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1. FANTASY FILMS OF THE 1980s, the first sequel to Claws & Saucers, is here.  Check it out now on Kindle.



I owe thanks to several readers and reviewers (including John Allen, Brian Bankston, R.A. Bardy, Mike Bohatch, David Colton, Daniel Kraus, and Martin Unsworth) who have helped suggest these new and corrected entries.


-Interviewed by Dan Schneider, 10/23/16 (see "About the author" for more)


-BOG (1979/1984) - 6/21 on Facebook


-THE SHOUT (1978) - 6/24 on Facebook

-DOC SAVAGE (1975) - 5/23 on Facebook

-THE MAN WHO TURNED TO STONE (1957) - 4/5 on Facebook

-THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS (1980) - 2/12 on Facebook

-MALATESTA'S CARNIVAL OF BLOOD (1973) - 1/21 on Facebook

-THE SPIDER WOMAN STRIKES BACK (1946) - 1/3/16 on Facebook


-EXORCISM (1975) - 12/1 on Facebook

-SUPER INFRA-MAN (1975) - 11/9 on Facebook

-THE DISEMBODIED (1957) - 10/28 on Facebook

-NAKED EVIL (1966) - 10/16 on Facebook

-OUANGA (1936) - 9/29 on Facebook

-BATTLE OF THE AMAZONS (1973) - 9/23 on Facebook

-TERRIFIED (1963) - 9/7 on Facebook

-NIGHTWING (1979) - 8/7 on Facebook

-RIDERS TO THE STARS (1954) - 7/28 on Facebook

-SPOOKS RUN WILD (1941)/GHOSTS ON THE LOOSE (1943) - 7/17 on Facebook

-WHAT'S THE MATTER WITH HELEN? (1971) - 6/25 on Facebook

-THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR (1961) - 6/17 on Facebook

-VISIT TO A SMALL PLANET (1960) - 5/31 on Facebook

-TORTURE SHIP (1939) - 5/20 on Facebook

-THE MASTER MYSTERY (1919) - 5/5 on Facebook

-YETI (1977) - 4/6 on Facebook

-QUEEN KONG (1976) -3/28 on Facebook

-PANIC (1982) - 3/22 on Facebook


-TIME TRAVELLERS (1976) - 3/12 on Facebook

-THE UNSEEN (1980) - 2/23 on Facebook

-THE LIVING COFFIN (1958) - 2/2 on Facebook

-JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (1955) - 1/27 on Facebook

-HOUSE (1977) - 1/13 on Facebook

-GHOSTS OF HANLEY HOUSE (1968) - 1/5/15 on Facebook


-THE FORCE BEYOND (1978) - 12/22/14 on Facebook

-THE LAUNCHING OF SPACESHIP-1/F.P.1 (1930s) - 12/4 on Facebook

-WHITE PONGO (1945)/BEAST OF BORNEO (1934) - 11/10 on Facebook

-FURY OF ACHILLES (1962) - 11/3 on Facebook

-THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE (1921) - 10/29 on Facebook

-THE CLONE MASTER (1978) - 10/22 on Facebook


-FINAL EYE (1977) - 10/17 on Facebook

-THE CLONES (1973) - 10/14 on Facebook

-THE APE MAN (1943) - REVISED 10/5

-MAN WITH TWO LIVES (1942) - 9/24 on Facebook

-THE GLADIATORS (1969) - 9/19 on Facebook

-JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1977) - 9/11 on Facebook

-TRAGIC CEREMONY (1972) - 9/8 on Facebook
-ONE BODY TOO MANY (1944) - 9/3 on Facebook

-WHERE HAVE ALL THE PEOPLE GONE? (1974) - 9/1 on Facebook

-ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN (1973) - 8/29 on Facebook

-RANA ("CROAKED," 1981) - 8/26 on Facebook

-SUPERBEAST (1972) - 8/23 on Facebook

-VALLEY OF THE DRAGONS (1961) - 8/21 on Facebook

-THE DISAPPEARANCE OF FLIGHT 412 (1974) - 8/17 on Facebook

-THE GODSEND (1980) - 8/13 on Facebook

-PATRICK (1978) - 8/5 on Facebook

-MYSTERIOUS TWO (1982) - 8/3 on Facebook

-DEADLY EYES (1982) - 7/29 - on Facebook

-THE WEREWOLF AND THE YETI (1975) - 7/23 on Facebook

-THE TERRORNAUTS (1967) - 7/21

-HOME SWEET HOME (1981) - 7/17 on Facebook

-NIGHT OF THE HUNTED (1980) - 7/7 on Facebook

-THE LAST CHILD (TV, 1971) - 7/2 on Facebook

-SEYTAN (1974) - 6/26 on Facebook

-THE SLAYER (1982) - 6/25 on Facebook

-THE MAGICIAN (1926) - 6/24 on Facebook

-THE LOCH NESS HORROR (1981) - 6/17 on Facebook

-HOUSE ON THE EDGE OF THE PARK (1980) - 6/10 on Facebook


-THE LIVING HEAD (1963) - 6/24 on Facebook

-GENESIS II/PLANET EARTH (1973/74) - 5/29 on Facebook

-FRANKENSTEIN (TV, 1973) - 5/27 on Facebook

-CHAMBER OF HORRORS (1966) - 5/23 on Facebook

-WOLFMAN (1979) - 5/20 on Facebook

-DON'T GO IN THE WOODS (1981)  - 5/17

-DEATH WATCH (1980) - 5/14 on Facebook

-SCARED TO DEATH (1980)  - 5/11 on Facebook

-THE CREATURE WASN'T NICE (1981) - 5/5 on Facebook

-DEATH SCREAMS/HOUSE OF DEATH (1982) - 4/30 on Facebook



-ALONE IN THE DARK (1982) - 4/12 on Facebook

-THE EYES BEHIND THE STARS (1978) - 4/6 on Facebook

-IN THE DUST OF THE STARS (1976) - 4/1

-IN THE FOLDS OF THE FLESH (1970) - 3/26 on Facebook

-ALIEN 2: ON EARTH (1980) - 3/20 on Facebook

-THE SILENT STAR (1960) - 3/17

-DAIMAJIN (1966) - 3/10/14

THE APE MAN (William Beaudine,  64 min, b&w, 1943) - REVISED ENTRY

What's Happening: Doctor becomes half-ape and must kill to become human

Famous For: Sad example of Bela Lugosi in decline


Sadly dated, Monogram's Ape Man bases itself on another dated film, The Ape (with Karloff, 1940).  I found it unremarkable in nearly all respects - plot, dialogue, characters, images.  Director "One Shot" Beaudine probably told everyone to just get the thing over with.  Even Lugosi has little energy.  A self-referential coda tells us not to take the thing seriously.


But it is unusual that Lugosi wears his ape makeup for the whole movie.  He doesn't change back and forth; he doesn't suddenly change at the conclusion; he's the same start to finish because his experiment has already turned him into the man/ape hybrid by the time we meet him.  His giant sideburns make him look like a 70s disco dancer.  He has a hunched, teetering "ape walk" but he starts to straighten up - as if working out kinks in his back - when he gets his first antidote injection (see especially 38:00 and 43:00).


Any good camp?  The guy in the gorilla suit is sometimes fun.  Wallace Ford (The Mummy's Hand) has some amusing mannerisms.  The creepy sister, a Victorian spinster type, wears odd wobbly earrings.  But most of the camp gets smothered by the frustrating missed opportunities.  The action scenes are scant, and they seem purposefully shot to reduce rather than increase tension.  Lugosi fans: you should watch it, but put it low on your list.  Beaudine is best known to genre fans for Billy the Kid versus Dracula.


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

Don't miss: Brief references to WWII

Notable condition: "I must have human spinal fluid injected into me!"








What's Happening: Frankenstein and his monster turn up alive; monster demands "woman friend"

Famous For: Sequel worthy of the original; birthplace of 20th-century camp


A tremendous movie on many levels. It is tense one moment, sad the next, sweet the next, and funny the next. The models and sets (graveyards, castles, catacombs) are fantastical yet convincing. The black-and-white cinematography (camera angles, compositions) is arguably the best of the decade. And unlike its predecessor, Bride of Frankenstein boasts a powerful score (by Franz Waxman) that highlights, and sometimes mimics, the action on screen.


