker at last decided to seek a broader audience with The Comeback. He imported two American actors (David Doyle from Charlie's Angels and Jack Jones, popular in the 1960s and 70s for sentimental AOR hits) and almost made the film in the States.


The body count is low and nudity only partial. Yet the film doesn't feel compromised. It's never great, especially in comparison with Italian giallos that were clearly an influence. But it's got a great atmosphere of weirdness and menace.


Note how every character except hero Nick and girlfriend Linda is smarmy and suspicious. Everyone has their eye on Nick, and on each other. Note also how Nick never actually learns that his ex-wife was murdered. Renting a country house far from the apartment where his wife's corpse lies rotting, he hears voices, cries, and screams, but doesn't know their origin.


Walker, in an early-2000s commentary included on the Media Blasters/Shriek Show DVD, says he tried everything he could to convincingly make the "damsel in distress" a strapping macho male instead of the usual meek female. He succeeded. I also like how Nick is often cynical and egoistic, which is fitting and realistic for a once-retired rock star seeking a return to fame.


The film is never quite shocking or unusual enough. To shorten the length, an episode in a sanitarium should have simply been cut from the screenplay. But fans of Walker or of 70s ghost stories should check it out. Walker-regular Sheila Keith is the overbearing housekeeper. Holly Palance (the ex-wife) was Jack's daughter. Jones is best known to my generation for the Love Boat theme song. He sings once in the film. A.k.a. "The Day the Screaming Stopped." See also Point of Terror.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 6. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Ratfaced

Notable point of pride: "We always keep all of your clippings."

 

 

THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (Jacques Tourneur, 84 min, color, 1964)

What's Happening: Kooky undertakers build their business by killing unsuspecting townsfolk

Famous For: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff reunite after The Raven


Fun for the whole family, especially a whole family familiar with classic horror films. Some scenes are draggy and repetitive, and some jokes are silly rather than funny, but it's hard to imagine anyone not being entertained by the film's quips, slapstick, surprises, and pervasive aura of sneaky glee. I laughed out loud more than once.


Price is the conniving wisecracking chief undertaker. Lorre plays a sniveling creep but is sweeter and more sympathetic than usual. Karloff is fun as the deaf oblivious father to Price's loudmouthed wife Joyce Jameson. Basil Rathbone paces back and forth quoting Macbeth; at one point he uses the phrase "jiggery pokery." Tourneur is best known for Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie. A trained orange-and-white cat named Rhubarb gets almost as much screen time as the actors.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 7. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Flowery credits

Quotable line: Many fun lines. My favorite: "Your mouth, Madam. Shut it!"

 

 

CONAN THE BARBARIAN (John Milius, 130 min, color, 1982)

What's Happening: Barbarian boy grows up and seeks revenge on those who destroyed his village

Famous For: Arnold Schwarzenegger's first action film


Opinions lie all over the map on this one. Some think it great, others think it horrible, others just yawn and shrug. I consider it great at times, fair as a whole. The first half hour is terrific, the second half hour good. It's the last 70 minutes that are the problem, because Conan spends most of it fighting a cult of snake hippies. I just cannot get over this horrible choice of foes.


Yes, there are a few tough Viking guys for Conan to fight. Yes, James Earl Jones cuts a menacing (and eerily seductive) figure as Thulsa Doom. But overwhelmingly we are treated to scene after scene, image after image, of silly snake hippies. I've seen Conan four times, and these snake hippies have only gotten more irritating over the years. They nearly ruin the film.


Luckily, there is an array of successful elements that make things bearable, hippie dippies notwithstanding. Sandahl Bergman (of the 1982 She) is perfectly cast as the valkyrie-thief Valeria. Gerry Lopez (who did little else) does well as Subotai. Max von Sydow is memorable, although barely recognizable, as King Osric. William "Big Bill" Smith appears briefly as Conan's father. The snake arrow is frightening. The spike trap is fun.


Lots of mediocre sword-and-sorcery films were produced in the wake of Conan the Barbarian. But Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonja (1985, also with Schwarzenegger and Bergman) are actually both better. Milius is also known for Dillinger (1973) and the infamous Red Dawn (1984).


The Universal DVD includes a fine 52-minute "Conan Unchained" documentary and a commentary featuring both Milius and Schwarzenegger. The documentary informed me that virtually none of Oliver Stone's original script was used in the film. It also informed me that the project began as a Schwarzenegger film rather than a Conan film. A co-producer had seen Pumping Iron (1977) and was seeking a project for the charismatic Schwarzenegger. Conan just seemed the best choice.


Milius rightly takes credit for making the film gritty and realistic, and he gives deserving credit to Ron Cobb for giving the weapons, armor, and sets a consistent look. Schwarzenegger's running comments are mostly of the "look at dat!" and "wasn't dat great!" variety, but they are very amusing. The commentary is highly recommended for Arnold fans.


For better Conan action, please read the original Robert E. Howard stories, especially "The People of the Black Circle." Frank Frazetta's book covers are by far the most famous. The vulture/crucifixion was taken from "A Witch Shall Be Born" (1934). Also recommended are the original Conan the Barbarian comics (early 70s) illustrated by Barry Smith and the first 30-odd issues (mid 70s) of Savage Sword of Conan magazine.


The 2011 Conan film shows more of Conan's family, and his birthright: a Cimmerian sword. Although Conan himself only seems to be in great danger twice (first when he fights the snow savages and later when he fights the sand demons), the 2011 film is decidedly superior to the 1982 film, with gorgeous landscapes and fierce action.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 7. Quality: 5. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Wheel of Pain

Quotable goal: "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women."

 

 

CONDEMNED TO LIVE (Frank R. Strayer, 65 min, b&w, 1935)

What's Happening: European mountain village is menaced by a vampiric murderer

Famous For: Independently produced 1930s horror


Horror historians and 1930s buffs might want to watch this little-known independent ("Invincible Pictures") horror-mystery. It's artificial and stilted, and completely unfrightening, but it's got a sweet earnest simplicity that makes for a pleasing 65 minutes.


Most scenes are taken up with talky low-key drama, but its 10-odd minutes of horror are ahead of the times. It uses the same sets as The Vampire Bat, and bears comparison to that more famous film.


The plot revolves around kind old Professor Kristan who is revered by the simple townsfolk. He is engaged to a sweet blonde who respects him and wants to marry him, but who loves her childhood sweetheart, a brave young man named David. Kristan and David argue about the mysterious murders. The hunchback knows more than he tells.


Ralph Morgan (Night Monster, The Monster Maker) should have added something to the Kristan role... gestures, facial expressions, manipulation of props, etc. But he really does seem like the nicest guy in the world. His brother Frank played the Wizard of Oz. Their real last name was "Wupperman."


MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Note how the film combines elements of other previous horror stories: Dracula (the vampire bats), Frankenstein (helpless villagers who eventually rise up with torches in hand), Jekyll and Hyde (transformation), and even werewolves (a full moon). There's some psychology and pseudo-science. It's one of the first feature films to combine so many different elements. Much of what it offers, including a talkative old housemaid and a hunchbacked servant with a bowl haircut, was not yet clichéd in 1935.


Camp comes from images of Bronson Caverns and from a screenplay obviously forced into fake European Village language: "Drained of blood he is, just like the others!" "No bat could tear their throats as if with teeth!" "It is well to be afraid when the devil has spewed such a loathsome creature as this upon us!"


My favorite lines are David's snipey replies to Marguerite's insistence she wants to be a good wife for the professor: "You'll be a good wife! You'll bake your bread, and sew your seams, and keep your copper polished!" I also liked how the professor combines an Abe Lincoln Beard with a Fu Manchu moustache.


Action: 5. Gore: 5. Sex: 4. Quality: 5. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Candle and feather

Quotable line: "The monster is a man!"

 

 

THE CONFESSIONAL (Pete Walker, 104 min, color, 1975)

What's Happening: Old priest falls in love with young woman and murders her boyfriends

Famous For: Last film in Walker's mid-70s horror trilogy; a.k.a. "House of Mortal Sin"


Walker's attacks on Establishment values might be accused of being behind the times but not of pulling punches. Frightmare attacked the Family. House of Whipcord attacked the Aristocracy. The Confessional attacks the Church.


Actually, I'm oversimplifying here, because in all three films, the main target is an elder generation stuck in their ways and hostile to change. Young people are almost always good in a Walker film, while old people are bad.


It's also oversimplifying to call the film an attack on Catholicism. In its targeted attack on the specific policy of priestly celibacy, it could actually be interpreted as a plea for church modernization, a hope that the church will adapt to new times in order to strengthen itself.


The action follows a blonde heroine who visits a confessional in a moment of crisis and finds herself stalked by the old priest. To "defend" our heroine, the priest attacks her boyfriends. A kind young priest suspects something is up, but never finds enough evidence to move against the old priest.


Along the way, various priests have brief discussions about celibacy, which the sympathetic young priest thinks is out of date. "Don't you think that the need for celibacy," he asks, "especially today, isn't all that relevant?"


It's an attractive proposal, I think. Not until the 1100s were priests required to be celibate. Priests' wives often administered the parishes of medieval European towns. When one realizes that priests were able to marry for more than half of church history, doing away with celibacy seems less like an upheaval and more like a return to form.


The movie is decent, although exploitation and horror is minimal by Walker standards. The heroine is naked for about two seconds. The murder scenes make creative use of church accouterments - censer, rosary, even wafer. But the ideas, more than the scenes themselves, are the main thing. The evil priest is pathetic rather than scary. Way too much talking happens during the final third, although the conclusion is surprising, if anticlimactic. Overall it feels very serious, but never quite satisfying.


In the "Courting Controversy" documentary (2005) available on the Anchor Bay/Shriek Show DVD, Walker (himself a lapsed Catholic) expresses disappointment that viewers weren't bothered by the film. He had always tried to shock people and stir up controversy, but couldn't always succeed. He also says, in relation to Frightmare, that he thinks the criminally insane should be locked up for life.


Walker-regular Sheila Keith plays a hard-nosed church caretaker in The Confessional. Blonde Susan Penhaligon appeared in Land that Time Forgot. See also Alice Sweet Alice.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 5. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Black Eye

Notable line: "The priest I went to see is insane!"

 

 

THE CONQUEROR OF ATLANTIS (Alfonso Brescia, 93 min, color, 1965)

What's Happening: Greek sailor finds Atlanteans beneath the Egyptian desert

Famous For: One of the most far-out Italian pepla


Closer in spirit to 1930s American serials or 1960s Japanese kaiju, Conqueror of Atlantis probably wouldn't be considered a sword-and-sandal picture at all if it weren't from the perpetually shirtless bodybuilder playing the hero. It suffers throughout from poor direction (confusing angles, unimaginative staging) and a low budget (sets and special effects are never as elaborate as one would hope).


But it makes good use of its desert setting, it offers several fun performances from its cast, and, despite the director's apathy, feels imbued with a spirit of B-movie fun. The clean-shaven hero washes ashore in Egypt, meets a cat-eyed desert princess, and journeys with an Arab ally through a ruined city underground into the Lost World of Atlantis. The Atlanteans have alchemy, mind-control, and closed-circuit TV like in The Phantom Empire.


I wished the budget had allowed the ray guns to shoot actual rays rather than simply make flashing lights. I also wished we had a whole army of golden men in blue unitards, rather than just a few. And the golden guys should have cracked or crumbled at the end.


But the desert looks great, the camels are fun, and there is a lot of action. The evil Atlantean scientist has a blue beard as long as an arm! Kirk Morris appeared in several Maciste and Hercules movies, and in Star Pilot. Hack director Brescia also did Star Odyssey. See also Giant of Metropolis.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 6. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Atlantean Amazons

Notable line: "I can't possibly operate on anybody who hasn't died from asphyxiation!"

 

 

THE CONQUEROR WORM - See WITCHFINDER GENERAL

 

 

CONQUEST OF SPACE (Byron Haskin, 80 min, color, 1955)

What's Happening: First-time astronauts crack under pressure of mission to Mars

Famous For: Same producer-director team as War of the Worlds; first "burial in space" sequence


Like Destination Moon, this ambitious movie tries to offer both spectacular effects and realistic science. The images of the slowly-rotating Space Wheel and the Von Braun/Bonestell spaceships (not to mention space-sleds) are beautiful and memorable. It also has a promising premise: exploring the psychology of men in space.


How would we feel if required to serve on a space station for a period of years? Is this different from serving on a boat at sea? Would we succumb to "space fatigue"? Would we tire of the synthetic food? Would we feel out of place, as if we were overstepping our natural earthly bounds?


But, sadly, the many characters do not act realistically. This is partially the fault of the inexperienced actors, but this is mostly the fault of the screenwriters. They knew their science, it seems, but not their psychology. As John Stanley puts it: "that [scientific] realism is in contrast to the unconvincing characters."


It's embarrassing to hear remarks about how the Japanese eat with chopsticks because they can't afford metal to make silverware. And it's exhausting to meet yet another comic-relief engineer guy from Brooklyn (original with Destination Moon but clichéd five years later).


