Sunday, February 24, 2013

Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet (1965)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Faith Domergue, John Bix, Robert Chantal, Kurt Boden
Directed by John Sebastian
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A spaceship lands on Venus to come to the aid of another ship's crew on the planet, but on their way to rendezvous with each other, they encounter dangerous perils and hostile prehistoric creatures.

Despite Rathbone and Domergue headlining this movie, according to Wikipedia, this is actually a Russian sci-fi film known as Planeta Burg, redubbed in English with additional scenes with the two actors added.  So the strength of the film depends largely on the quality of the Russian film footage, which creates a believable primordial alien world, but the special effects are rather limited, with barely animated dinosaurs, a flying car that seems to be driving over the ground, and contemporary fish and lizards standing in for alien ones.  John Sebastian is credited as writer/director here, but IMDB indicates that is a pseudonym for filmmaker Curtis Harrington, who made Night Tide and later Queen Of Blood, another movie utilizing Russian sci-fi film footage, but to a much lesser extent.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

War-Gods Of The Deep (1965)

Starring Vincent Price, David Tomlinson, Tab Hunter, Susan Hart, John Le Mesurier
Directed by Jacques Tourneur
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a young lady is kidnapped, a mining engineer trails her captors through a secret passage that leads to an underwater city, ruled over by the sinister leader of a gang of smugglers.

This film has a great premise, decent production values, and the star power of Vincent Price behind it, but unfortunately falls far short of what it could have been.  Despite some intriguing science fiction elements, including amphibian men and and the city's capacity for retarding the aging process, the film instead focuses on its heroes trying to escape the smugglers, and comic relief scenes with Tomlinson as an artist continually lugging around his pet chicken.  This is not Tab Hunter's finest hour, who seems ill-at-ease and could have used much more dialogue with Price.  And a climactic chase sequence along the ocean floor is ruined by placing all the participants in identical diving suits, making it impossible to tell who's who.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

Starring Paul Christian, Paula Raymond, Cecil Kellaway, Kenneth Tobey, Donald Woods
Directed by Eugene Lourie
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist tries to convince the military that an atomic blast in the Arctic has freed a still-living dinosaur, which begins to make its way towards New York City.

This is one of my favorite films and a terrific monster movie, with appealing characters, good direction, a fine music score, and the skilled animation effects of the great Ray Harryhausen.  Though Harryhausen's work is the showpiece, director Lourie does a nice job of pacing the scenes between the dinosaur's appearances, aided by the characterizations of his actors, with Christian a good determined hero, Raymond supportive as the lady who believes in him, and Kellaway, perfectly cast as a kindly professor.  David Buttolph's score is just about perfect, adding ominous notes where appropriate, and providing a dirge-like theme for "The Beast."

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Doctor X (1932)

Starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster, John Wray
Directed by Michael Curtiz
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a series of murders take place near a prominent medical academy, the academy's director promises to discover the murderer's identity through a scientific experiment.

This movie was one of the first films shot in color and balances elements of mystery and horror along with comic relief from a wisecracking reporter investigating the murders.  It's a well-done mixture, nicely directed by Curtiz, and boasts a fine cast, headed by Lionel Atwill and Fay Wray.  Although the color is an intriguing experiment, this film might have been better off as a black-and-white chiller, and lacks a music score (other than a main title played over the opening credits), which could have heightened the atmosphere and suspense, but these are minor quibbles.  The makeup effects by cosmetics titan Max Factor, and the shadowy photography are big plusses, and Wray is quite lovely and endearing, easily explaining her casting as the beauty in King Kong the following year.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Spaceflight IC-1 (1965)

Starring Bill Williams, Kathleen Breck, John Cairney, Donald Churchill, Jeremy Longhurst
Directed by Bernard Knowles
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

One year into a twenty-five year journey to a new planet, a spaceship's crew starts to rebel against their captain's strict demands.

Using the spaceship as a microcosm to illustrate humanity's fight for freedom against an oppressive government, this sci-fi drama casts the captain in the role of dictator, who refuses to turn back when a crew member becomes deathly ill, and denies any requests for a democratic vote.  It's an intriguing premise, and the filmmakers rightly center the film around the actors' performances, employing only pedestrian special effects to maintain the futuristic setting.  The cast are fine throughout,  and the screenplay smartly casts certain characters as ready to revolt, while others are supportive of the current regime, with the rest simply wanting to follow along and not make waves, as would be the case in any similar society.

Frankenstein Meets The Space Monster (1965)

Starring Marilyn Hanold, James Karen, Lou Cutell, Nancy Marshall, David Kerman
Directed by Robert Gaffney
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The last survivors of an atomic war travel to Earth to abduct its women for breeding stock, while at the same time NASA prepares to secretly send an android astronaut into outer space.