Ultimately the humor is what sets it most apart from its predecessor; the subversive camp that simmered underneath the original Frankenstein now froths to the surface in Bride. The miniature aristocrats and the wide-eyed housekeeper (character actress Una O'Connor) are the most obvious examples of camp.

Many fans consider Bride superior, but the sensibilities of the films are quite different (the first has more pulp adventure, the second has more ironic humor), so the comparison may be needless. The key scenes are (1) the encounter with the blind Christian hermit, and (2) the completely surprising first meeting between Monster and Mate.


A few notes on the acting: Karloff's talent is more apparent here than in the original, since the monster is given more of a personality; he even learns the rudiments of language.  Though Karloff did not want the monster to speak, this movie is probably Karloff's finest hour. Yet Ernest Thesiger's delightfully diabolical Dr. Pretorius comes close to stealing the show.  Colin Clive and Dwight Frye both return.

Gavin Gordon (who later appeared in The Bat with Vincent Price) gives style and flare to Lord Byron in the opening vignette; interestingly, Byron's family name was Gordon as well. John Carradine pops up briefly as a hunter halfway through. Elsa Lanchester (Charles Laughton's wife) plays Mary Shelley at the opening and the Bride at the end; this casting choice adds a final touch of brilliance to an already brilliant film.

Some fans think it silly that the monster speaks, but I think the simple dialogue fits with Bride's movement toward camp. The third film in the series, Son of Frankenstein, is also excellent.


Action: 8. Gore: 7. Sex: 4. Quality: 10. Camp: 8.

Don't miss: Many classic moments. My favorite: good smoke

Notable possibility: "A woman... that should be really interesting."



CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (Edward Dmytryk, 61 min, b&w, 1943) - REVISION & EXTENSION

What's Happening: Mad scientist transplants human gland into gorilla to create gorilla-woman

Famous For: John Carradine plays the mad scientist; inspired two sequels


You might expect a B-movie with a title like "captive wild woman" to be sexy. You might expect the woman to look dark and exotic, appearing in some scenes scantily clad. Well, you'd be right about the woman but wrong about the sexy, because the woman is actually a gorilla. Acquanetta (she claimed it was her real name!) looks and acts the part, but since you know she's really a gorilla, and since she changes back to a gorilla before the conclusion, all her sexiness is cancelled.


And yet, Universal's Captive Wild Woman is very entertaining. It's fast-paced, surprising, and filled with action, although most of the action is stock footage of Clyde Beatty during his lion and tiger circus performances. Nearly a third of the film is circus act stock footage.  Stock footage and stunt doubling is very effective, because the guy playing our hero Fred looks just like Clyde Beatty from behind. Back projection is used with surprising effectiveness.

Young moustached Carradine plays a gland-experimenter like he would do 14 years later in The Unearthly. But whereas he is completely obsessed and emotionless in The Unearthly, he has some human qualities here, a sort of amoral charm. Our hero and heroine are an aspiring lion-tamer and fiancée, but the focus is more on Carradine.


The plot is derived most obviously from Island of Lost Souls but also from The Ape. Note also the unusual step of making the gorilla a female and the gorilla's human love-object a male, for a change. Ray "Crash" Corrigan is the guy in the ape suit. See Acquanetta also in The Lost Continent. Dmytryk earlier directed Karloff in The Devil Commands.


The first sequel, Jungle Woman (dir. Reginald LeBorg, 61 min, 1944) is told with flashbacks, including several flashbacks within flashbacks to the first film. We see that Cheela survived her gunshot wound because a new scientist (J. Carrol Naish, sensitive and intelligent) took her to his sanitarium for study.

It sounds strange, but it's a smooth transition because the new characters are edited into the flashback footage from the first film. When "Cheela" disappears and "Paula" shows up, it takes the rest of the film for the scientist to realize what we already know - that Paula is really a super-strong gorilla-girl who has yet to overcome her animal instincts.


Action in Jungle Woman is downplayed and mostly implied, but pacing is quick. Watch for some fun Mickey Mousing at 53:00 when an ascending scale plays alongside a syringe filling up. Watch for a Val Lewton-inspired walk at 55:00. Note how we never see Paula killing anyone because it's always offscreen. What happens? Some viewers think that Paula changes into gorilla form to kill; the double fingerprints suggest this. Other viewers think that she remains in human form but possesses gorilla strength; the crushed ashtray suggests this. Finally we see her in half/half form at the satisfying conclusion. Naish himself was changed to a gorilla in Dr. Renault's Secret.


Incredibly, the last of the trilogy - The Jungle Captive (dir. Harold Young, 63 min, 1945) - is the best. Where the first one felt like an (odd) adventure movie and the second one felt like a werewolf movie, this third one feels like a mad doctor movie. A third scientist (Otto Kruger of Dracula's Daughter, suavely self-satisfied) is experimenting with reanimation.   Apparently, he can best prove his theories if he can reanimate a human-animal hybrid. Life is first restored via blood transfusions... but, later, organs need to be transplanted.


The unspeaking gorilla girl (in hybrid form for most of her scenes) is played by someone named Vicky Lane who never speaks but moves well, lumbering confusedly. Pacing is quick, and some of the action actually occurs on screen. Young (Frozen Ghost) shows more attention to directing than either LeBorg or Dmytryk, offering several surprise shots and some helpful camera movement. A time-lapse hand transformation is decent. All the acting is strong. Most notable among the actors is Rondo Hatton! You only wait five minutes for Hatton to appear. At 23:30 he strokes the heroine's coat, just like Tor Johnson strokes the angora in Bride of the Monster.


The obvious theme of Jungle Captive is the cold-heartedness of science. "Moloch is a true scientist," Kruger says, referring to Hatton. "He understands the unimportance of a mere life when it might impede progress." Later he says, "we're scientists, not sentimentalists." Later, in case you missed it, he says, "operations are impersonal." All three of these movies possess more than their share of silliness, but they never pretend otherwise. It's a rare trilogy indeed that gets better as it goes.


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

Don't miss: Before and after

Notable result: "A human form with animal instincts."





THE CURSE OF THE DOLL PEOPLE (Benito Alazraki, 82 min, b&w, 1961) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Voodoo sorcerer sends living dolls to kill archaeologists who stole a sacred idol

Famous For: Weird doll masks; a.k.a. "Devil Doll Men"

In comparison to famous Mex-Monster films like Brainiac or Night of the Bloody Apes, Doll People ("Munecos Infernales") is much more classy and atmospheric.  It still has some overdone makeup - e.g. a zombie slave who looks like Prunceface from Dick Tracy - but most of it feels like a sincere attempt at literate horror.  Of the Mexican films covered in C&S, Black Pit of Dr. M feels most like it.

Once you pass 24 minutes of exposition, you'll be delighted to find that the eerie doll people are on screen more than half the time.  Some of the midget (or child) actors move a little too quickly and smoothly, but most are appropriately stiff and deliberate.  The masks are apparently paper mache.  It's interesting how the dolls have minds of their own, with some more obedient to the sorcerer than others.  It's fun how the dolls are well dressed with suits and ties (rather than simple white robes or something).  Some even wear glasses!  They kill their victims with poisoned acupuncture needles.

Production values, cinematography, etc, are in line with those of contemporary Mexican horror films, and perhaps slightly superior.  Note the tilted camera at 16:50.  The hero and heroine are a couple of young doctors in love.  Late in the film they perform a "doll autopsy" praised by David E. Wilt in the liner notes provided with the BCI Crypt of Terror DVD.  The heroine turns out to be weaker than expected, though she is pretty brave.  It's remarkable that the heroine is a more prominent character than the hero.

The main flaw is the lack of cumulative suspense.  The middle third is actually the best third of the film, not least because of the conjuration scene where the sorcerer - wearing a black robe with a snaky white stripe - uses sand, blood, and fire to create and animate a female doll.  Above the altar is a mirror ball!  The final third feels repetitive, although the aforementioned zombie livens things up somewhat.  Another flaw is an ad hoc crucifix at the conclusion.