John Brosnan considers Conquest of Space "one of the most embarrassing SF films ever made" (79). Bill Warren feels it has the weakest script of any George Pal movie. It's worth watching if you fast-forward to the special effects scenes, which focus on the space station for the first half hour and then Mars (rocky, steamy, red) for the rest. Also worth noting are black and Asian members of the crew. Stock footage from Conquest of Space showed up in Destination Space, a TV pilot from 1959.


Action: 6. Gore: 4. Sex: 4. Quality: 5. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Christmas on Mars

Quotable query: "What are we - explorers? Or invaders?"

 

 

CONTAMINATION (Luigi Cozzi, 95 min uncut, color, 1980)

What's Happening: If juice from alien eggs touches you, your guts explode

Famous For: Feels like Alien on Earth with a James Bond plot


When fans think of Italian B-movies from around 1980, they immediately think of the infamous "cannibal" exploitation movies. Because of this, many tamer but finer Italian B-flicks of the period have been neglected. Island of the Fishmen is one such flick, and Contamination is another.


From AlienContamination takes its opening sequence and its key image - an exploding stomach. But it encompasses these elements into a highly enjoyable pulp plot complete with a Mars mission, a futuristic CIA complex, and a trip to a coffee plant in Columbia that's really a Body Snatchers greenhouse.


Like Alien, Contamination also gives us a female protagonist, although here she is aided by two co-heroes, an unshaven New York cop and beleaguered English astronaut. Multiple stomachs explode, mostly toward the beginning and toward the end.


The gore effects are slightly funny, but with this kind of unpretentious B-movie, no fans should mind. At the end, the octopoid alien "cyclops" is surprisingly lifelike. I was pretty scared. The pulsing eggs make an eerie breathing sound.


The Blue Underground DVD includes a 2003 interview with Cozzi (Starcrash) where he admits influences such as Them! and Quatermass 2. He wanted the movie to be even more like Alien, but the producer insisted on creatively combining elements of James Bond films and The China Syndrome (1979). It took 110 separate shots to make the cyclops look real. Most of the eggs were green balloons with paint. Ian McCulloch is best known for Zombie, which also featured gore effects by Giovanni Corridori. Goblin is best known for scoring Argento films like Deep Red.


Action: 8. Gore: 9. Sex: 3. Quality: 8. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Hypnotic eye

Notable realization: "It's almost as if he exploded!"

 

 

THE CORPSE GRINDERS (Ted V. Mikels, 73 min, color, 1971)

What's Happening: Villains grind up corpses for cat food; cats then attack owners

Famous For: Very popular exploitation film


Shlock director Mikels has his share of fans. I'm not a fan, but I did enjoy the main appeals of Corpse Grinders: gore, girls in their underwear, and sleazy characters who get what they deserve.


Most characters are grotesque in one way or another (skinny, crazy, peg-legged, deaf, British, etc.). The cat attacks are also entertaining, although there should have been more of them.


The movie is not as gory as you'd expect - the single goriest moment is probably the cat intestine operation (apparently a realistic stuffed cat) - but there is a pervasive atmosphere of ickiness. Dialogue includes lines like "you're a liar, you little liar!" Mikels seems to have a flair for repetitive dialogue. Fans of Blood Freak or The Incredibly Strange Creatures should enjoy it.


Despite myself, I was somewhat impressed by the logic of the story. The Corpse Grinders actually has a coherent plot that makes some use of cause and effect, and not mere accidents.


I also noted a vast advance in style from Mikel's previous film, The Astro-Zombies. Here Mikels occasionally uses his camera like a professional (e.g. note the zoom to the mystery man after the delivery van drives off with the cat food). He also uses "flicker frame" effects, especially red flashes of grinding blades.


The Image DVD includes vague commentary from Mikels, age 74. He says so little that I found myself checking that I had the audio set correctly. Among the few worthwhile anecdotes: Much of the film was made at Mikels's former Castle/home in Glendale; "Farewell Acres" was attached to the house gates to make it look like a cemetery. The white geese were Mikels's own; he kept them as watchdogs because they would honk loudly at intruders. The grinding machine was built with plywood and bicycle parts. Mikels meant to keep the Lotus Cat Food sign, but over the years it got ruined by water.


Some of the actors went on to better things afterwards (although my favorite, Sanford Mitchell who plays Landau, went nowhere). In an interview in Incredibly Strange Films (Juno and Vale, eds., 1986, pp.60-61), Mikels notes that "almost everyone in the whole production had never been around a picture before... the sound man had never run a sound recorder, some people were putting on make-up for the first time."


Sean Kenney (the doctor hero) appeared in Savage Abduction and in the first episode of Star Trek. Mikels made Corpse Grinders II in 2000, but few saw it. See also Night of a Thousand Cats.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 6. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Nonsensical mortician's jokes

Quotable lines: "The world is full of ingredients." or "No money, no meat."

 

 

THE CORPSE VANISHES (Wallace Fox, 63 min, b&w, 1942)

What's Happening: Doctor kills brides and uses their glandular fluid to refresh his ailing wife

Famous For: Bela Lugosi plays the doctor-horticulturist-hypnotist


As is typical of 1940s Monogram films, Corpse is a cheap, silly, fast, unpretentious, entertaining little doodad. The action follows our heroine, a brunette reporter, as she investigates the deaths of young brides... all of whom had been anonymously presented with mysterious orchids on their wedding days. Lugosi fans will enjoy their man's trademark drawling squinty-eyed smile.


More scenes with Lugosi would have been nice, but director Fox at least does a nice job of lighting him from below and having him emerge silently from the shadows. He even gets to play a few bars on an organ while his wife sits beside him on a throne. The plot is very obvious, and very similar to that of The Ape, The Ape Man, and Voodoo Man, all made at almost the same time. John Stanley calls it "vapid" but the Phantom thinks it's "a model of Poverty Row efficiency."


Most of the fun comes not from Lugosi's doctor but from his henchmen, who include a dwarf played by Angelo Rossitto (Freaks) and a lumbering lummox played by Kenneth Harlan (who appeared in nearly 100 Westerns).


The lummox gets whipped and abused by his "master" but he is neither a sniveling rat like Igor nor an oafish retard like Lobo; instead he is a grinning hillbilly, and very amusing on screen. But note how he strokes the heroine's hair, as Lobo strokes the angora in Bride of the Monster. If you like other Monogram films such as Invisible Ghost, then you will like this one. Fox also directed Bowery at Midnight.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 6. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Casket beds

Notable sarcasm: "I guess you sleep very good, maybe. Heh heh heh."

 

 

THE COSMIC MAN (Herbert S. Greene, 72 min, b&w, 1959)

What's Happening: Mysterious alien-among-us at a California mountain lodge

Famous For: Low-budget rehashing of Day The Earth Stood Still


Typically, alien visitors who seem benign will turn out to be evil, and alien visitors who seem evil will turn out to be benign. Such is the case here. And since this film comes so late in the game, this is no surprise. Actually, every single element of the film is predictable, except, perhaps, a few of the characters. There is little action and much talk.


The moral message, obvious from the first scene, is that peaceful scientists are good and impatient soldiers are bad. There is precious little camp since it's all so dreadfully serious, but the "gee whiz" boy in the wheelchair (dying from an unnamed disease, not polio) provides some entertainment.


It's also fun debating whether the spherical spaceship more closely resembles a golf ball or ping-pong ball. And note the ambient computer lab sounds which closely anticipate those of the Star Trek Enterprise.


John Carradine plays the "cosmonaut" visitor, but he never shows his unobscured face. Half his screen time makes him a negative-image special effect. He plays the alien without emotion, which seems to be what we always expect from aliens. What made Michael Rennie so great in Day The Earth Stood Still is his genial, understanding manner; he was an alien but he had feelings akin to ours.


Let's hope that the real aliens - whenever we finally meet them - are likewise emotional, and not a bunch of cold moral machines like the Cosmic Man. See also Stranger from Venus.


Action: 4. Gore: 4. Sex: 3. Quality: 3. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Rockola

Notable distinction: "They're not afraid of what the scientists know. They're afraid of
what they themselves don't know."

 

 

THE COSMIC MONSTER(S) - See THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X

 

 

COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS (Alfonso Brescia, 89 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Astronauts marooned on planet with evil robot-computer

Famous For: Second of Brescia's four cheap sci-fi knockoffs; a.k.a. "Cosmo 2000"


I prefer Star Odyssey since I take all Brescia's movies as jokes. But serious-minded fans prefer Cosmos: War of the Planets, which looks and feels more sober than the other pictures in the quasi-series. The colors are more muted, the comedy downplayed, the themes more pertinent.


It's still cheap and silly, but it has a few effective moments, including a near-crash landing and some clothed lovemaking-via-computer. People waste much time discussing what to do. They say things like "activate vaporizers!" or "sector HF203 is refracting the passage of any kind of wave!"


In this future society, a supercomputer named Wiz makes all of Earth's crucial policy decisions, including the decision to send the space crew to the distant planet that has been broadcasting strange signals into space. The crew aids barbarians against robots, as in War of the Robots, and a barbarian joins the crew. The crew includes one black guy. No characters are distinct, but the evil block-like alien computer has a great gloating super-villain voice.


As for War of the Robots (100 min, 1978), its heroic space crew must rescue two scientists kidnapped by evil alien robots. It's probably the worst of all these "Al Bradley" knockoffs, but you can't hate it since it never pretends to be serious.


It actually has two interesting plot developments: first, a barbarian chief joins the Tressi space crew after they aid his people; second, the kidnapped scientists appear to flip sides and join the evil robots. The bald barbarian is a tough fighter. It also has a lot of ray gun battles and space battles, although the ray guns are just flashlights and the space battles look like a poor video game.


You'll recognize plenty of props, sets, costumes, even actors and special effects, from the other knockoffs. Star Odyssey (see below) was best of the bunch because it actually had some characters to care about.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 4. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Toccata and fugue

Notable threat: "I will make these machines invincible! Then I will be able to conquer the galaxy!"

 

 

COUNT DRACULA (Jesus Franco, 97 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Straightforward adaptation of Bram Stoker novel

Famous For: Franco attempt at a serious film; a.k.a. "Bram Stoker's Count Dracula"


Jesus Franco is known for artsy exploitation flicks like Vampyros Lesbos, but here, with his friend Christopher Lee, he attempted a serious faithful adaptation of the original Dracula story. He got Herbert Lom to play Van Helsing and Klaus Kinski to play Renfield. He even got permission from Spanish dictator General Franco to film on location in Barcelona.


One might expect the film to be amazing and wonderful... until one reminds oneself that the director is famous for making half a dozen films each year, energetic in his work, but also careless and obvious. Such is the case here, minus the energy.


Franco and Lee have both expressed pride in their work, recalling their passion during the filming. But none of that passion shows up on screen. Little (if any) surprise, tension, drama, romance, anything. I would normally praise the film for showing little blood and no nudity, but I would normally expect character and atmosphere to compensate. Not here. John Stanley finds "sloppy camera work and bad zooms." Mike Mayo also complains about the zooms and concludes: "perhaps the most anemic and dispirited version of the story ever put on screen."


It's possible, at least, to enjoy the gorgeous locations and sets. Also impressive is Kinski's near-silent performance as the piteous Renfield; he speaks only a few syllables, and yet you remember him as much as Lee. Lee's best moment comes early, when he describes the Dracula family as the greatest of the Magyars, descendants of Attila and his Huns. Lee is also good with the famous line about the "children of the night."


Lom is adequate, no more. Soledad Miranda (Vampyros Lesbos) is lovely, but neither she nor Maria Rohm (The Bloody Judge) has much to do. For serious latter-day Dracula films, I recommend the 1979 Dracula or 1979 Nosferatu.


The MPI DVD includes a 2006 interview with Franco, who seems sincere in liking the film and considering it the most authentic adaptation of Stoker.  He says Coppola's version was too romantic, and Hammer versions not serious enough. Kinski, apparently, really ate the flies.


NOTE: Another straightforward adaptation of the novel, also titled "Count Dracula" was produced by BBC TV in 1977. I felt this 150-minute version (dir. Philip Saville) was overrated, lacking good music and lacking enticing atmosphere. I also felt it suffered from cheap solarized effects. But of the straightforward versions, it might be the best. It is the most faithful to the novel, though it adds some sympathy for Dracula himself, who is a little sad, a little serious, a little sexy, almost romantic.


Action: 4. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 3. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: White-gray-black

Notable line: "Behind the fantasy there are certain facts..."

 

 

COUNT DRACULA AND HIS VAMPIRE BRIDE - See THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA

 

 

COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE (Javier Aguirre, 82 min, color, 1972)

What's Happening: Dracula seeks virgin blood to resurrect his daughter

Famous For: Paul Naschy plays a sensitive Dracula


Naschy is most famous for playing a sensitive werewolf, but he is also fun as a sensitive vampire. As of this writing (2009) the only available versions are dubbed, but Naschy fans will still enjoy seeing their man in cape and fangs, arms raised, blood on his lips, sucking at the necks of lovely ladies. Four ladies and one man are forced to spend the night at Dracula's castle (an old sanitarium), and it's a pretty good bet that most of them will never leave.


Yet Dracula is largely sympathetic. He is not simply an aristocrat who sits around brooding and plotting. He is a doctor with the power and the inclination to heal. He needs a virgin to fall in love with him so that he can use the virgin's blood to restore his daughter... but what if he falls in love with the virgin at the same time? This film had the most sustained focus to date on a kind and romantic Dracula character.


