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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!


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Dance Of Death (1968)

Starring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Andres Garcia, Angel Espinoza, Beatriz Baz
Directed by Juan Ibanez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A wealthy recluse invites his heirs to visit him at his estate, where they learn of the evils perpetrated by his maddened brother, and of the murderous mechanical dolls on the grounds.

Another of the Mexican horror movies Boris Karloff filmed scenes for before his death, this one suffers from a vaguely defined plot and Karloff's absence for much of the picture.  Although there are some effective sequences and a fiery climax comes off well, there are numerous head-scratching moments where motivations or events are never explained, and the film's too darkly lit during some important nighttime scenes.  Karloff still turns in a game effort, but it's not enough to save the film.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Green Slime (1969)

Starring Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, Richard Jaeckel, Bud Widom, Ted Gunther
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After returning from a successful mission, a team of astronauts accidentally bring back some slime from an asteroid to their space station, which mutates into a horde of deadly creatures. 

There's lot of science fiction fun to be had in this US/Japanese co-production, filmed in Japan but featuring American actors, and benefitting from nifty special effects which while they're definitely dated, were likely quite serviceable for the era.  The "green slime" creatures are the showpiece of the movie, and the scenes with the space station personnel trying to contain them are efficiently directed and suspenseful.  Subplots about the conflict between the station commander and the officer who takes over his command, and their involvement in a love triangle offer nothing new or different, but add the proper drama to the struggle against the creatures.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Blood Beast Terror (1968)

Starring Peter Cushing, Robert Flemyng, Wanda Ventham, Vanessa Howard, David Griffin
Directed by Vernon Sewell
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A police inspector investigates a series of gruesome killings that have taken place near the home of a scientist studying insects, but unbeknownst to the inspector, one of the scientist's experiments may be responsible.

A fun British B-movie with some impressive creature effects, this film offers a fairly straightforward role for the distinguished Cushing as the inspector, but his screen presence is always welcome.  Although the premise is utterly fantastic, the performances of Cushing and a good supporting cast, including a nice turn by Ventham as the scientist's predatory daughter, keep things moving along well, and the screenplay adds enough touches of humor to add some comic relief from the sinister goings-on.  It's probably not among the best movies of its type, but it's still a fun horror film.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Nightmare In Wax (1969)

Starring Cameron Mitchell, Anne Helm, Scott Brady, Berry Kroeger, Victoria Carroll
Directed by Bud Townsend
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After being horribly scarred by a Hollywood producer, a makeup artist seeks revenge by paralyzing his actors and putting them on display in a wax museum.

Despite some talented actors in the cast, this is a lackluster horror film mining the same ground that others have done far more effectively before.  Establishing Mitchell as the mentally unbalanced villain early on removes any suspense from the proceedings, and the police's failure to identify him as a prime suspect is one of several preposterous plot holes in the screenplay.  The film's still watchable, and the cast do their best to elevate the material, but it's not enough.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Illustrated Man (1969)

Starring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom, Robert Drivas, Don Dubbins, Jason Evers
Directed by Jack Smight
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young hitchhiker encounters another traveler, a surly man covered with tattoos, who warns that those who stare at his tattoos will see them come alive and show visions of the future.

Based on a book of short stories by Ray Bradbury, this film has a fairly ingenious plot, fashioning the film as a vehicle for Steiger by casting him as both the Illustrated Man and the main character in each of the stories springing from the tattoos.  However the film is so interminably slow-moving, it can't help but drag.  Bloom is very good as the mysterious woman who illustrates Steiger's body and co-stars with him in the the tales, and Drivas puts in good work as well as the young hitchhiker, but the sci-fi scenes are so drab, with little imagination put forth in the sets and special effects, that they contribute to the dragging effect.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Mad Monster Party (1967)

Starring Boris Karloff, Allen Swift, Gale Garnett, Phyllis Diller, Ethel Ennis
Directed by Jules Bass
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

To commemorate his latest discovery and announce his retirement, Baron Frankenstein holds a convention of the world's famous monsters on his island and also invites his bumbling nephew.