The 70-minute American (AIP) version omits the hero and heroine's conversation at the opening, but also the amazing conjuration scene.  What were they thinking?  The heroine is also poorly dubbed in the American version, with too high a voice.  Be sure to watch the original Mexican version for full atmospheric effect.  The late scene where the dolls approach the heroine is somewhat anticipatory of the fetish doll attack from Trilogy of Terror.  The Devil-Doll is an obvious influence.  See also Amicus's Asylum where Herbert Lom creates living killer dolls.

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

Don't miss: Sorcerer's Ladder

Quotable description: "He is weird, but very helpful."





DAIMAJIN (Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 84 min, color, 1966) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: In feudal Japan, a godlike statue comes to life to defend a village from evil usurpers

Famous For: Daiei's take on the Golem myth


For more than an hour, Daimajin is a historical drama.  It's tense and grim, but unsurprising and light on action.  Finally, it becomes a quasi-kaiju film as the powerful - and fairly frightening - statue descends from the mountain and attacks the usurping soldiers.

Many good opportunities are taken: the statue grabs someone, steps on someone, knocks down buildings, confronts chains and fires, and more.  A chisel is lodged in the statue's head for almost the whole battle.  Because Daimajin feels so serious, and because it was clearly aimed at a Japanese (rather than international) audience, it doesn't feel like a regular kaiju film.  But fans should still take note.


Cardboard characters are the most obvious flaws.  The good guys are completely honest and selfless, and the bad guys are completely cruel and ruthless.  You'd expect more sophistication in an otherwise serious production.  The boss bad guy gets an interesting early line when explaining himself: "I bear no hatred or loyalty."  But we get nothing else about his motivations; it's simplistic powermongering like in a weak peplum film.  Other small flaws include unnecessary ghosts and skeletons who appear briefly on the mountain.


But the good stuff is very good.  Aside from the climactic action, the mood and images are highly effective.  The dark foggy countryside symbolizes the villagers' plight.  The waterfall beside the statue symbolizes life and hope - but also danger.  The animated statue's green visage symbolizes nature.  Like nature, the mountain spirit that animates the statue is not entirely caring or predictable.


Wrath of Daimajin (dir. Kenji Misumi, 79 min, mid 1966) was filmed alongside its predecessor and released several months later.  In many ways it's the best of the trilogy.  It's a re-thinking of the story, not a sequel, so it stands alone.  Again you'll find innocent villagers struggling against cruel usurpers, but within minutes you'll notice how the visuals are more dynamic than those of the first film: camera angles, color contasts, "found images," and more.  The first movie had a moody mountain, but this movie has a beautiful lake.  The sky above the statue at 27:00 is one of my favorite shots.


The steady pacing resembles that of the first film, but action comes more often.  The gray and green backdrops resemble those of the first film, but the mood is closer to that of an action film than a historical drama.  We also get a little blood and gore.

Again the characters are simplistic, but the extended family relationships in Wrath are at least as interesting as the father/son relationships in the original.  The kaiju destruction scenes are roughly equal in time and scope to those of the first film; in fact, a few bits (collapsed buildings) are recycled from the first film.


Perhaps the most interesting contrast lies in the nature of the Majins.  In the first film, the god was pagan, connected with nature.  Here, the god is Christian in all but name.  A broken archway resembles a cross (seen three times beginning at 32:00).  The Majin is "killed" only to be resurrected days later.  The heroine is "crucified" but willing to sacrifice herself for her people.  Perhaps the movie should have toned down the Christianity, but Christianity offers pathos that was lacking in the first film.


Return of Daimajin (dir. Kazuo Mori, 87 min, late 1966) was filmed alongside the first two films and released at the end of the year.  It has the same basic formula - waiting an hour until the statue animates - but feels very different.  Again it's innocent peasants enslaved by ruthless warlords, but this time there is a focused linear plot: four boys make a trek across Majin's mountain to free their fathers and brothers from the warlords.


More than half the film depicts the boys' journey across beautiful but treacherous landscapes.  Instead of a steady gray-green atmosphere, it's mostly sunny and colorful.  Later, there is snow.  The pacing is notably slower than that of the other films, but the music is good.  It feels magical when the boys discover the road past the log bridge.


As in the first film, the Majin is associated with nature and is not entirely benign.  Where Majin faced fire or explosives in the previous films, he faces guns and cannons here.  He also gains a hawk herald, which perhaps symbolizes his wakefulness even when dormant.  And he finally uses his sword!  Boys 8-10 should like the film, but be aware that (a) not all the boys in the film survive, and (b) more than one man dies in a boiling sulfer pit.


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

Don't miss: Curling comet

Notable warning: "The mountain god is watching."


A good documentary is "The World of the Dark Crystal" (broadcast on PBS television, 57 min, 1983).





DON'T GO IN THE WOODS (James Bryan, 82 min, color, 1981) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Four hikers, and many other folks, are attacked by a killer in the Utah wilderness

Famous For: Very low budget slasher


Sometimes considered the worst slasher movie of the 80s, Woods should actually rate much higher if it is intended for comedy or camp.  The first third is particularly funny, as we meet weirdo or loser characters one by one - and then see them bloodily dispatched by a hidden killer.  It's funny to watch the pink beret guy and the ex-hippie love couple die in unexpected ways.

The total body count is very high - more than a dozen onscreen deaths! - and no two killings are alike.  The oddest killing might be the stringing up of the black hiker in his sleeping bag, perhaps a symbolic lynching.


The middle third is more routine as we get a good look at our killer: a primitive mountain man, dressed in rags, adorned with beads, armed with a machete and spear.  It was a nice idea to have the spear wrapped in furs, like a harpoon.  He lives in a garbage-strewn cabin, a little like the killer from Humongous.  He grunts and giggles, a little like the twins from Just Before Dawn.  He has no origin or explanation.


The final third is the least exciting, as attention shifts away from the four backpackers and toward a police manhunt.  Peter the British backpacker eventually becomes the hero.  A fat "Southern Sheriff" is actually portrayed seriously rather than for laughs (you'd think he would be a glutton or pervert, but no).


After the low budget, which forced sound and dialogue to be recorded separately, fans' biggest complaint is the score which veers from acoustic guitar... to ominous single-note keyboard sounds... to annoying keyboard "chopping" sounds intended to intensify the killings.  The chopping increases as the time progresses.  I liked the movie better than most viewers, but even I got sick of the chopping.  The climax recalls The Hills Have Eyes - becoming a savage to defeat a savage - but without the irony.


I might be overrating it, but I maintain that the first third - and several moments thereafter - are good for camp.  Fake blood is rarely put to such extensive use.  And the Utah mountains, fields, and rivers are certifiably beautiful.  It has a feeling of freshness to it, as a project made by a group of friends like Demon Lover or  Equinox.  Some cinematography is creative, including the running tracking shot at 46:00 and the upside-down worms'-eye view at 77:50.


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

Don't miss: Final Girl?

Quotable query: "How do you tell the rabid from the unrabid?"






Of course what Harryhausen and Bradbury really vowed was that they would "grow old but never grow up."



THE EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN (Freddie Francis, 86 min, color, 1964) - REVISION & EXTENSION

What's Happening: Baron Frankenstein flees authorities and tries to revive his monster

Famous For: Third in Hammer's Frankenstein series starring Peter Cushing


A plot too dependent on coincidence makes Evil of Frankenstein one of Cushing's less popular Frankenstein films.  Yet you almost root for his character here.  He's slightly less cold-hearted than in the other films, and he even has a moment - in the tavern - when he can't control his impulses.  It's a telling moment: though the baron loses control, it's only because he can't stand anyone asserting authority over him.


Though some of the supporting characters seem ad hoc, the Victorian Gothic atmosphere is very strong, and the half dozen lab scenes are uncommonly good for clanking sparking steaming machines.  The longest lab scene - an early flashback - might be the single best of the series, though it's obviously indebted to the Universal original.