Unfortunately, gratuitous nudity and poor rhythm make the film a disappointment. Several women are topless in the first half, but it's so obvious as to be distracting. Nudity is called for in the second half, and it comes, but it is poorly used. The three-way lesbian vampire sucking scene should have gone for at least a minute. Instead, it only goes for a few seconds.


Other potential highlights, such as Dracula's eventual downfall, are also dulled by lack of buildup or emphasis. At least the Gothic atmosphere, the costumes, and the general mood are all good.


A late whipping scene is harsh. The women wear low-cut Victorian dresses or see-through Victorian nightgowns. Still good for low-budget horror-exploitation, still original in several late scenes, but should have been much better. Behind the opening credits, a dead guy falls downstairs repeatedly in slow motion. A.k.a. "Dracula's Great Love" or "Cemetery Girls." The 1979 Dracula is the most famous of romantic Dracula films. Aguirre also directed Hunchback of the Morgue.


Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Bedroom mirror

Notable prediction: "Each generation will know a Dracula in a completely new form."

 

 

COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (Bob Kelljan, 93 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Seductive vampire menaces couples in 1970 Los Angeles

Famous For: Early attempt to bring vampires into the present day


The 1970s saw a host of attempts to update the Dracula story by transferring it into the present. Most of these attempts - e.g. Dracula A.D. 1972 - were embarrassing failures. But some, including the campy Blacula and the sardonic Night Stalker, were successes. Count Yorga is half and half.


It gains points for taking itself seriously and treating vampirism traditionally. Unfortunately, it takes so long to explain itself that by the time we get to the action we are nearly too bored to care. Many tedious scenes are wasted on Figuring Things Out. There's no heroine at all and scarcely a hero until halfway through.


With so much talking and so little action, you'd think there would be more character development, but, alas, there isn't. Eventually, the story resolves into a duel of wits between Count Yorga and Dr. Hayes. Action and tension arrive in the final 10 minutes.


Roger Perry (The Thing with Two Heads) is good as Dr. Hayes, but we never get a sense of what makes him tick. Robert Quarry (Dr. Phibes Rises Again) is good as Count Yorga, dapper and suave, almost romantic, but lacking in screen presence. He's like Christopher Lee crossed with Liberace, and not enough of either.


According to the IMDb, Count Yorga was originally intended as a softcore porn film called "The Loves of Count Iorga." I wonder if they should have made that one instead. But Yorga does have its adherents, including Mike Mayo who gives medium-high praise. A string-heavy score lends some atmosphere to the second half. A comic-relief nurse seems inspired by Ulla from The Producers.


Most viewers agree that the sequel (Return of Count Yorga, 96 min., dir. Kelljan, 1971) is better than the original. It lacks the rough underground feel but is certainly more accomplished as a developed film, with its unusual setting (an orphanage in a Victorian mansion near San Francisco) and interesting characters (even Yorga himself is more interesting).


Deep-voiced Mariette Hartley (Spock's love from "All Our Yesterdays," 1969) is a vaguely psychic heroine who senses something strange in the Santa Ana winds. An innocent kid turns into a quasi-vampire, something very rare in horror history. Other elements, like the zombie-vampire servants, harken back to Hammer vampire films.


Flaws include pacing that is slightly too slow in virtually every scene. At least 20 minutes depicts people running around the mansion, opening and closing doors. The coda is unnecessary, although it probably felt new in 1971. Kelljan also directed the sequel to Blacula. See also Deathmaster.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 4. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Snore and sneeze

Notable line: "If one is superstitious, even on a small seemingly insignificant level, one must be vulnerable to all superstitions."

 

 

COUNTESS DRACULA (Peter Sasdy, 93 min, color, 1971)

What's Happening: Seventeenth-century Hungarian countess uses virgin blood to stay young

Famous For: Hammer Films production featuring Ingrid Pitt of The Vampire Lovers


Yet another take on the Elizabeth Bathory legend, Countess Dracula is competent all around, yet gross and unpleasing. It looks good, but the characters are uninteresting and the plot predictable. Pitt is inherently sexy, but since she reverts back to her old age at any time, and since she gets uglier each time she reverts, all her sex appeal is lost. I'm pretty sure the filmmakers were aiming at sexiness here, so I must judge the attempt a failure.


Pitt appears briefly nude, as do some other women in the film, but everyone is either dead or bloody. If you want an enticing combination of nudity and blood, you'll probably need to watch an Italian giallo. The British don't do nearly as well.


The best aspect of the film is its convincing Hungarian setting: the thick furs, the big hats, the boots, the horses, the beards and moustachios, the Romanesque architecture. I was especially fond of Imre's gray fur-lined jacket. The color scheme is appropriately brown, black, and gray. It has nothing to do with Dracula, of course.


Pitt's voice was dubbed in the film, and Pitt herself was furious at the time, yet she seems forgiving in her 2002 commentary alongside director Sasdy included on the MGM DVD. It's an unremarkable commentary, but viewers may enjoy hearing Sasdy's erudite European accent alongside Pitt's. Sasdy was Hungarian-born, and this was his first Hungarian-associated project since he emigrated to the UK in the 1950s.


About halfway through the commentary, Sasdy laments modern films that show everything to the viewer; he wishes we would "leave a bit more to imagination, less black-and-white spelling out everything." I agree with him, but I found his comments ironic, since it was gratuitous 1970s films such as Countess Dracula that paved the way. I recommend The Devil's Wedding Night instead. Sasdy also directed the superior Taste the Blood of Dracula. Maurice Denham appeared in Night of the Demon.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 5. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Faces in the mirror

Quotable query: "Don't you realize that you get uglier each time you get old?"

 

 

CRACK IN THE WORLD (Andrew Marton, 96 min, color, 1964)

What's Happening: Attempting to reach Earth's core, scientists accidentally cause volcanic and seismic havoc

Famous For: Released just before modern theories of plate tectonics and continental drift


Refinement of modern plate tectonics from 1965-1967 made Crack in the World's science obsolete in a hurry. But the picture is so well made - especially considering its modest budget - that modern fans shouldn't mind.


Excellent matte paintings, models, and underground lab sets become convincing in the very first minutes. Eugène Lourié (Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) was the art director. The three stars - Dana Andrews (Night of the Demon), Janette Scott (Paranoiac), and Kieron Moore (Doctor Blood's Coffin) - are very serious. You'll predict all major plot points, but the fast pacing should still keep you on your toes. It was a good call to start the story when the drilling is almost complete, just before the final push to the core. Even before things go wrong, it feels like something is always happening.


As with Journey to the Center of the Earth, it's hard not to make Freudian interpretations of elements like the pointed missile or the Inner Space logo, especially when the three principals are involved in a love triangle. But where these Freudianisms seem to increase during Center of the Earth, they tend to recede during Crack in the World, freeing you to focus on the story and effects. Unlike Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Crack has literate dialogue and never condescends to its audience. A train wreck is a good late highlight. Predictability is the only big flaw.


Action: 7. Gore: 4. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Broken windows

Notable effect: "A crack, a thousand miles long!"

 

 

THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER (William R. Stromberg, 84 min, color, 1977)

What's Happening: Amphibious dinosaur attacks victims near mountain lake

Famous For: Hokey 70s monster flick with good stop-motion animation


It was actually filmed in and near Huntington Lake, CA, not Crater Lake, OR. But it was a pretty good bet that "The Huntington Lake Monster" wouldn't sell many tickets. The concept was obviously taken from the Loch Ness Monster (nearly as popular as Bigfoot in the late 1970s), assembled like a 1950s-style giant insect flick, with unsuspecting victims killed one by one, some cattle killed, telltale signs of the monster, and finally a confrontation between the monster and the heroes during which the monster is killed.


The lowbrow script is laughable. The acting is horrendous. The canned music is stupid. The quick pacing makes the story seem to take place over a few days rather than the intended six months. The "touching" conclusion feels like self-parody. The budget only allowed construction of a plastic monster head and nothing more.


But - and this is a big but - the stop-motion animation and superimposition shots are excellent. Dave Allen (Flesh Gordon, Q, and later the Puppet Master films) gives the quasi-elasmosaurus striking energy and fluidity. What it lacks in personality it gains in strength.


The film also has surprisingly good cinematography, including a fun "corpse eye view" shot halfway through. Blood and gore are kept to a minimum, as are gratuitous babe shots. If you don't mind 50% of the running time spent on drunken comic relief yokels Arnie and Mitch, you may find The Crater Lake Monster quite enjoyable. I did.


As I write this in summer 2008, it's got a dismal 1.6 rating on the IMDb, but it deserves better. The climax features a bulldozer. It was the only film ever made by Stromberg and by most of the cast. For something similar, see The Giant Spider Invasion. See also Larry Buchanan's Loch Ness Horror.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 3. Quality: 4. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Fly tally

Quotable line: "I've been stuffing my shoes with newspaper for so long, my feet know more about what's going on than my head!"

 

 

THE CRAWLING EYE (Quentin Lawrence, 84 min, b&w, 1958)

What's Happening: Giant tentacled eyes decapitate victims in the Alps

Famous For: One of best British B-movies of the decade; a.k.a. "The Trollenberg Terror"


Like nearly all late-50s British SF, this film is derived from early-50s American SF (i.e. characters trapped in a remote setting, fears of radioactivity, a search for the "one thing" that will beat the monsters).


But this film feels fresh. First off, the giant floating eye monsters were the first of their kind. Second, Lawrence's taught direction and Monty Berman's cinematography conjure a slow-building mysteriousness. The viewer feels a sort of pleasing cognitive dissonance to behold the sunny alpine scenery and yet feel spooked and gloomy.


The eye/seeing motif could probably have been more prominent, but it is compelling nonetheless. The monsters are giant eyes, but their target - the observatory - is itself a sort of gigantic eye. The observatory is fitted with multiple viewing screens. In the hotel, certain shots of white ski hats with black pompoms resemble eyes atop people's heads. The two sisters can "see" into each other's minds even with their eyes closed. The little girl loses a ball, an eye-shaped toy.


The most-complained-about flaw is the cheapness of the special effects. The monsters look real when glimpsed through doorways, but they are obviously puppets once we see them on the mountain. If you want camp, this is no problem. But if, like me, you want to take it seriously, then you will have to cut the film much slack. Once this slack was cut, I felt unnerved by the puppet images. It's like in Angry Red Planet: the monsters are obviously fake, but they look so bizarre they are frightening nonetheless.


The monsters were designed by Les Bowie, who gets credit for Quatermass films, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, and many more. But two prominent elements of the film struck me as out of place. First, the "mod" opening credits would better fit a spy film. Second, the telepathy and clairvoyance: I can believe that the aliens have it, but credibility is lost when we are asked to simply accept that people have it as well.


The acting, as in most British genre films, is devoted and convincing. Beautiful Janet Munro (of Day the Earth Caught Fire and Darby O'Gill and the Little People) slips into her telepathic trances with creepy earnestness. (Sadly, Munro killed herself in 1972 at age 38.) Forrest Tucker, who often played the lone American in British genre films of the late 50s, is focused yet flexible. I particularly liked how he doesn't immediately tell everyone about his glimpse of the monster; it's as if he can't believe it himself.


The Phantom praises the "classic, if low-budget, monster-movie imagery" and uses the promotional images (which aren't quite accurate to the film) for his book's cover. Some viewers are disappointed with the film's slow buildup, but I found the pacing to be steady and deliberate.  Note: according to the IMDb, the mysterious cloud on the mountain inspired John Carpenter to make The Fog.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: A drink and a smoke

Quotable exchange: "Television?" "Better than windows!"

 

 

THE CRAWLING HAND (Herbert L. Strock, 88 min, b&w, 1963)

What's Happening: Astronaut's severed hand comes to life and menaces a California town

Famous For: Good example of teen-oriented drive-in horror


After a gorgeous title sequence, everything in this low budget teenybopper flick goes downhill. The titular hand makes a few early appearances but then vanishes for half the movie before returning at the conclusion. It was a true missed opportunity; how much more fun it would have been if the hand crept from house to house, into restaurants, into stores, into beds and bathtubs and kitchens.


But probably because of zero budget for special effects, the hand itself is only a minor character in its own film. Most of the action centers around unlucky loverboy Paul who gets infected by the hand and tries to keep himself from turning into a crazed killer.


Still, things are not a total loss. We get a Swedish cutie in a bikini, the Skipper from Gilligan's Island, a sleek wooden-paneled convertible, and a jukebox playing "The Bird's The Word."


We also get a wonderful scientific speculation from Dr. Weitzberg: "We don't just send a man in a rocket, we send up living cells, molecules, bacteria, germs. We throw in radioactivity. We introduce all these to cosmic rays. Do we upset this balance? Do we start a cycle? Does the living cell from earth romance the cosmic ray and give birth to an illegitimate monster?"


All these goodies plus memorable supporting characters make The Crawling Hand worth saving for posterity. The best disembodied hand picture is probably The Beast With Five Fingers. For EC's trademark crawling hand story, check out "The Maestro's Hand" in Crypt of Terror 18 (1950). See also the gruesome "Lend Me a Hand" from Vault of Horror 18 (1951).