The title of this film is misleading, because there is no real connection to Mary Shelley's classic horror novel "Frankenstein," other than the android being compared to the classic monster.  The space monster is also not quite as advertised, being a somewhat minor player in the film.  The best thing about the movie is the makeups, creating a cyborg look for the android after an explosion shears half the skin on his face away, and a fearsome visage for the space monster, with bulging eyes, and giant clawed hands.  However, the rest of the film doesn't have much else to recommend it.  There are no convincing special effects and there's an over-reliance on military stock footage.  On top of that, the music score rather inexplicably drifts from electronic motifs for the aliens to pop songs, including an ill-fitting love ballad as the scientists drive along the seashore to search for the android when he goes missing.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Monster A-Go Go (1965)

Starring Phil Morton, June Travis, George Perry, Lois Brooks, Rork Stevens
Directed by Bill Rebane
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After a space capsule returns to Earth, but the pilot cannot be found, a series of grisly murders occur, leading the authorities to believe the astronaut has become a radioactive monster.

This is a pretty low-rent production with a music score consisting of only some jangly piano notes, sound recording issues, and an abrupt nonsensical ending which makes it seem as if the filmmakers ran out of money.  The script also meanders quite a bit, not picking one main character to hunt the monster, but shifting from one scientist to another to another.  It's not completely terrible, but there were a number of scenes that were a bit of a chore to sit through, and despite being a science fiction movie, there are no special effects.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Devils Of Darkness (1965)

Starring William Sylvester, Hubert Noel, Carole Gray, Tracy Reed, Diana Decker
Directed by Lance Comfort
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A group of British tourists lose their lives while visiting a French village under the control of a vampire, and the surviving member of their party tries to discover the truth behind their deaths.

This British vampire film does not present much the viewer hasn't seen before in other films of this type, but is a worthwhile enough time-passer with a few nice stylistic touches.  It opens with a very vibrant gypsy wedding in which the bride energetically dances for her new husband only to expire, cursed to become the vampire's mate for eternity.  In a later scene, after the death of her brother, a woman is unknowingly consoled by the vampire, not realizing who he is, until she looks down and sees her reflection but not his in a stream below.  And the vampire's arrival in a lab filled with animals in cages is preceded by the animals slowly growing more agitated and then a violent wind shaking the room into chaos.  Those scenes provide some decent chills, and quite frankly we could have used many more of them, instead of getting bogged down in subplots concerning the vampire's loss of a talisman and his casting aside of his mate for another woman.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Curse Of The Fly (1965)

Starring Brian Donlevy, George Baker, Carole Gray, Yvette Rees, Burt Kwouk
Directed by Don Sharp
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When a son of the Delambre family marries, the family tries to keep the horrifying failures of their teleportation experiments a secret from his new bride.

In this 2nd sequel to The Fly, the shocker that made quite an impact on audiences with the scientific experiment that merged a man and a fly together, the filmmakers wisely realized that they should take a different course after the events of the last two films.  So there is no fly in this film, nor a monster created by merging it with a man's DNA, but an emphasis on casting the Delambres as monsters themselves for their treatment of the victims of their experiments.  Although a worthy approach, cleverly scripted by Harry Spalding, and well directed by Don Sharp, this film's not in the same league as The Fly, but that was okay with me.  There are still chills a plenty, and it was good to see Brian Donlevy starring in this film, echoing his roles in the Quatermass films as a determined scientist who has positive aims, but has left his morality behind in pursuing them.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Crack In The World (1965)

Starring Dana Andrews, Janette Scott, Kieron Moore, Alexander Knox, Peter Damon
Directed by Andrew Marton
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist leads a project to drill into the Earth's crust for a new source of energy, but in so doing, creates a crack along an underwater fault line that starts to spread across the world.

I'm not a big fan of "end of the world" movies- there's just something somewhat self-defeating for me about watching a movie for escapist entertainment, and having to witness scenes of disaster and devastation that we fear could happen in some terrible future reality.  That's not to say this isn't a good movie, and it is, with good special effects, well-filmed disaster sequences, and dynamic theme music from composer John Douglas.  It's also neat to see Scott and Moore, who headlined smaller low-budget films, playing heroic roles in a large-scale action movie.  And while it may not be my particular cup of tea, one can admire the effort that went into this production.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dr. Terror's House Of Horrors (1965)

Starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Roy Castle, Max Adrian, Ann Bell
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Five men sharing a train compartment have their fortunes told by the mysterious Dr. Schreck, who predicts each of them will have a terrifying encounter with the supernatural.

