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Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

I also cover vintage television at my sister site, CLASSICS ON THE TUBE , so please feel free to check that out as well.

Thanks for visiting!


Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Long Hair Of Death (1964)

Starring Barbara Steele, George Ardisson, Halina Zalewska, Robert Rains, Laureen Nuyen
Directed by Anthony Dawson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

As an innocent woman is burned alive for a murder she didn't commit, she places a curse on her condemners, and calls upon her young daughters to someday avenge her.

This was another horror vehicle for the beautiful and entrancing Italian star Barbara Steele, cast as the eldest daughter here, who is cruelly raped and done away with early in the film, only to return from the grave to fulfill her end of the curse.  Steele is at her most gorgeous here, compelling to watch throughout this very grim tale.  Director Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson) stages things rather nicely on a fairly limited castle set and improves upon the pacing in his last Steele showcase, Castle Of Blood.  In that film, there were some tedious sequences that went on a little too long, but this one moves along more seamlessly, driven by the performances of Steele and a strong supporting cast.  Although special effects are only sparsely used here, scenes in which a skeleton appears to "breathe" and of a grave caving in during a rainstorm are very well done and provide effective chills.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living And Became Mixed-Up Zombies (1964)

Starring Cash Flagg, Carolyn Brandt, Brett O'Hara, Atlas King, Sharon Walsh
Directed by Ray Dennis Steckler
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young man visiting a carnival becomes the latest victim of an evil fortune teller, who turns men into monsters who kill whomever she pleases.

Director Ray Dennis Steckler's picture, in which according to IMDB he also stars under the pseudonym Cash Flagg, is a weird amalgam of a movie, in which the horror sequences are frequently interrupted by filmed musical numbers being performed in the carnival setting.  The music sequences seem random, not commenting on the action in any way, and although some care was put into the choreography, the performances are filmed matter-of-factly, making it seem like Steckler captured them live on camera, and then edited them individually into his movie.  As a horror film, even if you forget the musical scenes, you're more likely to laugh than shriek at the results, in particular at odd shots of carnival puppetry and loopy camera movement during the hypnosis scenes.  Still you can't help but be entertained by this mess of a movie.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Crypt Of The Vampire (1964)

Starring Christopher Lee, Audry Amber, Ursula Davis, Jose Campos, Vera Valmont
Directed by Thomas Miller
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A European count fears his daughter may be the reincarnation of an ancient vampiress, who promised to return and destroy his family when they executed her.

This is an Italian film adaptation of one of the first vampire stories, 1872's "Carmilla."  While Wikipedia indicates the novel is fairly straightforward about who the vampire is, the film builds a mystery about her, suggesting it may be one of three women, the count's daughter, tortured by dreams of vampire killings, her father's mistress, or a beautiful stranger who comes to stay with the family after a carriage accident.  "Carmilla" is also known for suggesting the female vampire had a powerful attraction to her female victim, which would become the central focus of more explicit adaptations, but is only hinted at here.  I liked this film for its unique mystery angle and the filmmakers' crafting of suspense up to the climax.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Curse Of The Mummy's Tomb (1964)

Starring Terence Morgan, Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, George Pastell
Directed by Michael Carreras
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a brash American showman begins plans to exhibition a mummy and the contents of his tomb, the mummy returns to life and begins hunting down the tomb's desecrators.

This film was the second "Mummy" movie made by Britain's Hammer Films, the first of which benefitted from the strong performance of Christopher Lee in the title role, whose eyes expressed volumes from beneath the mummy's bandages.  This follow-up is not a sequel, but involves a different mummy stalking those who violated his tomb.  Although there are some new wrinkles to this plot, the climax is much the same as the previous film, visually repeating a memorable sequence with the mummy crashing through double doors to claim his latest victim.  Stuntman Dickie Owen plays the mummy this time and he has no hope of matching Lee's performance with his eyes barely perceptible under half closed slits in the bandages.  This film does surpass the first Hammer Mummy film in at least one respect, the superb production design by Bernard Robinson, who although he did fine work for the first picture, outdoes himself in creating absolutely breathtaking Egyptian artifacts.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Brain (1962)

Starring Anne Heywood, Peter Van Eyck, Cecil Parker, Bernard Lee, Jeremy Spenser
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist steals the brain of a dying financier for study and works to keep it alive, but the brain is so ruthless and powerful, it takes over his own mind.