Action: 6.  Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Junkyard cats

Quotable plea: "Push the red!"

 

 

THE CRAZIES (George A. Romero, 102 min, color, 1973)

What's Happening: Bio-weapon accident infects Pennsylvania town

Famous For: Same director as Night of the Living Dead


This is a sad and brutal film. Don't watch it if you're planning a horror-fest party with your buddies. Scarcely a minute passes without realistic and disturbing screams, gunshots, panic, and blood. Some of the horror arises from the picture's portrait of military and governmental ineptitude. We see miscommunication between departments, confusion over orders, trigger-happy soldiers (as well as civilians), and bickering authorities blaming each other for the mess.


Yet the movie does not stoop to simplistic hatred of The Man. The soldiers and scientists are sincere, well-intended, and doing everything they can under the unprecedented circumstances. There are no easy answers, no obvious villains. Like other Romero films, it is 10-20 minutes too long but otherwise great. It bears similarity to I Drink Your Blood, which was itself inspired by Romero's Night of the Living Dead.


The political and social relevance of The Crazies has increased in the decades since its release. It is sobering to contemplate the research labs, the millions of dollars, the teams of military scientists devoted to developing weapons such as those depicted in this film.


If I had my druthers, this film would be required viewing for high-ranking military officers, for members of Congress, and for any scientists preparing to research bio-chemical weapons. I wish it could be shown in other countries as well. I doubt that military accidents are any less likely in Russia, China, India, or Iran. See also Nightmare City.


Action: 8. Gore: 8. Sex: 2. Quality: 9. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Gasmask or cigarette?

Notable effects: "It leaves its victims either dead or incurably mad."

 

 

THE CRAZY RAY (Rene Clair, 18 min edited, b&w, 1923)

What's Happening: Scientist invents ray machine that freezes the world

Famous For: Same director as I Married a Witch; a.k.a. "At 3:25"


Lighthearted and brisk, Crazy Ray is a Last Man tale mixed with slapstick and brief animation. Our hero is a guard at the Eiffel Tower who was so high up at 3:25 that he was untouched by the ray. He meets a group of airplane travelers who were likewise unaffected, and after a romp through Paris (with frozen people around them) they make a new home atop the Tower until, at last, they receive a radio signal that leads them to the scientist.


The IMDb lists a 35-minute version and Michael J. Weldon lists a 61-minute version. I assume the longer versions actually take time to develop the characters. But even at 18 minutes, it's great fun. Overlook even (ironically?) calls it "France's best science fiction feature."


Action: 6. Gore: 2. Sex: 3. Quality: 8. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Cops and robbers

Notable discovery: "Every clock says 3:25!"

 

 

THE CREATION OF THE HUMANOIDS (Wesley Barry, 84 min, color, 1962)

What's Happening: Humanoid robots try to escape anti-robot vigilantes and pass as human

Famous For: One of Andy Warhol's favorite films


Unique, fascinating, even uncanny, Creation of the Humanoids supposedly was Andy Warhol's favorite film. At least every guidebook says so. I found no original reference for this assertion, but I can well imagine why the great pop artist would be drawn to the film.


For one thing, it is very unusual, even for its time. Warhol always felt like a misfit, so he might feel kinship with the film. As a closeted homosexual, Warhol might have sympathized with the humanoids themselves - disguising themselves, hiding their inner nature.


Next, Warhol probably enjoyed the steady, calm mood of the film; this sort of mood characterizes many of the actionless films he made in the late 60s. The body-construct theme might even be an influence on Andy Warhol's Frankenstein. Finally, the deep undiluted pastel colors anticipate those used in Warhol's late-70s and early-80s paintings.


The film might be described as a series of conversations about the nature and future of humanity, set in a technologically-advanced but culturally-uncertain post-nuke society. Action is scant but atmosphere is heady, thick, and almost psychedelic. Everything is still and expectant. The camera scarcely moves an inch. The actors stand and speak. The score is almost nonexistent (except occasional electronic sounds or wah-wah/theremin interludes) but the dialogue is continuous. The actors are very serious. The simple but well-lit colorful sets anticipate the more contemplative episodes of Star Trek.


The humanoids are bald actors (all male) with gray-blue face paint and reflective contact lenses. They struggle to upgrade themselves closer toward human status, with chip "operations" that give them emotions. But the prejudiced Order of Flesh and Blood does their best to keep the "clickers" down. It's something of an allegory about civil rights, but it's more a dream about the evolution of life on Earth in the far future.


What to make of it all? As one would expect for such an unusual film, opinions are sharply divided. Some people hate it, including VideoHound who gives it zero stars and dismisses it as "slow and silly." Other people love it, including the Phantom who gives it four stars and adores the "low-key direction... precocious pop-art sets... [and] genuinely witty script." Other people can't decide, such as John Stanley who calls it "static" but also stylized and atmospheric. Bill Warren finds it boring, but admits the ideas had potential.


Me? You know me, Dear Reader. I was mesmerized. I loved gazing at the dreamy sets, and I loved listening to the philosophical conversations. I was impressed by the increasing complexity of the story; the humanoids are not totally honest and good, and the Order is not totally misguided and bad. I was fooled more than once by the story, and when I realized I'd been fooled, I felt pleased. Viewers in the right mood may sense a rare, sincere, mysterious, wistful, innocent, and precious beauty.


More notes: One of the robot prototypes is a spacesuit from Earth Versus the Flying Saucers. Star Don Megowan appeared in dozens of TV and screen Westerns. The rest of the cast did little else, but Dudley Manlove (one of the humanoids) appeared famously in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Director Barry played small roles in Westerns from the 1920s through the 1940s, and worked as an assistant director through the 1950s. Writer Jay Simms co-wrote The Giant Gila Monster, The Killer Shrews, and Panic in Year Zero!


Makeup man Jack Pierce did the original Frankenstein. Oscar-winning cameraman Hal Mohr worked on The Climax and on the original Jazz Singer. Stories with similar themes include the Kubrick-Spielberg collaboration A.I. (2001) and "Judgment Day" from Weird Fantasy 18 (a robot/racism allegory, 1953). Some viewers posting on the IMDb have made connections with Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 9. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Proving it to him

Quotable line: Many great lines. My favorite: "Mankind is a state of mind."

 

 

CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (Joy N. Houck Jr., 90 min, color, 1976)

What's Happening: Two college students head to Louisiana to seek Bigfoot in the swamps

Famous For: Combination of Bigfoot movie and Buddy movie


As with all mid-70s Bigfoot movies, the main appeal of Black Lake is not horror or action or camp. Rather, you get a rural mood piece, a yearning for simpler bygone days when some wilderness yet remained wild, when some mysteries yet remained unsolved.


Like the other movies in the subgenre, it is low-budget, largely amateur, blue collar, simple and sincere. And like the other films it has a small devoted cult following. Can I join the cult? I loved the movie. Most scenes depict the anthropology students interviewing Louisiana townsfolk who ain't necessarily happy to have Yankees around. The sheriff ain't too happy, neither.


Much time is spent with jokes and smalltalk. But the key is not to think of these scenes as filler. The key is to think of these scenes as the point of the picture. The few moments of action, the few glimpses of Bigfoot are welcome, but only a small part of the appeal. Country folk are by no means made fun of; rather, they add gusto and soul. "Lookin' for the truth, Lord, in a cloud of lies," goes one song. "Things might be the clearest when I close my eyes."


The dialogue is great, but top credit goes to the actors. Dennis Fimple (who in 2003 played Grandpa in House of 1000 Corpses) and John David Carson (Empire of the Ants) are perfect as the students, buddies, teasing each other, sometimes fighting, and yet clearly close friends beneath it all. Jack Elam (most known for Westerns) is delightfully grumpy and grubby in his role as the drunken trapper. Bill Thurman (most famous for Larry Buchanan flicks) is the overweight sheriff. Jim McCullough Jr. wrote the story, played curly-haired Orville, and performed the great theme song ("Exits and Truckstops") at the end. The theme song, and the other song he sings in the middle, should have been even longer.


Dub Taylor (famous for Westerns) is Orville's grandpa. McCullough's father produced the film and was, I hope, very proud of his son. And the creature? As with Legend of Boggy Creek or Sasquatch, we see the creature only in glimpses, but we get to hear its menacing roar. Houck directed other strange but enjoyable low-budget genre flicks like Night of Bloody Horror and The Brain Machine.


Action: 6. Gore: 5. Sex: 3. Quality: 7. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Mistaken mule

Quotable line: "You kinda believe, but you never really believe... until you see one."

 

 

THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (Jack Arnold, 79 min, b&w, 1954)

What's Happening: Scientists in remote rainforests encounter deadly amphibious gill-man

Famous For: The sympathetic Creature is a classic movie monster


This is a briskly-paced, action-packed film with convincing effects, suspense, surprises, atmosphere, and a rousing score. There are a few scares, but the movie is closer to adventure than horror. It was a huge hit in theaters where it was presented briefly in 3D, and it remained a continuing hit on television.


This was my favorite monster movie when I was 10 or 11. I drew pictures of the Creature (also known as the Gill Man or Creech) attacking soldiers and police. One weekend I built a plastic model of the Creature and positioned him on the same shelf as Godzilla and my many model dinosaurs. I guess I had a thing for reptiles?


All the major characters are developed, with clear motivations, and we even get a fairly interesting love triangle.  Richard Denning (Black Scorpion) is rather wooden, but Richard Carlson (It Came From Outer Space) is thoughtful and sensitive. Also impressive is Nestor Paiva (Mole People) who plays the grubby, grinning riverboat captain Lucas. The spectacular Julia (Julie) Adams wears a bewildering array of tight-fitting bathing suits, shorts, and tops.


The duo responsible for playing the gill-man go uncredited in the film, but they are swimmer Ricou Browning underwater and dancer Ben Chapman on land. Browning, according to Bill Warren, could hold his breath for a full five minutes. Chapman is interviewed in Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (Tom Weaver, 1994). For Joe Bob Briggs (and I suppose for many others), "Browning's expert swimming is what gives the movie its poignancy."


Creature followed many monster movie patterns before they became clichés, including telltale warning signs (in this case tracks and bubbles), and a grotesque beast in love with a beautiful woman. I wonder if there is a purposeful Frankenstein reference in how the creature shambles on land with outstretched hands. The ship functions like a sort of haunted house, with a trapped group of humans getting picked off one by one. I was reminded of Alien from the claustrophobic haunted-house atmosphere, the reptilian beast whom we often see only in dark glimpses, and the infighting among the crew.


There are many mesmerizing underwater sequences, some calm, some with action. But I also love the idea of the Black Lagoon - dark waters, mysterious, with some hidden menace lurking somewhere underneath. There is something primal in this idea of the Lurker Below.


It is interesting to compare various above and below-water scenes, noting camera angles and lighting.  The Gill Man looks awkward when walking on land, when he is literally out of his element. But see him in the water... and what fluidity, what grace! His visage also takes on a far more menacing look underwater, especially when lit from above. Note also an excellent shot toward the beginning of the film when Ms. Adams is shot from the far side of an aquarium. We see her through the glass, as fish glide nonchalantly past.


The success of Creature inspired two sequels. The first, Revenge of the Creature (1955) again features the entertaining Nestor Paiva as Lucas the boat captain, and again features the memorable soundtrack of the first. It also features a gorgeous babe in multiple gratuitous sexy outfits. The star, unfortunately, is the annoying John Agar.


Other problems include an exposition-laden script and zero suspense until the last 20 minutes. The few highlights include some beautiful underwater shots in Marine Land aquarium, a panic at a lobster restaurant, and a glimpse of a youthful Clint Eastwood searching for a lab rat.


The second sequel, The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) is far better. We get Rex Reason and Jeff Morrow as co-stars (both fresh from This Island Earth), more great underwater scenes, and yet another gorgeous babe. The two hallmarks of the Creature series, in fact, seem to be beautiful underwater photography and gorgeous babes.


This third movie takes things in a new direction as the Gill Man is surgically fitted with lungs so that he can be the first of a new species of men who are no longer "earthbound to this planet." The co-stars enter into a number of debates: nature versus nurture, man's relationship to animals, and the degree to which we might employ modern science and genetics. Quotable phrase from the third movie: "It's the stars... or the jungle." See also Monster of Piedras Blancas.


Action: 7. Gore: 5. Sex: 7. Quality: 9. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Synchronized swimming

Quotable line: "The unknown always seem unbelievable."

 

 

CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA (Roger Corman, 74 min, b&w, 1961)

What's Happening: Gangsters steal loot and blame it on monster... but monster shows up for real

Famous For: Offbeat Roger Corman comedy


Allied Artists advertised this film as a giant monster epic, but in fact it's a lighthearted spoof of 30s and 40s gangster films with a rubber suit monster thrown in for yucks. The monster gets about a minute total screen time, most of that out of focus. It will remind latter-day viewers of the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street. The eyes are halves of tennis balls with halves of ping pong balls glued onto them.