Also taken - and not improved - from Universal's films are an image of the monster frozen in ice and, most obviously, the look of the monster himself.  The action picks up in the final 20 minutes, although the monster is usually hypnotized or drunk.  Perhaps more could have been done with the hypnotist; it's interesting how he focuses on the monster's mind while the baron focuses on the body.  Next came Frankenstein Created Woman.


Action: 7. Gore: 7. Sex: 4. Quality: 5. Camp: 3.

Don't Miss: Good matte paintings of the chateau

Notable Difficulty: "He'll understand you.  He just won't obey you."






 FLIGHT TO MARS (Lesley Selander, 72 min, color, 1951) - SLIGHTLY REVISED ENTRY

What's Happening: Rocket crew on first flight to Mars encounters eerily friendly Martians

Famous For: Early space flight film; late Monogram production


Nothing terrible here, but nothing particularly exciting.  Hot on the success of Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M, Flight to Mars offered a familiar take on the "first space flight" motif.  The twist, which probably should have been played up, is that the launch is a controversial government project kept secret even from members of Congress.


The crew includes a hot scientist babe and two rival suitors but also, interestingly, two older men, one of them a grandfather.  The hero (Cameron Mitchell, who later made Toolbox Murders) is a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and provides slight comic relief.  The engineer (Arthur Franz of Atomic Submarine) becomes co-hero by the end.  Everyone takes their jobs in stride, and they even smoke pipes in the spaceship capsule.

The Martians look completely human (even their hairstyles are the same) and speak perfect English picked up from receiving Earth's radio broadcasts over the years.  Morris Ankrum (Invaders from Mars) has a fun role as a Martian councilman.


Most notable is how the movie looks.  The colorful Martian costumes are cliched yet attractive - the men wear boots, capes, and tunics emblazoned with heroic symbols; the women sport shoulder pads and tiny skirts.  There are some convincing painted backdrops and Martian interiors.  The sets and special effects resemble those of Things to Come or This Island Earth.  Overall the movie is competent and diverting, but most of it feels undramatic.  It would have been nice to see one of the "space cylinders" heading back to Earth.


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

Don't miss: "Alita" is a nod to Aelita: Queen of Mars

Notable supposition: "If space is limitless and endless, then the opposite must be true, too: smallness never ends, either."



GENOCIDE (Kazui Nihonmatsu, 84 min, color, 1968) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Island insects become intelligent and band together to destroy humanity

Famous For: Strange combination of Insect Fear, Eco Terror, Cold War drama, and more


All four of Shochiku's late-60s genre films are noticeably downbeat compared to Toho's or Toei's or Daiei's, and Genocide might be the most downbeat of all.  It anticipates Prophecies of Nostradamus, and like that film it's a bizarre mixture of elements: monster movies, disaster movies, spy movies, war movies, crime movies, even romantic dramas.  In his liner notes for the Eclipse DVD, Chuck Stephens praises the "outrageously strange brew."  It's less loopy and more angry than Prophecies.  It's hard to compare with anything else (except perhaps Phase IV or The Bees), so I might be underrating it below.


We meet nearly a dozen characters before a Tokyo doctor emerges as the hero.  A different character emerges as the villain, and it's a fair bet that you won't guess who.  Actually, you probably won't guess the fate of a single Genocide  character until that fate is nearly upon them.


Better special effects and more insect attacks would have been nice, but the film is never boring.  Psychedelic titles and a psychedelic "insect voice" sequence anticipate Godzilla vs. Hedorah.  The island setting and overcast skies evoke desolation and isolation.  The scene-to-scene rhythm is choppy, with odd momentum, but amusing lines of dialogue come every few minutes.


Here are some of my favorite lines: "Thank you for the poisonous insects."  "I just love insects because they never lie."  "Insects are singing about destroying humanity."  "Our history is a cycle of hate and war."  "You're as toxic as your insects!"  "Humanity is facing extinction, and now this!"


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

Don't Miss: Net result

Quotable line: "Insects have babies too."




GOKE: BODY SNATCHER FROM HELL (Hajime Soto, 84 min, color, 1968) - REVISED ENTRY

What's Happening: After plane crash, stranded passengers are menaced by an alien blob-vampire

Famous For: Good gore effects


Shochiku Company's Goke lay obscure for decades but slowly gathered a reputation as one of the most bizarre and downbeat Japanese sci-fi films of the 1960s.  The opening 10 minutes are incredible.  Some parts are annoying, with too many debates between angry unlikeable characters on the wrecked plane.  The simplistic "war is bad" message is repeated ad nauseum.  Only the pilot hero and stewardess heroine are likeable.  Yet when the effects come, they are very good.


The key sequences are those when the blob hypnotizes and enters the bodies of its victims.  It splits open your head and crawls inside!  Pretty darn weird.  The vampire bites are superfluous - just the blob body snatchers would have been enough.  But the bites, like the instantly crumbling corpses, invoke a surreal claustrophobic atmosphere.


The alien spaceships are glowing orange saucers with minimalist Expressionist interiors.  Red-tinted stock photos of the Vietnam War are facile and obvious, but they reflect the worldwide pessimism of 1968.  The actor playing the hijacker/vampire is very well cast; he has a plastic-looking face like a supervillain from an early-60s DC comic book.  Quentin Tarantino loved the red clouds at the opening.  See also Matango or Lost Continent.


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

Don't miss: Whiskey sour

Quotable line: "Humanity's annihilation is inevitable."




GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (Guido Malatesta, 92 min dubbed, color, 1961) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Super-strong hero fights monsters, giants, and an evil king

Famous For: One of the best myth-inspired pepla


Perhaps the most perfectly constructed of all fantasy pepla, "Goliath contro i giganti" first appeared in 1961 as the subgenre reached its peak. It takes viewers on a dazzling journey from cities to seas to forests to deserts to, at last, a valley of monsters and fire. Sets and matte paintings are simply gorgeous. The story is straightforward, as the hero methodically makes his way back to his homeland to free his people from their evil king, while the king (and his consort, the brains of the operation) plots to thwart the hero each step of the way.


There are no lulls. Action comes often, with many creatively filmed fights. Dozens of good guys and bad guys are pierced by arrows. Blood is minimized, but a double-bladed "torture wheel" is original and frightening. The monsters are giant lizards, nothing spectacular but at least average when compared to other monsters of the subgenre.


The main flaw is the climax, when the "giants" turn out to be a small band of neanderthals of above-average height. But I consider the 10-minute battle that precedes the climax to be the REAL climax. The second flaw is probably Brad Harris, perhaps the stiffest of all bodybuilders who played peplum heroes. But while Harris can't project the personality of a Mark Forest (or even a Steeve Reeves), he looks like he actually belongs in ancient Greece.

Some peplum stars, like Gordon Scott or Kirk Morris, were so good-looking that their toughness seemed compromised. Harris looks like a Greek hero should look. A third flaw might be the stock characters. But how important are characters in sword-and-sandal films? The main point is the spectacle, and herein lies spectacle aplenty.


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

Don't miss: Carrying out orders

Quotable line: "There is only one man... and his name is Goliath."





HELP ME... I'M POSSESSED (Charles Nizet, 80 min, color, 1974/1976) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Mad doctor keeps evil freaks chained beneath his CA castle

Famous For: Obscure independent exploitation a.k.a. "The Possessed"

It seems unjust that Blood of Dracula's Castle has a cult following but Help Me does not.  It's an amazing, ridiculous, hilarious, gross exploitation comedy that never takes itself seriously yet takes its audience seriously and tries to give us what we want.  I'm pretty sure that Bill Greer (who later had moderate success as a TV writer and producer) was acting stiffly and stupidly on purpose in his star performance as the demented Dr. Blackwood.  Dig his powder blue lab coat.

Camera angles are surprisingly creative, given that the director is most famous for Rescue Force (1990).  Most people make fun of the blowing red streamers ("flapping Twizzlers" says blogger Bleeding Skull in an August 2005 review) for the demon effect, but I must admit I thought they were weird and scary, at least at first.