According to Wikipedia, this was the third film adaptation of Curt Siodmak's novel "Donovan's Brain," after 1944's The Lady And The Monster and 1953's Donovan's Brain, and takes a somewhat different tack on the premise, focusing less on the novel's horror story, instead crafting a murder mystery as to who killed the financier in a plane crash.  Although well-done, it's a bit of a stretch that Holt's family and associates would answer any of Corrie's questions as he investigates the murder, driven by Holt's brain for answers.  For me, the 1953 adaptation is the best of the films, (and an earlier radio adaptation starring Orson Welles is very good as well).  While this version's mystery story is intriguing, it misses out by not focusing on the conflict between Corey/Corrie and the brain as it grows more powerful.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Starring Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway
Directed by Robert Aldrich
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The eccentric heiress to a Louisiana plantation, long thought responsible for a gruesome murder, turns to her cousin for help when her home is ordered demolished.

This film is an admirable showcase for Bette Davis and a fine supporting cast including some prestigious names like Olivia de Havilland, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, and Mary Astor, each reputed for memorable performances during Hollywood's Golden Age.  They are all quite good in their roles here, as is the photography by Joseph Biroc and Aldrich's direction.  The only detriment is this is very similar to Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.  In both films, Davis plays a former beauty who is thought to commit an act of violence in a flashback sequence at the start of the film, which also introduces a song that will be treasured by Davis' character throughout the film.  After the flashbacks, each film focuses on examining Davis' sanity living in and never leaving a  decaying house, along with the character of a loyal maid and a family member.  To be fair, the films are somewhat different in plot, but it's too bad this wasn't a more varied follow-up.

The Night Walker (1964)

Starring Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, Judith Meredith, Hayden Rorke, Rochelle Hudson
Directed by William Castle
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy widow's dreams of a young man romancing her become so vivid, she's convinced they've really happened.

This is an effective little chiller from producer/director William Castle, anchored by old Hollywood stars Robert Taylor and Barbara Stanwyck.  After a prologue on the nature of dreams with spooky illustrations and grim narration by the great voice actor Paul Frees, Castle plunges us into the story, written by Psycho's Robert Bloch, introducing us to Stanwyck and her husband, played by actor Hayden Rorke in a great creepy makeup, whose blindness and Stanwyck's dreams of a nightly lover drive him into a jealous paranoia.  When Rorke's character meets his maker in a mysterious explosion, but no body turns up, Stanwyck's dreams begin to include not only her young lover but a terribly burned Rorke who terrifies her, and makes us wonder if he's not really dead.  The film keeps us guessing as it drives to his climax, and the suspense increases, complemented by an eerie music score by Vic Mizzy.  This may not be a great film, but it's an awful lot of fun.

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Atomic Brain (1963)

Starring Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler, Erika Peters, Judy Bamber
Directed by Joseph Mascelli
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy spinster recruits a scientist to transplant her brain into the body of one of three young women she holds captive in her home.

Definitely not the finest hour for any of the cast or crew, this is a low budget independent horror film with a story that's a little bit too outlandish to create any genuine terror.  Co-writer and producer Jack Pollexfen, who had some better films to his credit in The Man From Planet X and Daughter Of Dr. Jekyll misses here, but it's not unwatchable, and lovers of bad cinema might well find this film to be a hoot.  Dean Dillman, Jr., also a writer and producer on the film, was the brother of Oscar-nominated actor Bradford Dillman, and IMDB credits Bradford as the unbilled narrator of the movie, no doubt a favor to his brother, who according to IMDB, never made another movie.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Men In The Moon (1964)

Starring Edward Judd, Martha Hyer, Lionel Jeffries, Miles Malleson, Norman Bird
Directed by Nathan Juran
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In Victorian England, an eccentric scientist discovers a means of overcoming gravity, and uses it to launch himself and his neighbor on a journey to the moon.

Screenwriters Nigel Kneale (noted for his British television serials including the Quatermass adventures) and Jan Read have cleverly adapted H.G. Wells original novel within the framework of a modern-day journey to the moon, where the astronauts make the shocking discovery that two men journeyed there more than 50 years prior.  The skilled stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen is behind the special effects, and although this movie does not utilize as much stop-motion as his other films, Harryhausen's talent is well on display.  The ending of the framing story, borrowing the closing from another H.G. Wells novel, is a little disappointing, as the filmmakers could have used the opportunity to launch into a fascinating second film, rather than wrapping things up, but all in all, this is a well-crafted adventure.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (1964)

Starring John Call, Leonard Hicks, Vincent Beck, Bill McCutcheon, Victor Stiles
Directed by Nicholas Webster
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The children of Mars grow depressed after watching Earth television programs about the Christmas holiday, so Mars' leader decides to kidnap Santa Claus and bring him back to Mars.