The setting - Cuba right after the communist revolution - gives historical interest to the film, but everything is played for laughs, so such interest is slight. One character is an animal-sound imitator because he is the son of a "famed Vaudeville bird mimic." Half the movie takes place on a boat. The movie's main appeal is the cool-cat voice-over narration with its one-liners and deadpan humor. Eighty percent of everything is silly, but the rest is funny - some of it very funny. The scene at the phonebooth was my favorite.


Bill Warren gives the film more credit than I expected; I do think he's correct that it is the film best representative of Corman's early period before he got bigger budgets to make color Poe films for AIP: "talented, intelligent people swiftly rushing through sleazy material."


I'd also note the near-continuous jazz soundtrack, another Corman staple. Warren reports that Haunted Sea was made because Corman and his crew were already in Puerto Rico after filming Last Woman on Earth; they had some extra time and money and figured, hey, let's throw something else together quickly while we're here.


Action: 6. Gore: 4. Sex: 5. Quality: 5. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Pedestrian in pinstripes

Notable occurrence: "Everything went according to plan: Renzo's... and the monster's."

 

 

CREATURE OF DESTRUCTION (Larry Buchanan, 76 min, color, 1967)

What's Happening: Evil hypnotist conjures a humanoid reptile killer from a Texas lake

Famous For: Silly TV remake of She-Creature


Like all Buchanan's remakes of 1950s B-movies, Creature is bad but funny. John Stanley dismisses it outright, but he watches these things for quality. A true Larry Buchanan fan watches these things to laugh at the stupidity.  Happily for such fans, stupidity comes every five minutes.


The rubber suit creature is a Halloween costume with ping-pong eyes. The hypnotist (Les Tremayne from Monolith Monsters) wears his cape and hat even when lounging around home or walking around town. A wonderful pre-psychedelic pop band plays songs at a pool party. The blonde singer sprawls across the rocks. Dialogue includes lines like these: "I saw those bodies, and whoever mutilated them has a very special problem."  "The neck bones were mutilated to a pulp!" "She will come out of the lake again... and she must kill!"


Be ready for a slow pace and a virtual absence of action. During the attack scenes, the monster simply claws at the camera a couple of times; then, the scene switches to the dead people on the beach. The highlight comes at 40:40 when the blonde pop singer rides his motorcycle into a beach party, belts out an acoustic folk song, hops right back on his cycle, and is promptly killed by the monster on the other side of the sand dune.


Ultimately, the explanation has nothing to do with the purported "monster within" theme, because the girl herself is not the monster. The girl somehow has a psychic link to the monster. You half wonder if Buchanan is PUPOSEFULLY taking the best elements of the original films and replacing them with nonsense.


Buchanan reused the suit (or at least the mask) in "It's Alive!" (TV, 1969, 80 min). The monster appears in the middle for one minute and at the end for another, but this film is really about a crazy snake farmer imprisoning and taunting tourists stuck at his ranch. He sticks them in an ugly-looking cave. Although not a Corman remake, "It's Alive!" is (according to the IMDb) a rough adaptation of an old Richard Matheson short story. The entire middle third is an incredibly boring narrated flashback, when one of the prisoners tells how the farmer abused her like in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? But the first third, and then the last 10 minutes, can be fun for Bad Movie fans.


Tommy Kirk, the paleontologist-hero, proclaims the monster a mesosaurus, but it sounds like "mess-osaurus. My favorite thing was the annoying New York guy who has popping eyes just like the monster's. Bill Thurman overacts amusingly as the snake farmer. "Mankind??" he raves, "what do I care for mankind!!" Thurman appeared in Buchanan's funniest film, Zontar.


Action: 4. Gore: 4. Sex: 3. Quality: 2. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Rubber suit has breasts

Quotable pop lyric: "Mona Lisa was a man."

 

 

CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (Edward L. Cahn, 69 min, b&w, 1955)

What's Happening: Vengeful mobster and ex-Nazi scientist create remote-controlled zombies

Famous For: Curt Siodmak story and screenplay; early use of squibs


Film history tells us that squibs were first used in color along with blood packs to simulate bullet impacts in Sam Fuller's Run of the Arrow (1957). But here they are in black and white, without blood, two years earlier in Creature with the Atom Brain. You'll see some at the opening, more at the climax. Creature is extreme for its time in other ways as well; for example, dozens - if not hundreds? - of random civilian deaths are implied.


While some elements such as the good-natured sexism are now dated, I was still able to take this film seriously and enjoy it quite a bit. It feels like a crime film, complete with detectives in dapper suits and fedoras. But the mobster gets revenge on his foes not by hunting them down himself as in The Man They Could Not Hang but by teaming up with a German (implied Nazi) scientist who inserts electrodes into corpses and powers them with atomic radiation.


It's great fun to watch the bad guys monitor the zombies through zombie-cam television and control them through remote microphone. The zombies speak in predictable monotone, staring vacantly ahead. Fifty-plus years later, the film is not likely to horrify anyone, but it will freak many viewers out. It did me.


Although Richard Denning makes a poor hero as usual, we cannot help but sympathize once we seem him with his sweet wife and daughter. We also can't help fearing this baritone-voiced mobster with the pockmarked face.


Bill Warren is correct that Cahn is generally "uninteresting, unimaginative" as a director, but I'd like to note some creative shots at the opening and conclusion: a zombie-eye view, a revolver shooting at the camera, and a half dozen moments when the zombies reach out for "us" through the camera. The X-rayed electrodes are also great. Scientifically-created zombies appeared again in Invisible Invaders, also directed by Cahn.


Action: 8. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Tristram Coffin from King of the Rocket Men

Notable menace: "Remote-controlled creatures, their brains powered by atomic energy!"

 

 

CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (Don Chaffey, 95 min, color, 1971)

What's Happening: Rivalry between twin caveman brothers - one kind, one cruel

Famous For: First caveman movie without dinosaurs


At this point, caveman movies were known for men in leather loincloths, women in fur bikinis, and dinosaurs in stop-motion. But dinosaurs are expensive. Why not just leave them out altogether and instead shrink those loincloths and bikinis yet again?


This is how writer-producer Michael Carreras conceived and promoted Creatures. But it seems that director Don Chaffey (One Million Years B.C.) wanted some measure of realism and drama, and so the exploitation and fantasy elements are minimized. Sure, the handsome cast wears little, and we get flashes of nudity throughout. But there is no sex, and the camera never lingers on the scantily-clad bodies.


Action scenes include assorted skirmishes fought with spears and knives, various one-on-one duels (some men, some women), and various animal encounters. A volcano/earthquake comes early in the film instead of at the climax, and the body count is quite high.


The three-part plot depicts a crude dark tribe meeting up with an advanced blonde tribe, a resulting twin birth, and rivalries between the brothers over women and the chieftainship of the tribe. Some characters are hard to tell apart, but I cared about those I could remember. And since I enjoy watching people in furs wandering through bleak expansive landscapes, I felt the relatively long running length passed rather quickly.


The furs and loincloths, bone ornaments, hair and sweat, are all convincing. Unfortunately, there are enough silly or impossible moments - e.g. a roan antelope killing a human hunter, a rainforest python suddenly appearing in a desert - that make it hard to take seriously. Most illogical is the lack of language skills among our entire cast of cavemen. It's nothing but grunting - roo! rah! eegg! eehh! What a difference from Quest for Fire whose filmmakers created a small archaic language and required its actors to learn it for the script.


But Creatures' desert images and percussive score (accented with horns that sound surprisingly appropriate) meld nicely together for a prehistoric atmosphere. Chaffey has managed to imbue the film with a palpable rawness, a stark primal energy. It's never perfect, and fans seeking sexy pictures of Julie Ege should stick to the stills, but it's well worth caveman fans seeking out. See also When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. Mario Nascimbene also scored One Million Years B.C. You can see more of Ege in The Freakmaker.


Action: 7. Gore: 6. Sex: 7. Quality: 7. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Scorpion, rat, snake

 

 

THE CREEPING FLESH (Freddie Francis, 92 min, color, 1973)

What's Happening: Ancient skeleton grows flesh when touched by water

Famous For: Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee co-star; feels like a Hammer film


Cushing and Lee are both in top form, and there is enough action and surprise to keep you interested throughout. But the multiple plotlines don't mesh.  It's a father/daughter conflict one moment, a good brother/bad brother conflict the next, and then there's an escaped madman, and finally there's the skeleton in the lab.


It's hard to tell what's important. The skeleton takes too long to come to life. The various twists at the end don't solve anything satisfactorily. Mike Mayo calls it "a complicated psychological tale... about patriarchal power and the inability of men to understand women" but I can only recommend it to Cushing/Lee fans.


I did enjoy the Victorian setting: the old-fashioned medical and laboratory equipment, the costumes (there's even a bit of angry bodice-ripping), the horses, the buggies, the contrast between the scenes in the manor house, the sanitarium, and the swanky red light district. The "insanity" sub-theme is quite fitting for a story set in the 1890s; madness was the number one fear in Victorian society (check out Lady Audley's Secret for an excellent literary treatment of this theme).


The good and evil blood cells battling under the microscope are also quite memorable. I also liked the images of the shrouded giant during the conclusion; in one sense it's Frankensteinian but in another sense it's like a Grim Reaper moving deliberately and inexorably towards a pre-destined rendezvous.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: A view through eyeless sockets

Quotable restriction: "We are not permitted to experiment on human beings... normal human beings."

 

 

THE CREEPING TERROR (Vic Savage, 76 min, b&w, filmed 1964)

What's Happening: Out of an alien spaceship comes a giant man-eating caterpillar

Famous For: Often considered among the worst movies ever made


It will be only five minutes before you see the monster, which means it will be only five minutes before you start laughing like a lush. As many have noted before me, the monster looks like a person covered with a ratty blanket, dragging half the blanket behind him as he shambles underneath on his knees. The monster moves so slowly that you can't imagine how anyone could get eaten by it, especially the half-dozen soldiers at the climax.


A bland narration describes the events, occasionally punctuated by brief dubbed-in dialogue. "Bradford was to take complete charge of the operation," the narrator informs us. "He was the world's leading authority on space emissions and had worked out a series of systems that might lead to communication with other forms of life when, as, and if they were contacted."


All fans who know it give high marks for camp. But I need to give slight credit for the high percentage of time that the monster is on screen. Like the "Octaman," the monster is on screen for half the movie, rising to the status of star. The filmmakers seem to have made some sincere attempts to entertain their viewers, giving us victim p.o.v. and monster p.o.v. shots, a high body count, and several on-screen deaths. I particularly liked the late scene where the caterpillar attacks the dance hall.  You get great footage of jerky 60s dancing, and, weirdly, brief stock footage of a fistfight as the monster strikes.


Several uncertainties make Creeping Terror extra fun. Sources suggest it was never released in theaters and remained unknown until shown on TV in the 1970s. Some sources claim that the soundtrack was lost and replaced with narration, but I believe the other sources claiming that no sound was recorded during filming and that the narration was used from the start to save money, as with Beast of Yucca Flats.


Finally, some sources claim that the ridiculous rug monster was created only because a quality monster suit had earlier been lost - or stolen - just before filming began. Who knows? But I do know that fans of bad movies really need to see this one. See also Demon Hunter. Writer Robert Silliphant also co-wrote The Incredibly Strange Creatures.


Action: 4. Gore: 4. Sex: 3. Quality: 2. Camp: 9.

Don't miss: Guitar hero

Notable narration: "The colonel, more concerned with saving human lives than advancing science, told Bradford to go to hell."

 

 

CREEPSHOW (George A. Romero, 120 min, color, 1982)

What's Happening: Five horror stories inspired by EC comics

Famous For: Stephen King wrote the script and stars in one episode


My contention that anthology movies are bad is bolstered by the disappointing Creepshow. If you combine George Romero, Stephen King, and EC comics and still get a bad movie, then it's a pretty good bet there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea to begin with. Here, as usual with anthologies, the stories are inconsistent.


The only interesting things in the first two stories are the appearances of a young Ed Harris (who had recently starred in Romero's Knightriders) and Stephen King himself.


The latter three stories are better, but only the last one - with the cockroaches - really works well. The others feel like bad episodes of the Tales from the Crypt TV show. The main problems are poor pacing, poor score, lack of surprises, and inappropriate foul language that earned the film an R rating and contributed to its box office failure.


Ted Danson - right before the fabulous Cheers TV show - and Leslie Nielsen - sloughing off his comedy image - contribute the best performances in the "Something to Tide You Over" episode, the most original and most horrifying of the bunch. Adrienne Barbeau is memorably gauche in "The Crate," although co-stars Fritz Weaver and Hal Holbrook offer nothing special.


E.G. Marshall (12 Angry Men) is cheerily arrogant in "They're Creeping Up on You." This climactic episode makes great use of antiseptic white interiors and an old jukebox. It is superior to the other episodes because it sets itself up as the original EC stories did: the villain refers to his underlings or his corporate victims as "bugs" who need to be watched before they "creep up" on him, and therefore it's an infestation of real bugs that does him in.


Stylistically, Creepshow tries expressly to bring "comic book format" to the movies: we get split screens, wipes that look like pages turning, and comic illustrations that turn live, or live images that turn back into comics. I admired these visuals (particularly the ads which are worth freeze-framing), and I admired the EC-style camp. But only the cockroach episode adds anything that the comics don't already provide.