Speaking of demon effects - the chase through the woods at 50:00 seems a direct influence on Evil Dead: the camera takes the demon's p.o.v. as it chases the helpless female through the woods, with a swirling grinding sound.  Also as in Evil Dead, the female takes refuge in a cabin, but the unseen demon busts the door with one blow.

While the murder and gore scenes (with obvious fake blood) are fun, the loopy dialogue could be the main appeal.  The co-writers are clearly joking around.  "Death is a fabrication of the mind."  "There will be more murders... more blood."  "The cat had been ripped to shreds, just like it had been through a meat grinder."  "Strange... but when I saw Mr. Zolak's head severed from his body, I felt a definite sexual thrill."  "I was idealistic only because I was dealing with intangibles."  It's like Ed Wood - if Ed Wood were just a notch more witty.

Every scene is ugly in a campy way, with obvious plywood sets, wigs on the ladies, big hair and sideburns on the men, and quirky non-sequitur decorations on display: a model cannon, a skull, an Aztec cat, a bust of Beethoven.  A mute chauffeur tries to rape the doctor's wife, a guillotine chops a head after a candle burns the rope, and a mumbling hunchbacked servant cuts off a dead blonde's legs to fit her into a miniature coffin... but then just dumps the coffin into a big hole anyway.  No nudity (which was a good call: it helps with the light touch), but lots of underwear.  Michael J. Weldon calls it all "pretty fascinating."  The Black Sleep had similar elements.  See also Frozen Scream.

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

Don't miss: Bronson Caverns

Notable conundrum: "He doesn't remember anything he doesn't like.  And he doesn't like anything."

HONEYMOON HORROR (Harry Preston, 92 min, color, 1982) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Newlywed couples on "Love Island" are stalked by an axe-murderer

Famous For: Very popular when released on VHS


The advent of digital effects is the main reason why Claws & Saucers stops at 1982.  Because of the digital shift, movies began to feel modern and slick in the mid 80s. But 1982 also marks the beginning of the home video revolution. The very first horror picture to be created specifically for the VHS market was Blood Cult (1985), but earlier pictures that only briefly played in theaters became minor hits when picked up for video release. Honeymoon Horror is the best known of these minor video hits.


It's basically a cheap silly slasher in the Friday the 13th tradition, with a little of The Burning, Anthropophagus, and perhaps Empire of the Ants thrown in for good measure. You (my Dear Reader) are surely watching for camp: the moustached guys with unbuttoned shirts and tight jeans, the ditsy ladies who wander outside at night in skimpy clothes even when they know a killer is loose, a near-continuous parade of silly sex jokes ("who needs clothes on a honeymoon?"), a slovenly Texas sheriff who never stops chompin' cigars. It's pretty good camp.


But I need to give the picture credit for trying sincerely to entertain us. Pacing is quick, shots vary nicely from the bird's-eye to the worm's-eye, and cheesy but fun music pops up for the stalking or attack scenes. An extended eight-minute coda is confusing at first but satisfying by the end.

Although the wait is MUCH too long between the first killing and the second, the cheap gore effects - severed arm, spurting artery, and chopped head - are impressive given the low budget. Of course the gore comes mixed with camp, including "dead" Linda obviously breathing at 54:24 and an axe-to-the-head that nearly slides off (with its wig) at the conclusion.


Though most of the dialogue is flat or forced, it's nice that the script focuses on twenty-something couples rather than teens. The most prominent character is half-heroine and half-villainess. No characters are developed, but several characters - and the picture as a whole - become surprisingly likeable by the end.


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

Don't miss: No time to weight

Notable update: "We found them all... hacked beyond recognition."





IN THE DUST OF THE STARS (Gottfried Kolditz, 95 min, color, 1976) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Space explorers find a planet whose simple inhabitants are enslaved by decadent conquerors

Famous For: Psychedelic sci-fi from East Germany; a.k.a. "Im Staub Der Sterne"


If you tried Sygnaly MMXX and nearly fell asleep, don't let that discourage you from trying In the Dust of the Stars.  It's still cheaply made (many sets are obviously painted cardboard, and there are no special effects) but it has a real plot, real characters, and a real theme.  It's well paced and tightly constructed, with each scene building upon a previous scene.  The story recalls peplum films where a small band of heroes must help slaves resist an evil warlord.  Star Trek's "Cloud Minders" episode (1969) might also be an influence.


Some points strain credibility; for example, why would the rescue/exploration ship be so thinly staffed, so weaponless, so bereft of supplies and equipment?  But it's clear that the whole was intended to be pulpy, kooky, perhaps funny at times.

The astronauts attend a party where the guests play on swings, nets, and trampolines.  One female astronaut does a naked yoga dance in silhouette.  Sprayable foods recall the aroma sticks from Voyage to the End of the Universe.  The boss bad guy is a cross between a James Bond villain and a Glam Rocker.  He skips, dances, paints his hair, and twirls a cape.


It's a little like Zardoz, but nimble rather than ponderous.  It has some Ken Russell-type sets, ugly yet impressive.  Most action is dramatic rather than physical, but an actual salt mine - with straight stone walls rising more than 200 feet - makes a unique location for some brief but fun fight scenes.

It's got mirror mazes, a moon buggy with a bumper that moves up and down, and a hallway where black cloaks surround bald heads that animate and grunt.  Weird, trippy, but not without pathos and good intentions.  It's impressive that four of the six explorers are women, including the captain.  Everything apparently takes place in an alternate galaxy.  Great music too, like Tangerine Dream.


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

Don't miss: Radar+1

Notable paradox: "Distractions help me concentrate."





THE INCUBUS (John Hough, 92 min, color, 1982) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Small-town teen dreams of demonic rapes and murders... which happen for real
Famous For: Stars John Cassavetes from Rosemary's Baby
Cassavetes plays a tired and troubled doctor who is new in town.  But neither he, nor any other character, takes center stage for long, and this lack of focus is one reason why fans and critics have given Incubus a pretty bad reputation.  It feels like it was rewritten or filmed in a hurry.  It's also heavy-handed with a score that strains to tell you when to feel scared.  Just when it seems to be building toward a climax, it bogs down with 10 minutes of conversation culminating in a confusing anticlimax.  Mike Mayo even gives it a zero rating!
But the standout action scenes - especially the rape in the museum library and the encounter in the barn - are very well shot.  Onscreen gore is surprisingly minimal, but the movie feels gory because so much is suggested.  Even the conversations feel gory.  It's often sleazy, but it's sleazy on purpose to make the demon repulsive.  Individual characters get less attention than we might prefer, but the movie seems more concerned with the town than the townsfolk.  Glimpses of nudity evoke a feel of vulnerability.
Gothic atmosphere could have been stronger, but the movie gives enough hints and suggestions (like the town name "Galen" which sounds like "Salem") to get us thinking.  As Brian Bankston puts it (in a Cool Ass Cinema review from 2/7/11) the movie is "generally unpleasant" in a way that makes it at least partly effective.  At 52:30, Iron Maiden fans will enjoy a glimpse of Bruce Dickinson with his previous - and pretty good - band Samson.  Hough also directed Legend of Hell House.

Action: 6. Gore: 7. Sex: 3. Quality: 5. Camp: 2.

Don't miss: Wheelchair-eye view

Notable worry: "There's this thing in Tim's dream that goes running around murdering and raping people."


JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (Don Chaffey, 104 min, color, 1963) - REVISED ENTRY

What's Happening: Jason and the Argonauts on a quest for the Golden Fleece

Famous For: Best of all Greek myth movies; Ray Harryhausen special effects

I love this movie and think it a rousing success all around.  No other movie of this type - neither the Italian pepla, nor the ambitious Clash of the Titans, nor the excellent and underrated Troy (2004) - achieves Jason's atmosphere of ancient wonder, romance, adventure, and glory.

There are some unintentionally funny bits like the skeletons' scream or the figurehead's eyes.  But there is excellent quality in the sets, costumes, scenery, costumes, weapons and armor, you name it.  The colors are lush and grand.  The Italian landscapes, seascapes, and Roman ruins lie bountifully before us.