This movie has been critically savaged over the years as a piece of bad moviemaking, but I don't think it really deserves that reputation.  Yes, the low budget shows and you can criticize the acting and the script as compared to more revered holiday classics, but it's not a chore to sit through, and I think John Call is quite good as St. Nick.  The film's most effective sequence is likely the appearance of the Martian elder the chiefs consult before committing to their plan to kidnap Santa Claus, which is well-staged and the elders's makeup and costuming are works of quality.  The rest of the film is not quite as imaginatively conceived, or presented, leading up to a pretty silly climax, but I wasn't expecting Citizen Kane.

Pajama Party (1964)

Starring Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Elsa Lanchester, Harvey Lembeck, Jesse White
Directed by Don Weis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Martians send an advance scout to prepare the way for their invasion of the Earth, and among a crowd of partying teenagers, he finds a pretty girl he falls for.

Somewhat akin to the way The Horror Of Party Beach mixed horror with the teen musical, this film does the same with science fiction, with the sci-fi content actually being somewhat less preposterous than the other wacky shenanigans going on in the film.  These include a motorcycle gang going after a volleyball squad for making footprints on their beach, and a con man trying to raid the fortune in his neighbor's house, relying on an Indian chief and a gorgeous Swedish blonde to find out where it is.  This was the status quo for most of the teen musicals of this era, particularly the beach movies starring Funicello and Frankie Avalon during this period.  None of the songs stayed with me long after the movie ended, but the youthful exuberance on display was entertaining.  There is one bit of casting that left a sour taste in my mouth, the use of the great silent comedian Buster Keaton, who is saddled with the stereotyped character of the Indian chief, an insult to Native Americans and a waste of his great talent.  What a shame.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Time Travelers (1964)

Starring Preston Foster, Philip Carey, Merry Anders, John Hoyt, Dennis Patrick
Directed by Ib Melchior
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A trio of scientists succeed in opening a portal 100 years into the future, where Earth has been decimated by atomic war, and the human survivors must fight off attacks from fearsome mutants.

One would not normally describe a movie about a post-apocalyptic Earth as "fun," but this film certainly is, plunging the three scientists and a lab worker into a future where after a narrow escape from the bloodthirsty mutants, they are indoctrinated into the survivor's camp, where they marvel at scientific advances, and the filmmakers add in humor and romance, abetted by a light-hearted musical score by Richard LaSalle.  Director Melchior, who worked on several other sci-fi pictures in the 1960s, collaborated on the script with David Hewitt, who also provided the film's special effects, which are pretty low-tech, even for 1964.  The portal into the future is obviously a doorway onto another set which the actors simply step through, and a matter transference device seen later looks to be recycled from a magician's disappearing act, but overall the effects are part of the film's charm, and I had no problem with them.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Witchcraft (1964)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Jack Hedley, Jill Dixon, Viola Keats, Marie Ney
Directed by Don Sharp
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An English village is home to a modern day coven of witches who seek revenge when a developer desecrates their family burial ground.

This is a nicely polished little "B" picture with good production values, benefitting from a tight script by Harry Spalding, a cast of quality character actors, and good direction by Don Sharp, who ratchets up the suspense in a number of effective sequences.  Star Lon Chaney, Jr. plays Morgan Whitlock, patriarch of the family descended from a fearsome witch, and reliably brings the same gruff anger and creepy stare he brought to many film roles throughout his long career.  This film is proof that you can craft an entertaining film with limited locales and special effects, relying on the performances of the actors and the quality of the script first and foremost.  Too many films are overly ambitious and suffer for it...this one creates chills very effectively on a small scale.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Devil Doll (1964)

Starring Bryant Haliday, William Sylvester, Yvonne Romain, Sandra Dorne, Nora Nicholson
Directed by Lindsay Shonteff
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A reporter investigates a hypnotist named The Great Vorelli, whose act includes a ventriloquist's dummy that seems to have a mind of its own.

This British horror film is quite good- it's not the first movie to mine chills from a creepy ventriloquist's dummy coming to life, but the scenes of the dummy, named Hugo, moving on its own, likely a short actor in a mask, are well-photographed, and genuinely eerie.  The film sets up a mystery around exactly why Hugo can walk and talk by itself, and I must admit it kept me guessing for a while.  The acting is strong throughout, with Haliday creating a sinister character through a menacing stare and almost whispered dialogue.  The only sequence that seems to strike a wrong note is Romain's character becoming incapacitated and bedridden, apparently purposefully by Vorelli, but it's never really explained why.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Horror Of It All (1964)

Starring Pat Boone, Erica Rogers, Dennis Price, Andree Melly, Valentine Dyall
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young American living in England visits his British future in-laws and discovers there may be a murderer among them, trying to kill off the rest of the family.