I recommend skipping this movie and reading some Tales from the Crypt, some Haunt of Fear, or some Vault of Horror instead. An ill-received sequel to Creepshow was released in 1987. The British-made Tales from the Crypt was better.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 4. Quality: 4. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Nice shot

Quotable understatement: "I've got this bug problem."

 

 

THE CREMATORS (Harry Essex, 72 min, color, 1972)

What's Happening: Flaming alien boulder incinerates anyone who finds little striped stones

Famous For: Essex adapted Ray Bradbury for It Came from Outer Space


Half filler, half junk - that's what this cheap picture is made of. The plot and dialogue resemble those of the worst American sci-fi flicks of the 1950s. The scientist-hero and his girlfriend never say or do anything interesting. At the end, the hero simply lures the boulder into a canyon and blows it up with dynamite.


Along the way, people stare at the little striped stones and wonder what to do. Several victims are reduced to body-shaped piles of ash. But we get none of the sleaze, or even the moodiness, that makes low-budget 70s drive-in flicks so surprisingly watchable.


Could there be any reason to watch it? Well, there are a few memorable images of the steaming yellow boulder as it rises from its hiding place in the water. Other scenes are shot through fire in the foreground, to add some suspense. The explanation - that's it's a "mother" boulder attracted to her "children" stones - is vaguely interesting and might bear comparison to The Monolith Monsters. The tobacco-chewing sheriff and the hippie who does nothing all day but run around on the beach are good for some camp.


It was adapted from a short story called "The Dune Rollers," although only one roller appears in the picture. Essex also made Octaman. The Cremators bears some resemblance to UFO Target Earth, which also featured an alien object lying dormant (until now) in a large body of water. See also Track of the Moon Beast.


Action: 3. Gore: 4. Sex: 2. Quality: 2. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Decent glowing stone effects

Notable line: "I've seen men hit with flame throwers, and what was done to them didn't look this wicked!"

 

 

CRIES IN THE NIGHT - See FUNERAL HOME

 

 

 

 

THE CRIMSON CULT (Vernon Sewell, 87 min, color, 1968)

What's Happening: Seeking his missing brother, hero is tempted by a blue-skinned witch

Famous For: Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee in same film


Tigon Productions made horror standouts such as Witchfinder General and Blood on Satan's Claw. It also made this disappointing mess, a contrived horror-mystery that gives its great cast little or nothing to work with.


The story follows a boring hero in search of his missing brother, last seen in a manor house in a remote village where a witch was burned in the 1600s. Moustached Christopher Lee plays the owner of the house, a man obviously less innocent than he seems. Lee is decent, but plenty of other actors could have played the role. Ditto for Karloff, who plays Lee's friend, a wheelchair-bound expert on the occult.


Other genre regulars who appear in Crimson Cult are Barbara Steele (in blue makeup), Michael Gough (as a muttering butler), and Rupert Davies (appearing near the end as a helpful vicar). Steele's moments are the film's only memorable ones: she in her horned and feathered headdress in the "witch room" imploring our hero to sign a strange contract in blood.


But at the end, a Lee-Steele connection is revealed that blunts the fun of the previous scenes. Several ridiculous explanations come our way in the final 15 minutes. The score is awkward and inappropriate. Partial gore and partial nudity might keep you interested along the way, but I recommend Blood Suckers instead. A year before making Crimson Cult, Sewell directed Peter Cushing in The Blood Beast Terror.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 3. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Masked jury

Notable entreaty: "Enter our world of darkness!"

 

 

THE CRIMSON GHOST (William Witney/Fred C. Brannon, c.166 min, b&w, 1946)

What's Happening: Skull-masked mad scientist threatens the nation with stolen Cyclotrode

Famous For: Fun post-WWII serial that anticipates King of the Rocket Men


King of the Rocket Men was much better, but many of its strengths were seen in Republic's earlier serial The Crimson Ghost: a focused plot, a bad guy with a secret identity who appears unmasked in silhouette, a chief bad guy henchman who gets more screen time than his master, and a clean-cut fedora-wearing hero who doesn't work for the government or the military.


Our hero Richards (Charles Quigley who was never a star) is a bland but likeable professor of criminology. "He's got more lives than a flock of cats!" exclaims the evil henchman Ashe. Richards too often heads out alone to catch the crooks, but otherwise I liked him. The Ghost is calm and methodical, an urbane villain. "We've been tricked by cleverness," he muses, "something to be admired even in an enemy."


Michael J. Weldon considers the skull mask to be one of the most frightening images of the classic serials. Indeed, it looks very bizarre with the blackened nose and lips, the extra teeth, the missing teeth. The 80s horror-punk band The Misfits used this image on their album covers.


As with most early and mid-1940s serials, sci-fi elements are downplayed in favor of spy/thriller elements. The action comes mostly from fistfights, car chases, plane crashes, and gun battles. It's got very enjoyable trickery and double-guessing between the heroes and villains. Most of the cliffhangers are fun, although you've probably seen them before. Many lower-level bad guy henchmen are killed. These henchman reminded me of the Red Shirts in Star Trek. As soon as you see Ashe show up with one of them, you know the guy will be killed.


The Cyclotrode disrupts electronics including car and plane controls. A death ray gets used once. Killer "control collars" get used various times. Ultimately, everything ends in a rather low-tech (and disappointing) way when a Doberman named Timmy chases down the bad guys. Linda Stirling flies a plane in one episode, uses a gun in another, and saves the hero once. She wears tight pants and a blouse with shoulder pads.


Stirling first became famous for the Tiger Woman serial in 1944. Clayton Moore (Ashe) later became famous for playing The Lone Ranger on TV. William Witney directed Mysterious Doctor Satan, Drums of Fu Manchu, and, later, Master of the World.


Action: 8. Gore: 4. Sex: 4. Quality: 5. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Rotating bead curtain

Notable assumption: "The resulting panic and terror will leave the city open to unlimited blackmail and extortion!"

 

 

CROWHAVEN FARM (Walter Grauman, 74 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Husband and wife inherit old farm... where wife had past life among witches

Famous For: One of first TV horror films of the 70s


Perhaps the most quickly paced and tightly focused of the many small-time horror films that popped up on American television in the 1970s, Crowhaven Farm is not far behind the best. We center on the heroine, but all the minor characters - the locals in and around the rural New England town - seem to have suspicious hidden motives. Action is minor, but intrigue, atmosphere, and dialogue are consistently strong.


Our heroine (TV actress Hope Lange) is likeably cautious. Every few scenes she has an unnerving vision of the 17th century when, in her past life, she was executed by witches. The main flaw is that the story unfolds mostly as expected, with just one real surprise toward the ending. A second flaw is the one-dimensional acting from the girl playing our heroine's mysterious adopted daughter.


John Carradine has a small role as a bearded handyman, and Big Bill Smith shows up at the end. The Dark Secret of Harvest Home had a similar story but a much slower pace.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 2. Quality: 7. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Press gang

Quotable boast: "No job too odd for me."

 

 

CRY OF THE BANSHEE (Gordon Hessler, 90 min, color, 1970)

What's Happening: Magistrate and soldiers fight witches in 16th-century England

Famous For: Vincent Price plays the unmerciful magistrate


In many ways I prefer this villagers-versus-witches movie to Witchfinder General, which it imitates but builds upon. Here, Price's character is better developed; he has motivations, flaws, and fears. And while this movie also offers copious scenes of innocents being tortured by cruel soldiers and villagers, it isn't needlessly sadistic.


Horror, fantasy, and exploitation are well balanced. There are many surprises, as the scenes do not follow a conventional story arc. The witches are portrayed like regular people, some of them good and others bad.  It's hard to tell who to root for. Only the animal-befriending Roderick seems unqualifiably sympathetic.


The viewer is left to decide whether there is any real magic afoot, or whether the events are instead a series of coincidences. Along the way there are many convincing images of period costumes and interiors, and many fine shots: watch for slow-spinning or quick-panning camera movements.


Just make sure you don't overdose on the nastiness; no less than five separate women, for example, get their bodices ripped off. And that's just in the first half hour! Be ready also for plot loopholes; i.e. if the witches are followers of the old druidic religion, then why do they care about Satan, and where did they get the voodoo dolls?


Action: 8. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 6. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Terry Gilliam-animated opening credits

Quotable line: "It's easier to presume guilt than to assume innocence."

 

 

CRY OF THE WEREWOLF (Henry Levin, 63 min, b&w, 1944)

What's Happening: Gypsy princess is really a werewolf

Famous For: Werewolf movie with Cat People elements


Several times, Columbia's Cry of the Werewolf almost becomes a good movie. It has classic werewolf elements, but all the lycanthropes are female, and they transform not under the full moon but at will. A secret passage, like in an Old Dark House, leads to a chamber with a huge stuffed wolf mounted to a trap door. Transformations are all implied, but shadows are used to suggest changing, stalking, and changing back.


The gypsies are a "tribe" that apparently lives in the California hills (I wondered if they were an Indian tribe in an earlier draft of the screenplay). The gypsy temptress is more American than the exotic heroine.


Sounds interesting. But it feels as though no one recognized how these elements might be blended, or how the characters needed more personality, more sense of purpose. Ravishing Osa Massen (Rocketship X-M) plays the heroine, though she (and everyone else) gives a stilted performance. It's at least better than She-Wolf of London. Levin later directed Journey to the Center of the Earth.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 5. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: High heels

Quotable rhyme: "A most important engagement that couldn't possibly wait. I might almost call it a rendezvous with fate."

 

 

CRYPT OF DARK SECRETS (Jack Weis, 71 min, color, 1976)

What's Happening: Sexy witch resurrects a murdered veteran and takes revenge on his killers

Famous For: Naked dance by the witch; lots of Louisiana bayou footage


No crypt, no darkness, no secrets, but perhaps the chosen title was more fitting for the drive-ins than "Naked Swamp Witch." The good witch (a Native American priestess who looks like the singer Cher with drugged eyes) dances naked twice and turns into a snake eight or nine times.


In the simple story, the witch observes three thugs kill a quiet Vietnam vet who has settled in the bayou. She resurrects the poor guy, who seems completely unchanged, and then lures the thugs back to the bayou to their deaths. The vet says and does almost nothing for the whole picture. He doesn't even figure into the revenge.


The whole second half is padded, but a flashback to an ancient Native American ritual is entertaining, with bongo drums and ooga-booga dances. "Your destiny has been preset in the annals of time," says a high priestess. Notably, one of the three thugs is female, and the Vietnam vet wears open jackets with no shirts. It's dopey start to finish, but Damballa the witch is beautiful, so I must award Quality points, below, for the full nudity and the sexy outfits. Her fake British accent adds some pleasing camp.


Action: 5. Gore: 5. Sex: 8. Quality: 6. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Swampupuncture

Quotable rhyme: "You're the girl that swims in the lake. The one that turns into a snake."

 

 

CRYPT OF THE LIVING DEAD (Julio Salvador/Ray Danton, 84 min, color, 1972)

What's Happening: On a remote Turkish island, a 700-year-old vampire queen awakens

Famous For: Filmed in Turkey; a.k.a. "Hannah: Queen of Vampires"


After a decent opening, the Spanish-American Crypt of the Living Dead lapses into tedium for a full half hour. But vampire fans might find the final 50 minutes rewarding. Most of the treatment is traditional - strikingly traditional for a movie made in 1972 - but the climax and coda offer something new. The high-voiced hero (Andrew Prine of Simon, King of the Witches) is annoying at first but more sympathetic once he admits the vampire is real.


Stealing the show is Mark Damon (House of Usher) who pretends to be the hero's friend but is actually an evil priest devoting himself to the vampire. We shouldn't have learned the priest's identity so soon; it would have been better if we were surprised later. But Damon handles his silly lines well, especially the speech about how he failed as a writer and freaked out on drugs.


Pacing is slow, action is scant, and atmosphere is thin due to a paucity of establishing shots, few images of the fishing village, few images of the island landscape. And how often do you see genuine day/night continuity errors?


But many shots are well composed, the treatment is sincere, and - most importantly - the vampire looks great in her white dress and tiara. She opens and closes her eyes, and breathes loudly as the camera closes in on her mouth. She never speaks. A mute wildman with fur vest and giant eyepatch is a nice bonus. Patty Shepard (the heroine) was the countess in The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman.


Action: 5. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 4. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Accordion

Quotable command: "Put away them college books and get yourself some dogbane!"

 

 

CRYPT OF THE VAMPIRE - See TERROR IN THE CRYPT

 

 

CULT OF THE COBRA (Francis D. Lyon, 80 min, b&w, 1955)

What's Happening: GI's infiltrate snake cult and are hunted down afterwards one by one

Famous For: Underrated Noir-fantasy


Cult of the Cobra would make an excellent double bill with Cat People; in fact it might have even been titled "Snake People" since it has so many parallels with Tourneur's 1942 masterpiece. I only wish it had made use of subtle snake imagery the way Tourneur used images of cats.


But Cobra has many strengths. The screenplay and dialogue are brisk and intelligent; there is real chemistry among the gang of GI's as they hobnob in India after World War II and then reestablish their lives back in New York City. Marshall Thompson (FiendWithout a Face), Richard Long (House on Haunted Hill), Faith Domergue (This Island Earth), and all the supporting actors are excellent. It is exciting to watch dogs, cats, and horses react as the lamia walks past them. Nearly every aspect of the movie has aged well.