Though the cinematography is not famous, shots of all types are perfectly composed from the slow-motion sail at 23:40 to the worm's eye view of Talos at 38:00 to the many silent "crystal ball" images looking down from cloud-tinged Mount Olympus.

The stop-motion effects are probably Harryhausen's best.  The iron giant Talos, the seven-headed hydra, and the climactic battle with the skeletons remain startlingly convincing.  Listen to the creaking of Talos's stiff limbs.  Imagine the speed and power of the hydra's heads.

Marvel at the fighting skeletons: this is the signature Harryhausen sequence.  Working alone as always, it took Harryhausen four and a half months to animate this sequence.  It took two days to animate each second of footage with all seven skeletons on screen at once.  The result is a landmark in the history of special effects.

I show this scene in my literature classes whenever I do a unit on Greek myths, and even the jaded college students of the 21st century are dazzled and amazed.

One should note that the story has been changed from the sources.  Talos is huge rather than man-sized.  Medea does little except get rescued and dance sexily; there is almost nothing of her fierce temper and sorceric powers.  Zeus and the other gods are cultured rather than boisterous.  Other caveats: The pacing is occasionally slow.  The score contains some Mickey Mousing.  But no other film has filled itself so fully with the power and wonder of the great Greek myths.

Jack Gwillim (who appears in Circus of Horrors) gives a fiery performance as King Aeetes.  Todd Armstrong did little else but is perfectly cast as Jason, so serious and determined.  Honor Blackman (Hera) was Pussy Galore in Goldfinger.  Michael Gwynn (Hermes) was Frankenstein's monster in Revenge of Frankenstein.  Patrick Troughton (Phineas) appeared in Scars of Dracula and The Omen.  Nancy Kovack wears crazy sparkly makeup during her sexy Medea dance; see her also in Diary of a Madman and the "Private Little War" episode of Star Trek (1968).  Bernard Herrmann's score rolls and sweeps with vitality; it echoes his 7th Voyage of Sinbad score in an early dance scene.  Chaffey also directed One Million Years B.C.

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

Don't miss: Sentimentality

Notable line: "The gods are best served by those who want their help least."

LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (Roger Watkins, 77 min, color, filmed 1972, released 1977) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: A porn director and his friends take bloody revenge on the porn mavens who cheated them

Famous For: Disgusting grindhouse horror


Here we have one of the sickest grindhouse exploitation flicks ever made.  Filmed in 1972-73 by writer-producer-director-star Watkins, the picture was released in 1977 by unscrupulous distributors who had purchased the footage years earlier, re-edited everything, and titled the product to imitate Last House on the Left.  Some sources claim it was released as "The Cuckoo Clocks of Hell" in 1974, but most sources say it wasn't actually released until 1977.


The plot is simple enough, though it's sometimes hard to remember the characters because of the uneven rhythm.  Apparently the characters were developed in some lost original footage.  Exploitation includes casual nudity, a woman in blackface whipped by a hunchback at a party, and - the main event - more than 30 minutes of torture, humiliation, mutilation, and murder.  The whipping is contrived, but it makes its point: the porn mavens are a bunch of jerks, so we viewers may take a little pleasure in their eventual demise.


As for the gore, you see far less than in Bloodsucking Freaks or the H.G. Lewis classics, but everything feels raw and nasty.  An increasingly sordid atmosphere is created by obvious but effective echoing whispers, heartbeat sound effects, or weird twisting music.  The tormentors wear disturbing-looking masks, including an ancient Greek actor's mask which provides Dead End's single most memorable image.


The tormentors laugh relentlessly at their victims.  A severed goat's hoof is used in an egregious humiliation toward the end.  You can make comparisons to Carnival of Blood (sleazy NY atmosphere, and bizarre rambling conversations), Cannibal Holocaust (exploiting the exploiters, and a film-within-a-film), Texas Chainsaw (slaughterhouse footage), Peeping Tom (filming a murder while committing it), and Giallo a Venezia (the leg saw, and the attempt to put as much sickness on screen as possible).


The no-budget production values - including dialogue consisting solely of dubbing and voice-overs - work consistently in the picture's favor, helping us to forgive some meandering interludes and non-sequiturs.    It feels improvised but inspired.  Historically, it's remarkable for taking snuff films as subject matter, though the term itself isn't used.  (The idea of a snuff film was new in 1971-72, as details of the Manson murders were made public.)


Action: 5.  Gore:8.  Sex: 2.  Quality: 7.  Camp: 4.

Don't miss: Unfortunate voice-over coda

Notable foreshadowing: "Nobody's interested in sex anymore."





Although some sources claim 1975 or 1973, it looks like 1972 is the correct year of release.



MAGDALENA, POSSESSED BY THE DEVIL (Walter Boos, 83 min uncut, color, 1974) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Boarding school teen gets possessed by a demon

Famous For: Very first Exorcist imitator


West Germany was the first of several European countries to make an Exorcist imitator.  Did they film it as an intellectual theological drama?  Of course not!  They filmed it as exploitation.  The director, in fact, is best known for the "Schoolgirl Report" softcore film series.


So "Magdalena, vom Teufel besessen" or "Magdalena: The Devil Inside the Female" includes just a few horror elements, including weird buzzing sounds that signal the presence of the demon, a couple of brief murders, and a very brief exorcism.  Mostly it's an excuse to have the orange-blonde (anti)heroine writhe on the floor, foam at the mouth, insult people, seduce people, and smash things while scantily clad or buck naked.


Judging it for exploitation, I must admit it's not bad.  The cast is energetic, and Dagmar Hedrich (who did almost nothing else) is fun even when dubbed.  She seems very into her nude scenes.  Other characters come and go - including boarding school matrons, a couple of lesbians, some doctors, and a priest - but Magdalena herself is the center.  She also gains brute strength, which she uses to smash a door, break a rapist's arm, and rip a Bible in half.


Instead of a crescendo of morbidity as in the original Exorcist or a steady stream of cruelty as in other imitators such as Demon Witch Child, Magdalena alternates between possession and innocence, with the protagonist briefly returning to sanity before lapsing again into obscenity.  Some interludes are boring, but you never wait long for exploitation.


Extra interest comes from the settings, including West German bars and restaurants that look different from the American, British, or Italian ones we've seen so often. The insect connection is also interesting, as insects provide the identity of the demon from Exorcist II.  A crucifixion, a satanic tattoo, and a few other horror elements are tossed in tangentially.  Unwitting camp comes from a too-happy score that sounds like it was written by Herb Alpert.  Not worth searching out, but decent for exploitation.


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

Don't miss: Brotherly love

Quotable rhyme: "There's a fly here.  A fly this time of the year."






MYSTERIOUS PLANET (Brett Piper, 70 min, color, 1982) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Space travelers are marooned on a planet with strange beasts and a mute native girl

Famous For: Low-budget stop-motion animated beasts


The nostalgia factor is very high with this obscure sci-fi adventure.  It has a dreamy understated mood with gray matte paintings and simple keyboard-driven background music.  Yet in its way, it's surprisingly ambitious.  Though nothing is original, LOTS is happening.  We get scenes at the shore, in the woods, in the snow, and in a cave.  We get models, masks, stop-motion, and space effects.  We get ray gun battles, spinning asteroids, crashed spacecraft, and giant holograms.  We even get a native babe in a leather bikini.


Much of the above lasts only seconds on screen, but the quick edits ensure that we are never bored.  Animated beasts include a giant two-headed snail, a sauropod with a round head, and a snake-trilobite with a red eye.  The native babe appears to be naked for two seconds in a long shot.  One crew member is an alien who resembles The Thing from the Fantastic Four, but smooth and blue.  Creative touches include a peep into a moonshine bottle, a mind-meld flashback, and a laser cannon fired from the eye of a skull-shaped mountain.


Of course it's all cheap and amateurish, and some dialogue has an echo (due to a technical issue apparently in the original cut), but it's all well-intended, and much more likeable than my ratings can suggest.  Its influences - Star Wars, Mysterious Island, etc. - are obvious.  The nearest comparisons are Wizard of Mars, Planet of Dinosaurs, and Equinox.  The crew uniforms recall Battlestar Galactica.  Writer-director-producer Piper later made exploitative genre pictures like They Bite (1996) or Shock-o-Rama (2005).