This was one of the earliest horror anthology films from Amicus, a British studio that soon made many more, most of which followed the same pattern of strangers coming together to meet a mysterious figure, who then cast each of them in tales of horror.  With very limited special effects and rather murky photography, this film's strongest asset is its cast, which includes horror stars Cushing and Lee, as well as some good supporting players such as Bernard Lee, Michael Gough and a young Donald Sutherland.  The title is a bit of a misnomer, since there is no actual "house of horrors," but a bit of dialogue explains the term is meant to describe the deck of tarot cards Schreck uses to tell the other passengers' future.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Gorgon (1964)

Starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Barbara Shelley, Richard Pasco, Michael Goodliffe
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A village is beset by unsolved killings, each involving a corpse somehow turned to stone, perhaps by one of the legendary Gorgon sisters of Greek mythology.

Another horror vehicle from Britain's Hammer Films, this film has a terrific concept, and much talent in front of and behind the camera, but comes up just a little bit short for me.  Rather than try to build a mystery around the Gorgon's identity, the filmmakers point us towards the likeliest suspect and kill off the only red herring fairly early in the film.  While this affords an opportunity to display the internal conflict within the character, which is well done within the actor's performance and as set up in the screenplay, I think more mystery would have better built up to a suspenseful climax.  Still, there's much to love here, from the eerie music from James Bernard, to quality performances from all the cast, to great makeup by Roy Ashton on the victims as they slowly transform to stone.

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Tomb Of Ligeia (1965)

Starring Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook, Derek Francis, Oliver Johnston
Directed by Roger Corman
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A lady is attracted to a brooding widower, and marries him, but soon begins to doubt that his first wife is dead and buried.

According to Wikipedia, this was the last of producer/director Roger Corman's films adapting the works of Edgar Allan Poe, nearly all of which starred Vincent Price in performances capturing the tortured angst of Poe's protagonists, and perhaps that of the author himself.  Per Wikipedia, screenwriter Robert Towne adapts Poe's "Ligeia" by explaining much of what Poe leaves unsaid in his tale, sometimes fascinatingly so, and adds a cat who bedevils Shepherd's character, leading us to believe it is in fact the spirit of the first wife.  Shepherd is a strong asset to the production, playing both wives, and nearly unrecognizably so, realistically conveying her fascination with Price's character, and adding a warm vibrance that makes it utterly believable that his character would want to enhance his life with, though doomed towards a tragic end.  For these reasons, I found much to like in this film, although it suffers perhaps a bit from going to the same well as in Corman's previous Poe adaptations, culminating in another fiery climax lifting footage from the fiery climaxes of the previous films.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Wild, Wild Planet (1964)

Starring Tony Russell, Lisa Gastoni, Massimo Serato, Charles Justin, Franco Nero
Directed by Anthony Dawson
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the distant future, a space commander is assigned to investigate mass disappearances on Earth, and traces them to a scientist experimenting with human organ transplants.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film from director Antonio Margheriti (credited as Anthony Dawson).  The effects do not hold up well, with the spaceships looking to have been recycled from Margheriti's previous films, and the miniatures are a bit too obviously miniatures in what you'd expect from one of the more cheesy Godzilla movies.  However, the story is a quality sci-fi effort, and benefits from spreading the action across two planets and an orbital space station.  There are also some exciting sequences in which the commander escapes captivity in a skyscraper via a flying car, as well as the explosive climax in Serato's laboratory.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

House Of The Black Death (1964)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., John Carradine, Andrea King, Tom Drake, Dolores Faith
Directed by Harold Daniels
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The head of a coven of Satan worshippers seeks to wrest control of his family's wealth from his brother, who is determined to oppose him.

This one's pretty much a stinker, which is a shame, because actors Lon Chaney, Jr. and John Carradine, who had headlined many a quality horror film between them, deserve a much finer showcase of their talents.  To cast them as warring brothers with supernatural powers, a tremendous hook for their fans, and then afford them virtually no scenes together, is almost incomprehensible.  That is far from the film's only flaw, which also suffers from a vague plot and haphazard editing, including a pointless routine by a nubile dancer which is cut into the film three different times, cutting away from the action and making little sense.  Another scene of a man's transformation into a werewolf is poorly cut as well.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sound Of Horror (1964)

Starring James Philbrook, Arturo Fernandez, Soledad Miranda, Jose Bodalo, Antonio Casas
Directed by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Treasure hunters track the burial place of an ancient fortune to a cave in Greece, but in excavating the cave, they accidentally unleash an invisible prehistoric monster.

In my opinion, this is a really fun movie, and delivers great suspenseful horror on a small budget.  Most criticisms of this film that I've heard center on the fact that it relies on a cheap monster (an invisible dinosaur) as its showpiece, and because of that is somehow cheating the audience.  On the contrary, I think it's to the film's credit that the filmmakers illustrate the creature's menace only through sound (a very terrifying roar) and the brutal assaults upon its victims, heightening the tension and making us imagine what the creature must look like.  I also liked how the film takes time to interest us in its characters, three stubborn adventurers who have spent the bulk of their lives trying to track down the fortune the creature protects, and have regrets that they have missed out on life because of it.