As with Cat People, I particularly enjoyed the contrast between the two women. One is blonde, cheerful, all-American, and dresses in white. The other is dark, exotic, mysterious, and glum. She is sexy but dangerous. She also gets the better wardrobe - an appealing collection of black dresses, hanging earrings, and jeweled pendants.


For people interested in lamia connections, I suggest listening to The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis (1974) or reading "Lamia" by John Keats (1819). Cult of the Cobra is standout combination of horror, action, and Noir. See also Hammer's The Reptile.


Action: 7. Gore: 5. Sex: 6. Quality: 8. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Snake-eye view shots

Quotable admission: "I come from a long line of snakes in the grass."

 

 

THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP (Emilio Vieyra, 87 min, b&w, 1967)

What's Happening: Mad doctor and goons kidnap victims for "libido experiments"

Famous For: Strange uninhibited exploitation flick from Argentina


"You won't believe," says Michael J. Weldon (emphasis his), "this bizarre b/w horror/sex movie." Strong words from a guy who has seen a thousand 60s and 70s exploitation flicks.  There are more (and more explicit) sex scenes in this picture than in almost everything else in this book.


Some women are full frontal, some men nearly so. Yet each of these scenes is at once strange and campy, either accompanied by eerie psychedelic music, filmed at strange angles or in strange lighting, or performed in a medical lab with monsters standing around watching.


Where did these monsters come from? Why does Humpp's henchman have a face like a Mardi Gras mask of Frankenstein? Why is this henchman playing a Plexiglas guitar? Why does the henchman have a flashing light in his forehead? Who are those automatons in hooded jumpsuits? Why is Humpp's mentor a pulsing brain? How did the brain get into that jar, and how does it talk? Is there any point to even asking these questions?


The simple plot has Humpp and his gang (including a hot blonde assistant) kidnapping a bunch of people who are all prompted to have sex, sometimes alone, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in groups. At one point, when hippies are having a threesome, one hippie takes a toke from his joint and says "groovy!" Or, at least, that's the word in the dubbed English version.


Humpp wants to use bodily fluids to make himself - nay, all mankind - immortal. Police and a reporter-hero investigate the kidnappings. The investigations are slow, but no more than five minutes passes without nudity, weirdness, or both. Your move, Dear Reader. I was pretty impressed. See also Awakening of the Beast (1968).


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 7. Quality: 7. Camp: 9.

Don't miss: Double header

Quotable line: "The experiments were sexual and perverted!"

 

 

CURSE OF DEMON MOUNTAIN - See SHADOW OF CHIKARA

 

 

THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (Terence Fisher, 83 min, color, 1957)

What's Happening: Obsessed Baron Frankenstein brings corpse-monster to life

Famous For: First Peter Cushing as Frankenstein; first color Hammer Horror


This smash hit ("Frankenstein" in British release) was Hammer's breakthrough: for the next decade and a half, dozens of fine horror films inspired by the original Universal hits of the 30s would follow. These films sometimes have mannered acting and static cinematography, but they retain tremendous power even half a century later.


Curse is more serious and realistic than James Whale's 1931 predecessor. It feels balanced and poised, yet warmed by emotion even as it focuses on a nearly emotionless creator. Most scenes take place somewhere within the baron's Gothic mansion, so there is a claustrophobic atmosphere, and yet the lush mansion is enticing.


Cushing's cocky, myopic Frankenstein made him a star. His motives are hard to read... he doesn't appear to seek fame... does he primarily seek a sense of personal power? Christopher Lee's jerky, mute monster got him noticed, but he'd have to wait another year before Horror of Dracula made him a star.


The big obvious difference between this monster and Universal's is summed-up nicely by Joe Bob Briggs: "The human side of the creature - his gentle soul in a grotesque body, his groaning, frustrated attempt to understand himself - was eliminated entirely. In [screenwriter Jimmy] Sangster's version, he's a vicious animal, incapable of pity or understanding." This is also a key difference from the original Mary Shelly story, in which the monster was an intellectual who perhaps became more human than his creator.


The gore was probably the most extreme to date in a feature film. Lee's face was so hideous that I could scarcely look at him without squinting. Yet this ugliness seems to give some clues to Dr. Frankenstein's character: why doesn't he care about this face? does he care only about ends and not means? Disregard for beauty typically means a lack of style and finesse in a person's life or ideas.


But I also wonder about the connection that Frankenstein makes between the mind and the face, insinuating that once the mind acquires reason and understanding, the features of the face assume a likewise pleasing appearance. (Doesn't it often seem that foolish people "look" foolish?  It's more than their slack jaws and vacant eyes, isn't it? Would foolish people look smarter if they became smarter?)


The movie's theme, a sort of update on that of the original Mary Shelley novel, is the role of science in a civilized society. Is it possible that we can ever have "enough" science? Elizabeth wonders if the world would be better off "without research." This is an attractive position in the age of nuclear and biological weaponry.


And what should a scientist do when he makes a potentially life-saving, but potentially destructive, discovery? Professor Bernstein wonders if scientists sometimes reveal their discoveries hastily to societies that are not ready. Surely there are scientists so dedicated to their work that they cannot see the consequences of their own successes.


It's fun to debate which film is superior, Hammer's Frankenstein or Dracula? Both are directed by  Terence Fisher; both star Cushing and Lee. For me, Frankenstein is the better film because of its ambiguity: while the baron's methods are objectionable, it is left open whether or not it is his fault that the monster is an uncontrollable killer. There also seem to be various character flaws in the quasi-hero, Krempe.


The many Frankenstein sequels include Revenge of Frankenstein (good, 1958), The Evil of Frankenstein (good, 1964), Frankenstein Created Woman (good, 1966), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (gross, 1969), The Horror of Frankenstein (without Cushing, 1970), and Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (gross, 1973).


Action: 7. Gore: 8.  Sex: 6. Quality: 9. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Perilous painting

Quotable line: "Let him rest in peace. While he can."

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE (Gunther von Fritsch/Robert Wise, 70 min, b&w, 1944)

What's Happening: Lonely girl wishes on a ring and gains a magical friend

Famous For: Purported sequel to smash success Cat People


It's best to view Curse as a stand-alone film and not a sequel to Cat People. Three actors from Cat People reprise their roles, but the thematic connection is non-existent. In fact, if you view Irena here as the same Irena from Cat People, the effect is to reduce the lure and mystery of Irena in the original Cat People film.


Apparently, producer/writer Val Lewton wanted a film called "Amy and her Friend" but RKO insisted he force a connection to Cat People for publicity purposes. The RKO title is good, but there is neither a curse nor any cat people in the film. It should be called "Godmother Fairy."


Title notwithstanding, the picture is great. It's a modern fairy tale that can appeal to young children (I imagine that girls 6-10 will get the most out of it) as well as to adults. There are moments of fear and tension, including a trademark Lewton "walking" sequence toward the end. But the overall effect is one of sensitivity and caring, a sort of dreamy love.


Young Ann Carter plays the six-year-old Amy with emotion and poise. Ann is probably the greatest child actor covered in this book, and Amy the most wonderful child character. Unlike so many other children, she is never sickly, never peevish, never sentimental. I loved her.


The story takes surprising directions as it follows Amy's encounters with strange people around her. She attempts to convince her parents (Oliver and Alice from Cat People) that her dream world is more than just a dream. Irena (Simone Simon) becomes her friendly godmother, and of course only Amy can see her. Elizabeth Russell (who appeared briefly in Cat People) makes a sinister villainess and Julia Dean (otherwise undistinguished) a likeable but mysterious mentor to young Amy.


The link between Amy and her mentor is their mutual confusion of dream and reality. But they are ultimately the most enviable personages in the film. If Lewton had been given more freedom, it seems he would have produced one of the greatest fantasy films in history.  It's still close.


The Turner DVD commentary by Greg Mank explains how von Fritsch was unable to keep to RKO's schedule and 29-year-old Robert Wise was brought in to complete the film, impressing everyone with his handling of the snowy climax and more. Lewton's original story was one of his most personal, based on his own haunted childhood. He rewrote the conclusion at the last minute to replace action with atmosphere.


Action: 6. Gore: 4. Sex: 3. Quality: 8. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Magic Mailbox

Quotable line: "I come from great darkness and deep peace."

 

 

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE CRYING WOMAN (Rafael Baledón, 80 min, b&w, 1961)

What's Happening: Heroine is tempted to join her aunt - who is really an evil witch

Famous For: Good example of classic Mexican horror


In Italy, 1961 was the year that capped sword-and-sandal films. In Mexico, 1961 was the year that capped low-budget horror. The look and feel of Crying Woman will be familiar to fans of predecessors like El Vampiro, and this is at once Crying Woman's weakness and strength. It's derivative, it's blatant, it's obvious. But it has a sense of humor about itself and is very fast paced. The conclusion offers twice as much action as most films in this subgenre, stretching for a full 10 minutes.


In the Gothic Mexican villa, the heroine and her aunt are both tempted to renounce all goodness and love in exchange for power and immortality. What's interesting is how all things seem the same once you gain this power: good and evil, beginnings and endings, life and death. It's power with sameness. Apparently, the power also makes your eyes look like bat eyes and gives you the ability to briefly turn into a skull-headed bat-thing.


A commentary included on the CasaNegra DVD is mostly silent, but it notes Black Sunday's influence on the opening and - possibly - Hitchcock's influence on the bell tower images.


Singer-actress Julissa (who appeared in some cheap flicks that Karloff made in Mexico in the late 60s) has a great role at the opening. Actor-producer Abel Salazar (The Brainiac) is the heroine's husband, and he smokes cigars and wears boots in every scene. When the witch makes a voodoo doll to control him, even the doll has boots! Everything is simple, but nothing is pretentious. About half a dozen "boo" moments are particularly fun. A trippy negativized dream sequence comes in the middle.


"Crying Woman" (llorona) ghost stories are common in Mexico, and one of them inspired the country's first feature-length horror film, La Llorona (1933). Writer-director Baledón was a handsome actor before he became a director. He also made The Man and the Monster. See Rosa Arenas (our heroine) also in The Witch's Mirror.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 5. Quality: 7. Camp: 7.

Don't miss: Spider web walk

Notable result: "As in Sodom and Gomorrah, her instincts ran rampant, galloping toward total destruction!"

 

 

CURSE OF THE DEAD - See HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD

 

 

CURSE OF THE DEMON - See NIGHT OF THE DEMON

 

 

CURSE OF THE DEVIL (Carlos Aured, 84 min, color, 1973)

What's Happening: Victorian aristocrat is seduced by gypsy-witch and becomes a werewolf

Famous For: Sixth in Paul Naschy's werewolf-hero series; a.k.a. "Return of the Werewolf"


After several middling Daninsky films, Naschy returned to form with the frequently gory and sexy Curse of the Devil. Most of the gore and sex is quick, and most of it comes after long stretches of quiet moping, but most of it is also strong and entertaining. The body count is very high (more than a dozen, depending how you count). A medieval prologue is completely unnecessary since the story re-starts right after it. But the prologue is still fun in itself.


Compared with other Daninsky films, Curse of the Devil is not only more extreme but more competently shot and blocked. Note some excellent "above and below" compositions in the first half. The delightful locations include streams, waterfalls, and mossy boulders on the estate. In werewolf form, Daninsky bites his victims on the neck like a vampire. One townsman dies by scythe. Two time-lapse transformations are decent.


The Anchor Bay DVD includes a 2002 interview with Naschy where he recounts the origins of the Daninsky series and how Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man dazzled him when he was a kid. Night of the Werewolf is similar to Curse of the Devil but even better.


Action: 7. Gore: 8. Sex: 7. Quality: 7. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Campy coda

Notable entreaty: "Send me the great gray shadow that makes men tremble!"

 

 

CURSE OF THE FACELESS MAN (Edward L. Cahn, 67 min, b&w, 1958)

What's Happening: Vengeful statue from Pompeii comes to life and kidnaps our heroine

Famous For: Originally played alongside It!


Ironically, It! is Cahn's most famous film while Faceless Man is his least famous. The obscurity is deserved, since Faceless Man is an obvious rehash of the original Mummy films, with incoherent scientific explanations and intrusive voice-over narration added to suit the 1958 audience's presumed tastes. I could handle voice-over at the opening, but when it returned every few minutes I couldn't stop rolling my eyes.


The pacing is quick, many interiors look decent (it even feels genuinely like Italy), and the monster really looks like a living statue with an eroded face. But the story offers nothing engaging until the final minutes. Bill Warren notes that his wife was moved to tears by the ending when she saw Faceless Man as a girl. I too liked the ending, including the "dissolve" effect.  But I disliked everything else. There's something annoying about it, a sense that everyone involved knew it was product and formula.


Screenwriter Jerome Bixby has many accomplishments to his credit, including It!, the famous "It's a Good Life" Twilight Zone episode, and the famous "Mirror, Mirror" Star Trek episode. He later distanced himself from Faceless Man, claiming that the studio assigned him the story to adapt. Richard Anderson, stiff and solemn here as our hero-doctor, is best known to genre fans for playing Oscar on the Six Million Dollar Man TV series.