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

Don't miss: Comic book ending

Notable realization: "We don't know anything about this planet we're on."





Until restored DVDs were released in the early 2000s, many of the opening credits were unreadable fuzzy gray words against a fuzzy gray background. Some dialogue remains obscure.







Although some sources say 1975, the correct year is 1977.



SATANICO PANDEMONIUM (Gilberto Martinez Solares, 89 min, color, 1975) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Meek nun finds herself slowly seduced by Satan

Famous For: Great title; a.k.a. "Satanico Pandemonium: La Sexorcista"

This wonderfully outrageous title is ironically at odds with this slow and unhappy movie.  Sure it has some nudity (mostly the anti-heroine's breasts) and gore (mostly in one stabbing scene toward the end), but it's more of a downbeat psychological drama akin to Repulsion than a crazy nunsploitation flick like Alucarda.  It's focused almost completely on the anti-heroine, and from the beginning we recognize that some - or most - of what transpires might be her personal hallucinations.

The simple story is a crescendo (or decrescendo) of episodes, as Satan appears or disappears in the form of a peasant or a lord, tempting Sister Maria with sex.  Sometimes she resists, sometimes she gives in, and sometimes she murders people in frustration.  While the actress seems to be taking the role seriously, the character is pathetic and unlikeable.  You keep wanting her to break out of her isolation, but she never really does.

Pacing is very slow, especially for the first hour.  The worried score sometimes swells into a pool of discordant electronic sounds.  Many images are surprisingly pleasant, from the old nunnery to the lush Mexican countryside.  The procession of nuns by the cave and waterfall, before the conclusion, is perhaps the most memorable single image.  The story is apparently set in the 1700s.  If you can stand the slow pacing, you can sense an otherworldly atmosphere from the images and sounds.

As for the exploitation, it is middling.  Both Satan and the heroine are fully naked for about one second on screen.  The heroine hallucinates brief flashes of how she might be tortured if Inquisitors capture her.  A dozen nuns sing and dance for about two minutes during a partly-naked lesbian bacchanal toward the conclusion.  The coda tricks us, backing away from most of what came before.  Ultimately, it's closer to pro-Catholic than anti-Catholic.

For real nuttiness, you'll need to see Alucarda or Malabimba, or seek out Ken Russell's The Devils.  Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino later used the title to name the sexy dancer in the disappointing From Dusk till Dawn (1996).

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

Don't miss: Mandolins

Quotable line: "I don't FEAR hell, for I AM hell!"

SATAN'S BLACK WEDDING (Nick Millard, 62 min, color, 1975) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Hero investigates sister's suicide and encounters vampire priest and nuns

Famous For: Bottom-budget camp


With this entry, I presume my Dear Reader is seeking hilariously ridiculous Manos-type shlock. That's what you're gonna get with Satan's Black Wedding, along with a few decent shots of the Monterey coast. As you'll expect, the story is cliche, the actors are amateurs, the script is simplistic, and so on... but all in a pretty entertaining way. Actually, the director attempts to be artful with all the closeups, the odd angles, and the quick editing. It's not boring.


The evil priest has a fun Edgar Allan Poe look. The solo piano score (which segues into Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" during one vampire attack) is often genuinely moody and enticing. Some woodwinds accent the score in later scenes. Lots of fake blood gets used in the early suicide scene and in a good impalement at the end.  The hero's girlfriend says, "I hate the whole stupid ritual of funerals."  The ending is too quick, but it's not bad. Andy Milligan fans should see it.


The Shock-o-Rama DVD includes a 2005 commentary from writer-director Millard which is mostly silence. He makes fun of the film a few times, admitting too many closeups or crossing the axis of action ("crossing the line," as he says). He supposes the vampires are "something different" since they can walk in the sun. The rat stock footage was from Willard. The coffins only cost $40 each. Millard made dozens of other cheap exploitation flicks including Criminally Insane.


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

Impossible to miss: Fake vampire fangs

Notable reward: "Life everlasting in the world of darkness."



SECRET OF THE TELEGIAN   (Jun Fukuda, 85 min, color, 1960) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Using a teleportation device, a soldier takes revenge on the conspirators who left him for dead

Famous For: Makes a nice comparison to The Human Vapor


Never great as a science fiction film, Toho's Telegian ("Denso Ningen") is good fun if you see it as a crime thriller with a sci-fi gimmick.  It is briskly paced, well acted, and well shot.  Several characters are developed.  We have mixed feelings for the vengeance-seeking "telegian" as for his victims; everyone is partly guilty but partly sympathetic.  Japanese viewers will probably glean extra symbolic meanings from the politics: the telegian and the scientist are idealistic nationalists, while their conspirator-foes are amoral and utilitarian.  Our heroes, a reporter and a cop, are typical but likeable.


For sci-fi fans, the highlight might be the old professor's explanation of teleportation at the halfway mark.  It's not unlike other explanations (c.f. The Fly), but it's very clear.  It's interesting how the mind is as important as the body.  Special effects are slight, but they look convincing as the telegian blinks in and out, with lines, like an old TV signal.  You finally see the machine at the end.


The volcano is an obvious plot device, but at least the script sets it up before the conclusion.  Telegian has a poor reputation among fans, but I maintain that it's good if you know what to expect.  Jun Fukuda's direction has a dynamic quality that stands in contrast to Ishiro Honda's contemplativeness.  Fukuda later directed the amazing Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla.  See also The Atomic Man and 4D Man.


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

Don't miss: Grenade or missile?

Notable device: The Klyotron


THE SILENT STAR (Kurt Maetzig, 90 min restored, color, 1960) - REVISED ENTRY

What's Happening: Rocket crew discovers ruins of Venusian civilization

Famous For: Adapted from Stanislaw Lem's The Astronauts; first East German sci-fi feature


Until a First Run DVD was released in 2005, Americans knew this one as "First Spaceship on Venus" in its 78-min dubbed version.  I reviewed that version for the first edition of C&S and derided it as boring and confusing.  But when I watched "Der Schweigende Stern" in 2014 I was delighted.  It's still too talky, sometimes boring, for the first half.  But the conversations make more sense, with dialogue and ideas building on themselves.


The restored version has a freshness to it - a sense of wonder akin to Destination Moon or Rocketship X-M - that was completely obscured in the truncated dubbed version.  The colors are fresher too.  But the film also touches on tragedy and loss.  References to Hiroshima get a little heavy-handed in implying American menace, but they also imply that the Venusians were dangerous and powerful.  Ruined cities meld with glass plants and blobby landscapes.  Could anything be left alive?


More ruins, not to mention more action, would have been nice.  But the mystery is multiplex, and the explanations are much more science-based than in comparable American films of the time.

Other strong points include a completely multicultural crew, a silver streamlined spaceship, a cute robot on treads, and German-derived words like Intervision (worldwide television), Cosmokrator (the main spaceship), or Elasticoptor (a scout ship).  Be ready for inconsistent effects which are great one moment (e.g. the rotating searchlight atop the spacehip) and silly the next (e.g. undisguised strings on the jumping mechanical insects).


The dubbed version makes the captain American, but the original had a Russian captain.  Of course the Russians really did send spaceships to Venus in the 60s, 70s, and 80s: the Venera probes, which transmitted pictures and maps before succumbing to the planet's hellish heat and pressure.  During the Cold War, the one solid link between the US and its Eastern Bloc competitors was this committment to science and space.


Action: 5.  Gore: 4.  Sex: 5.  Quality: 7.  Camp: 3.

Don't miss: Cable car

Quotable query: "Why is Venus silent?"



THE TERRORNAUTS (Montgomery Tully, 77 min, color, 1967) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Aliens abduct a science team and test them for a mysterious mission

Famous For: Ambitious science fiction from Amicus


Amicus remains most famous for horror anthologies, but they also made a couple of decent sci-fi films including They Came from Beyond Space which was more about action and The Terrornauts which was more about atmosphere.  Pacing is almost uniformly steady, with events getting weirder as we go, up to a nearly epic climax.