This is a fun little movie with actor/singer Pat Boone trying to find the murderer among a cast of macabre characters.  It's essentially a horror/comedy but affords Boone one musical number, singing "The Horror Of It All," to describe the sinister goings on.  The most intriguing thing about the movie is that although the story is credited to Ray Russell, it is very similar to the J.B. Priestly novel "The Old Dark House," which was filmed before in 1932 and 1963.  Interestingly enough the 1963 version was produced by William Castle who directed Russell's script for Mr. Sardonicus in 1961.  I had a fun time with this movie, with its quality British supporting cast, jazzy music score, and Boone's cute romance with leading lady Erica Rogers.

Castle Of Blood (1964)

Starring Barbara Steele, Georges Riviere, Margarete Robsahm, Henry Kruger, Montgomery Glenn
Directed by Anthony Dawson & Gordon Wilson, Jr.
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A reporter accepts a wager to spend the night in a haunted castle, where he discovers those who died there relive their last moments again and again.

This was apparently a French/Italian co-production starring Italian actress Barbara Steele, who after a star-making performance as an ancient vampire in Mario Bava's Black Sunday, made a series of horror films playing similarly beautiful and terribly cursed women.  The framework for this film is interesting as Rivere's reporter accepts the wager after meeting and interviewing Edgar Allan Poe, setting the stage for this horrific tale as along the lines of Poe's fiction, which Poe in the film insists was not fiction, but all true stories that he has recounted.  After entering the castle, Riviere soon encounters Steele, who is riveting, but does not have as much screen time as you would think.  The film drags a bit when she is not on screen.  In my opinion, a little too much time was spent on scenes exploring the castle, and some lengthy exposition sequences could have been trimmed a bit, but it's a worthwhile horror film nonetheless.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

Starring Vincent Price, Hazel Court, Jane Asher, David Weston, Nigel Green
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A cruel satanist revels with his guests within his castle while outside a deadly plague decimates the countryside.

This film was the sixth in the series of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by producer/director Roger Corman, and as with the others, Vincent Price brings distinguished class and a sinister aura to his role, and Nicolas Roeg's dynamic photography is a highlight.  However, in expanding Poe's short story, the screenwriters have a whole lot going on, from Price's character's corruption of an innocent woman to satanic rites undergone by his consort, played by horror veteran Hazel Court, to a subplot about a midget's revenge scheme on an arrogant noble.  I checked on Wikipedia, and the midget storyline actually comes from another Poe story, "Hop-Frog," which was absorbed into the screenplay.  So there's a bit more to follow than I would have liked, which kept me from enjoying this as much as some of Corman's other work, but it's still a work of quality.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Horror Of Party Beach (1964)

Starring John Scott, Alice Lyon, Allan Laurel, Eulabelle Moore, Marilyn Clarke
Directed by Del Tenney
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Toxic waste dumped in the sea creates blood-drinking sea creatures that emerge on land and stalk teenage victims.

This is by no means a great movie, but it is fun in its own way, and I enjoyed it on that level.  Independent filmmaker Del Tenney, who earlier made the horror films Violent Midnight and The Curse Of The Living Corpse, brought this movie to life, merging horror and the rock'n'roll musical, to a certain extent.  Tenney's earlier films were a bit gorier than standard studio shockers, and this one continues that trend, but is lightened up a bit more by several songs by the Del-Aires, who perform amidst partying bathing-suit clad teens.  They're good enough tunes, I wouldn't say really all that catchy, but certainly not a chore to sit through.  The monster makeups are certainly distinctive, with ridged foreheads, bulging eyes, and vegetable stalks protruding from the creatures' mouths.  Maybe a little bit over-the-top, but their swaying movement as they stalk on land sold me and the cinematographer's cloaking them in shadow for their attack scenes was the right choice.

Robinson Crusoe On Mars (1964)

Starring Paul Mantee, Victor Lundin, Adam West
Directed by Byron Haskin
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An astronaut finds himself marooned on Mars, and as in the story of Robinson Crusoe, he tries to find a way to survive, and makes friends with an alien he dubs Friday.

I really like this film, an intelligent sci-fi updating of Daniel Defoe's well-known tale, with Mantee very likable in the lead role, and some excellent staging of the perils he faces.  Mars is as inhospitable as you could ever imagine, with fireballs streaking across the landscape, air too thin to breathe for more than a short period, and the planet itself is continually besieged by attacking aliens in super-fast spaceships streaking across the sky.  Science fiction movies are almost always dominated by exposition scenes and dialogue, so it was very refreshing to experience a minimum of exposition here.  We start out as our Earth ship begins orbiting Mars, and nothing is explained of why it is there or what its mission is.  We discover through the duration of the film along with Mantee's character, often seeing what he sees.  This really brings us into the story, a nice touch by the filmmakers.