Action: 5. Gore: 5. Sex: 4. Quality: 3. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Cove of the Blind Fisherman

Quotable rhyme: "If what they told me on the phone is true, you better see it before it sees you!"

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE (Del Tenney, 84 min, b&w, 1964)

What's Happening: A madman's heirs are stalked and killed one by one

Famous For: Originally played with Horror of Party Beach


Set in Victorian New England, Living Corpse is surprisingly serious considering it originally played alongside a rollicking beach party/horror parody. It's a combination of Old Dark House mysteries and 60s exploitation films. The whole family is unlikeable: the listless mother, the womanizing older brother, the drunken younger brother, and their conniving girlfriends. We therefore rather enjoy seeing them meet their fates, one by one, in manners they have always feared.


The murderer is a masked stalker with cloak, hat, and cane. As viewers we wonder if he really is the madman come back from the dead, or if there is a more natural explanation. All is resolved at the conclusion. Everything is set on a wooded estate, filmed on sunny autumn afternoons. The Victorian-era costumes and interiors are a pleasure.


Note also the flowery Victorian dialogue: "The night is fraught with incense and diaphanous ladies flitting about staircases in flight from their husbands." The most enduring images are those of the glass-sided hearse, drawn by horses, rolling through autumn fields.


It's not a great film, suffering from a lack of originality, predictable plot, low budget, and poor soundtrack that mars the atmosphere. But it feels focused and sincere, and the acting is strong across the board. Most notable among the actors are Roy Scheider (Jaws) in his first prominent role and Candace Hilligoss (Carnival of Souls) in a small role.


The Dark Sky DVD includes commentary from Tenney, although he says little of interest. His father-in-law owned the Connecticut estate on which Living Corpse was filmed. The brunette from the rather revealing bathtub scene was Tenney's wife; Tenney himself played the murderer in that scene and others. See also Violent Midnight (1963).


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 6. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Eye to eye

Quotable query: "Without money, what good are dreams?"

 

 

CURSE OF THE LIVING DEAD - See THE DEMONIACS

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY'S TOMB (Michael Carreras, 80 min, color, 1964)

What's Happening: Mummy awakens and takes revenge on those who put him in a sideshow

Famous For: Second of Hammer's mummy films


A complex plot and an intriguing love triangle are the main appeals of this otherwise disappointing follow-up to the great 1959 Mummy. Everything sounds and looks great, but the film lacks the focus and intensity of the original. Some severed-hand effects, a belly dancer, and a green medallion add interest, but nothing pulls the film together.


The only memorable character is the buffoonish American businessman King who insists on using the mummy and his treasures for a garish sideshow rather than a respectful museum show. He's greedy and generous at once. As King, the bald Fred Clark (best known for Sunset Boulevard) hams it up.


The actual mummy, when he finally appears, emits spooky echoing breaths. But The Mummy's Shroud is far better. Ronald Howard (our hero John) played Sherlock Holmes in the 1954-55 TV series. Michael Ripper has a small role as a comic-relief Arab.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 4. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Amateur advantage

Quotable invitation: "Let the consequences commence!"

 

 

CURSE OF THE SWAMP CREATURE (Larry Buchanan, 80 min, color, 1966)

What's Happening: Mad scientist in Florida swamp creates mutant lizard-men

Famous For: Dull but campy TV remake of The Alligator People


Rare indeed is the movie, B or otherwise, in which the hero does nothing interesting and gets not a single interesting line. John Agar, who plays our aging geologist-hero, doesn't even get to save the girl. He's really just a plot device to get our oil-hungry villains into the swamps where, one by one, they'll meet their comeuppance at the hands of the mad scientist or the "natives" (poor black folks) who live nearby.


The titular creature appears for a minute at the end, but it should have gotten more screen time because the makeup isn't bad, especially for a Larry Buchanan film. The only problem is the eyes, which look like halves of painted ping pong balls, which is what they are.


The point of watching movies like this, of course, is to laugh at them. Thankfully, there are many funny moments sprinkled throughout. The mad scientist wears sunglasses, cackles at his own deviousness, and says things like "All strangers out of my swamp!" or "I'm the one who says when someone has had enough!" The pacing is so slow that the camp is often muted. But Swamp Creature probably ranks third in Buchanan's oeuvre, behind Zontar and Mars Needs Women. The high-pitched voodoo drums are amusing and the bayou boat footage decent. See also Creature of Destruction.


Action: 4. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 3. Camp: 6.

Don't miss: Body chopper

Quotable line: "The sound of my voice is your master!"

 

 

CURSE OF THE UNDEAD (Edward Dein, 79 min, b&w, 1959)

What's Happening: In Old West town, mysterious stranger is really a vampire

Famous For: Noble attempt to make a horror-Western


Universal rushed out a bunch of cheap horror flicks in the late 1950s to join the renaissance of horror inspired by Hammer. This flick is decent, if strange. The writer-director and several of the actors seem to be taking things seriously, with some energetic performances and occasionally artful cinematography. Some music is also fun: theremin-style violins whenever the vampire guy appears.


But everything feels like a cheap TV movie, and the Western elements are far less interesting than the vampire elements. The hero (a handsome preacher) is stiff and unlikeable.


Yet the hero and movie are easy to forgive. Something makes you want to enjoy things rather than laugh at them. Top credit should probably go to Michael Pate (The Maze) who plays the vampire-stranger in his black gloves, black hat, and black vest. Wolf-faced Pate makes the character increasingly sympathetic as he involves himself with every aspect of the plot. He is surprisingly lively and talkative for a vampire. At one point, laying down to rest, he leaves his coffin open to catch the moonlight!


He can walk in the sun but can't see well. He bites more men than women, but none of his victims rise as vampires themselves. It's implied that he turns into a bat. At last, he falls in love with the blonde heroine (well played by Kathleen Crowley) and has a showdown with the preacher. How many Westerns have a climactic showdown between a vampire and preacher?


Both Pate and Crowley played supporting roles in TV Westerns through the 1950s and 60s. John Hoyt has a small role as the heroine's father. Dein also made The Leech Woman.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 5. Quality: 5. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Drago Robles

Quotable line: "It's amazing how little influence you have when you're not around."

 

 

CURSE OF THE VAMPIRE - See THE PLAYGIRLS AND THE VAMPIRE

 

 

CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES - See BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRES

 

 

CURSE OF THE VOODOO (Lindsay Shonteff, 83 min, b&w, 1965)

What's Happening: Big game hunter shoots a lion and incurs wrath of African voodoo tribe

Famous For: Same director and star as Devil Doll


I liked the weird Devil Doll but was disappointed in the unimaginative Curse of the Voodoo. We get a fine opening during which we truly feel thrust in the midst of Africa, surrounded by wild animals, threatened by restless natives. Then we get a predictable midsection and conclusion during which the protagonist sees menacing Africans stalking him through London, outside his window, even at his door. Are these Africans real? Is Mike's guilt causing hallucinations? Or is it all some kind of unstoppable curse?


Many scenes bog themselves down with useless conversations between Mike's wife and doctor, while Mike lies delirious in bed. The whole thing needs action, atmosphere, or both. Only the aforementioned opening, and a sexy five-minute dance by a black girl in a bar, are really worth watching. Dennis Price (Earth Dies Screaming) has a supporting role as a white explorer who takes voodoo seriously.


Action: 6. Gore: 6. Sex: 6. Quality: 2. Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Double-decker bus

Notable locale: "Africa! A country of grandeur! Power! Beauty! And sudden death!"

 

 

THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (Terence Fisher, 92 min, color, 1961)

What's Happening: In 18th-century Spain, a young man discovers he is a werewolf

Famous For: Quality Hammer take on the wolf-man myth


This is Hammer's most emotionally intense film. It is sad, even tragic. But it also conjures desires that boil into desperation. The story comes in three parts: before the boy's birth, then childhood, then young adulthood. And in all three parts the unifying element is frustrated desire, love and lust.


Much has been made of Oliver Reed's performance, and rightly so. In his first starring role, the 23-year-old Reed plays the unfortunate protagonist as a young adult. He appears in less than half the film, but his presence dominates the viewer's memories. By turns he is calm and loving, lost and bewildered, raging and desperate. Also excellent are Clifford Evans (Kiss of the Vampire) as the soft-spoken Don Alfredo and Richard Wordsworth (The Quatermass Xperiment) as the loopy lecherous beggar.


Old Spain is lovingly evoked in both the exterior images of the village square and the interiors with their blue and gray furnishings. Some viewers have complained about the werewolf makeup, or the minimal transformation sequence, but werewolf fans know how difficult it is to create a convincing human-wolf combination. It's no wonder that in latter-day werewolf films such as The Howling, the human part was dropped altogether, and the protagonist would become a wolf completely.


The very few flaws include a heavy-handed backdrop to the opening credits, and a moment of gore at the conclusion that is a tad too explicit.


The film makes intriguing interpretations of the werewolf myth. The situation is viewed as a tragedy, as in the classic Universal films, but here there is a way out of the tragedy, albeit a faint one. It seems that with the right amount of love and companionship, the cursed one can overcome his fate, avoiding the transformation. And yet this makes the outcome even more tragic, because we see how Leon might have been saved.


Another new interpretation is the religious one. Usually, it is vampire films that are Christian, with werewolf films associating themselves more with folklore and superstition. Here, Christian symbolism is explicitly evoked. "Leon" is even "Noel" backwards. As a whole, this is a striking film that rises steadily toward its tragic climax. See also Legend of the Werewolf.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 6. Quality: 9. Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Face of a gargoyle

Notable realization: "No ordinary wolf would tear out the throat and drain blood!"

 

 

CYBORG 2087 (Franklin Adreon, 85 min, color, 1966)

What's Happening: On a secret mission, man from 2087 travels back in time to 1966

Famous For: Michael Rennie plays the man from the future


None of Rennie's genre films comes close to Day the Earth Stood Still, but some, like The Power and Cyborg 2087 are worth searching out. Here, Rennie is determined and hard-edged as he works to disable technology in 1966 that would enable totalitarian terror 100 years later. On his trail are two cyborg "tracer agents" sent by the evil future dictators.


The concepts seem an obvious influence on the Terminator films, although Teenagers from Outer Space is closer to those films in terms of action and plot. Here, cyborg technology is only incidental. The tracers are basically mute cops from the future. One of them even seems attracted to women! It's really a time travel action movie, not a cyborg movie.


But whatever it is, it's not very good. Opening scenes are promising, with Rennie revealing himself immediately to the 1960s scientists. But after 25 minutes, everything degenerates into a repetitive cat-and-mouse chase. The supposed cyborgs seem odd but unmenacing. The overblown score becomes intrusive. Action scenes are plentiful, but the whole thing feels like it should have been a 50-minute Outer Limits episode, not a feature-length film.


One of the 1960s scientists is played by Karen Steele from "Mudd's Women" (Star Trek, 1966). Director Adreon and writer Arthur C. Pierce also made Dimension 5, a spy movie with a light time travel element (1966). Pierce wrote many cheap sci-fi films in the mid 60s including Mutiny in Outer Space.


Wikipedia traces the term "cyborg" to 1960. This film's title was apparently inspired by the Japanese manga "Cyborg 009" (1964-1981), whose title and concept were themselves apparently inspired by the 007 film Dr. No, with No himself considered the first cyborg in film history (1962). The Italian Planets Against Us ("I Pianeti Contro di Noi") also featured a cyborg the same year as Dr. No. Project X (1968) had similar elements.


Action: 6. Gore: 5. Sex: 5. Quality: 3. Camp: 3.

Doln't miss: Down, boy!

Notable danger: Radiotelepathy

 

 

CYCLE PSYCHO - See SAVAGE ABDUCTION

 

 

THE CYCLOPS (Bert I. Gordon, 75 min, b&w, 1957)

What's Happening: Heroine and companions are attacked by giant creatures and giant cyclops

Famous For: Lon Chaney Jr. hams it up as a greedy businessman


Possibly Gordon's most obscure genre feature, The Cyclops has garnered only 188 votes on the IMDb as of this writing, mid 2010. Voters have given it a 4.3 rating, which is surprisingly high for such silly junk - unless you remind yourself that silly junk is precisely that quality of Gordon's most valued by his fans. I guess I'm not a big enough fan, because I found The Cyclops dull and depressing. The makeup isn't bad - the creature looks scary, if ugly. And Chaney is a huge asset.


But not a single exciting thing happens. The fight between the cyclops and the snake is supposed to be a highlight, but it isn't really a fight: the stuntman who plays the cyclops simply uncoils the (real) snake from his shoulders and puts it down. I timed it at 36 seconds.


And the cyclops isn't really a cyclops: he's a human who got mutated by radiation which caused flesh to melt over his right eye. His groaning and wailing becomes irritating almost immediately. Of several superimposed giant creatures, only the hawk eating the rat is unusual. Bill Warren calls the film a "dreary disaster" but gives credit to Chaney and to Albert Glasser's serious-sounding score.


Action: 4. Gore: 6. Sex: 4. Quality: 3. Camp: 5.

Don't miss: Bronson Caverns

Notable query: "You didn't get paid to be eaten by prehistoric animals, didja?"

 

 

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