Due to the presence of two comic relief characters - a Cockney maid and a fussbudget auditor - we sense that nothing can REALLY go wrong.  Yet it's pretty tense and bizarre when our heroine accidentally teleports to a hostile planet and is immediately grabbed by the locals and dragged to an altar to be sacrificed.


Cut the film some slack, especially with the simple spaceship models (far inferior to American or Japanese ones of the period) or the message translators that look like shower caps fitted with suction cups (which is what they are).  Then enjoy the geometric space base interiors and the quirky electronic sounds in the alien control room.


One particularly well-edited sequence, starting at 26:00, is an pan and zoom into space, up to an asteroid, forward to the space base, inside the base, and - at last - onto a darkened doorway out of which we just know something sinister will emerge.  Later, the tests that the humans undergo are intriguing, though you can probably guess the solutions.


Characters are thinly drawn, which is surprising given the long buildup, but the actors make them likeable.  Simon Oates (Doomwatch) is the focused hero.  Zena Marshall (the seductress in the mountain house from Dr. No) is whom I'll call the heroine, though she mostly serves as the hero's secretary.  Overall it feels like a cross between an early Star Trek episode and This Island Earth.  It's charmingly sincere, and it squeezes everything it can out of its low budget.


Watch for a special effects gaffe at 15:45 when smoke from a volcano goes "behind" a moon in the sky.  Note a robot that resembles Gog.  The co-producers (American-born Max Rosenberg and British-born Milton Subotsky) were the Amicus co-founders.  Montgomery Tully also directed Battle Beneath the Earth.


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

Don't miss: Ultrasonic hallucination

Notable understatement: "It looks as though we've got our answer, hasn't it?"






TOM THUMB (George Pal, 98 min, color, 1958) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Lavish adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale

Famous For: Pal's first feature as a director; a.k.a. "tom thumb"


While best known to Claws & Saucers readers for directing The Time Machine and producing War of the Worlds, George Pal was best known in the 1940s and 50s for his Puppetoons shorts. Tom himself is live, played in an early standout performance by Russ Tamblyn. But several of Tom's toys come to life with dazzling animation, both stop-motion and "replacement animation" - a technique pioneered by Pal, with separate models used in nearly every shot. You'll notice a slight rippling effect, but also greater detail, with replacement animation.


The film's highlight comes early: 10 full minutes of Tom dancing and playing alongside a host of kooky toys. But the whole film is fun, if aimed mostly at kids aged 6-10. I watched it with my six-year-old, and he was particularly amazed when Tom danced with the cartoon portrait, like when Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweighparents'. All sets and matte paintings are scrupulously detailed. Check out the furnishings in Tom's parents' cottage: the wooden lines and shapes. Enjoy the setting: a pre-Victorian German mountain village tinged with magic. Enjoy the famous theme song, remarkable for its being mostly instrumental.


You can see how Pal's light touch serves the material well. In more serious movies (e.g. Atlantis the Lost Continent) Pal can turn ponderous. But not here. Bill Warren (p.449) thinks it ranks alongside War of the Worlds as Pal's best film. tom thumb's few flaws include some awkward superimpositions, and an extraneous Alan Young character who takes time away from Tom and his parents. (My six-year-old demanded I fast-forward through Young's love songs.) Disney's Pinocchio is an obvious but welcome influence. For more replacement animation, see Beast of Hollow Mountain.


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

Don't miss: Woody Woodpecker at 21:30

Quotable lament: "A toy without a child is almost as sad as a child without a toy."



THE TOY BOX  (Ronald Victor Garcia, 90 min, color, 1971) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: Swingers at a sex party might be the victims of an alien who wants to turn them into pill capsules

Famous For: Bizarre hippie-era exploitation

head-shakingBe ready for a lot of fairly explicit softcore sex scenes.  Then watch with head-shaking confusion as this bizarre sex/drug/horror/exploitation picture unfolds.  Most pictures of this type (e.g. The Joys of Jezebel) are 90% comedic.  The Toy Box is funny in some early scenes, but it gets freakier as it goes.  At times, it almost succeeds as sci-fi horror.  When "Uncle" uses his alien powers, you hear a distorted chorus like when the sand opens up in Invaders from Mars.

Scenes skip around, some narrated, some in flashback, as our hero and heroine make their way to a mansion that resembles Ted Mikels' Glendale castle.  Inside, a telepathic old guy named "Uncle" (who may be dead, or a robot) hosts sex parties where the guests are paid for their "tricks."  You'll see the usual whippings, bondage, lesbians, and a pretty impressive orgy that starts halfway through.  It has lots of full female nudity and brief full male nudity.

The actual "toy box" is a bank with windup hand that grabs the coins.  It's supposed to be the alien's means of rewarding the swingers.  But most rewards come from a chest with a mysterious lit-up interior like in Kiss Me Deadly.  But maybe "toy box" is metaphorical, as the whole mansion is the "box" and the swingers are the alien's "toys."

Michael J. Weldon (the go-to guy for this kind of movie) says "Most of it's too dark to see well and it sure doesn't make much sense."  The remastered Something Weird DVD is not too dark; actually it looks great.  My "Quality" rating may seem high, below, but The Toy Box aims to be weird, and freaky, and sexy, and surprising, and that's just what it is.  This movie gives its audience what it wants - and more.

My main criticisms are (1) an unnecessary twist at the ending that doesn't play fair with the viewer, and (2) Sean Kenney (Captain Pike from the original Star Trek) is angry and awful.  But if you're interested in this stuff, you have to see it.

Harry Novak co-produced.  Ron Garcia later became a successful cinematographer.  Uschi Digard (the bed girl) was Russ Meyer's SuperSoul.  Liquid Sky (1983) had similar elements.

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

Don't miss: Black cardboard credits

Quotable line: "There is ecstasy in murder."

THE X FROM OUTER SPACE (Kazui Nihonmatsu, 88 min, color, 1967) - NEW ENTRY

What's Happening: En route to Mars, a spaceship picks up an egg that hatches on Earth into a giant monster

Famous For: Shochiku's lone kaiju film


Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell is Shochiku's best-known genre film, but X from Outer Space is more funGoke is angry in tone and offers less actionX is nutty and unrestrained, even sappy and goofy as it mixes romance and lounge jazz with kaiju destruction.


After a space opera setup featuring fine miniatures (like the Astro Boat with its spinning transmitters) and matte paintings (like the launch pad), the film falls into a familiar rhythm that alternates between (1) monster Guilala wrecking Japanese cities, (2) generals in a command center discussing things, and (3) our heroes in their space vehicles trying to save the day.  You can tell it comes late in the game, but you have to admire its buoyancy.

It has - as Chuck Stephens says in his liner notes for the Eclipse DVD -  "the sort of anything-goes attitude that often makes genre cinema feel so palpable and alive."  The love triangle is familiar, but it helps us get to know three characters.  I loved the film when I was a kid.


Creative touches in the direction include the shot from atop the Astro Boat at 30:13, the egg/earring cut at 42:45, the monster eye view at 49:48, and the triple laser at 53:33.  The special effects are inconsistent, with some silly-looking asteroids and some awkward superimpositions.  The red energy ball is superfluous.  But the battle scenes are great.  A jet smashes into Guilala's head!  The sheer variety of shots during the first big battle (roughly 50:00-52:00) is astonishing.  The coda recalls Gamera's Plan Z, but the foam attack that precedes the coda is so audacious that you laugh at it and admire it at once.


Guilala's appearance is an obvious influence on Toho's Megalon.  He's a bird-reptile-insect combination  whose most unusual feature is a horn (like a truck's air horn) in the center of his forehead.  His "ears" move up and down a few times.  Although he should have been depicted more often in slow motion (to imply strength and weight), he's extremely likeable.  Apparently he might one day return, because his egg - and the UFO saucer that transported the egg - is still out there.



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

Don't miss: Golden apples of the moon

Quotable line: "He's always drawn to energy."





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