In this stop-motion animated film from Rankin/Bass, the creators of the famed holiday specials like Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman, Karloff voices the Baron, and Diller capitalizes on her image to play the bride of Frankenstein's monster.  Their character designs and those of the monsters, which include Dracula, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man, and many others, are absolutely wonderful, but the film's less a spoof of the monsters than a comedy about assembling them all together.  However, in my opinion, it's just not as fun as it should be, with throwaway songs, and only a few jokes that really amuse, despite MAD Magazine's Harvey Kurtzman collaborating on the screenplay.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968)

Starring Christopher Lee, Rupert Davies, Veronica Carlson, Barbara Ewing, Barry Andrews
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A fearful priest accidentally releases Dracula from a watery grave and restores him to power, leading the undead Count to use the priest to find him new victims to stalk.

Not bad, but not great, this is a middle-of-the-road entry in Hammer Films' Dracula series, which benefits from Christopher Lee again portraying the famed villain, but affords him little dialogue to make this portrayal memorable.  The actor still impresses with icy stares and evil snarls, and has a beautiful victim to play off in Veronica Carlson, but has little else to do.  The victimized priest, who surely must have been a controversial character at the time, is well-played by actor Ewan Hooper, who brings forth believable angst and terror, and Rupert Davies is good as well, as the priest's superior.  However, the plot disappointingly plays fast and loose with vampire lore to come up with a new demise for the Count, and not one that particularly satisfies.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ghosts Of Hanley House (1968)

Starring Elsie Baker, Barbara Chase, Wilkie de Martel, Roberta Reeves, Cliff Scott
Directed by Louise Sherrill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young man accepts a bet to spend the night in a supposedly haunted house, and invites his friends to join him, but the group soon learns the ghosts are frighteningly real.

Very much looking like an amateur production, with cheap contrast effects standing in for the ghosts and a poor music score, this film aspires to be a scary creepfest, but doesn't have the budget or polish to pull it off.  The screenplay, acting, and photography are passable, but apart from some unnerving sound effects, the ghosts just don't do anything frightening enough to hold one's interest.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women (1968)

Starring Mamie Van Doren, Mary Marr, Paige Lee, Aldo Romani, Margot Hartman
Directed by Derek Thomas
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Astronauts from Earth discover evidence of intelligent life on Venus, but face terrible dangers in their search on that prehistoric world.

One has to question why this movie was even made, as it essentially is re-presenting the Russian film Planeta Burg with newly filmed scenes for American audiences, exactly as was done before in the 1965 film Voyage To The Prehistoric Planet.  Although this movie's new sequences center around the alien women that were previously only hinted at in that film, (and apparently the Russian original), what's added is nothing worthwhile.  Van Doren and her fellow actresses portray a race of telepathic women with no civilization, causing the perils the astronauts face by praying to their primitive gods.  The film's most notable for the involvement of Peter Bogdanovich, who narrates the movie and according to IMDB, directed it, under the alias of Derek Thomas.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Thunderbird 6 (1968)

Starring Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman
Directed by David Lane
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Members of the International Rescue team are invited aboard the maiden voyage of a new airship, but unbeknownst to them, the captain and crew have been replaced by terrorists.

An improvement on the previous Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbirds Are Go, once again marionettes are the stars, but this one's a bit more fun, with the story taking our heroes on a jet-setting adventure, affording the filmmakers the chance to render models of famous world landmarks, including the Statue of Liberty and the pyramids of Egypt.  Although the showpiece vehicle this time around is a massive airship, an old-fashioned bi-plane becomes an important part of the story, and shots of an apparent scale model of the craft are seamlessly mixed together with footage of an actual full-size plane.  Also of note, when compared to Thunderbirds Are Go, is the increased violence in this installment as several characters are gunned down rather mercilessly, rather surprisingly for a film aimed at children.

Spider Baby (1968)

Starring Lon Chaney, Jr., Carol Ohmart, Quinn Redeker, Beverly Washburn, Jill Banner
Directed by Jack Hill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A loyal chauffeur has for years looked after the members of the Merrye family, who each suffer a sort of mental regression resulting in vicious behavior, but he may no longer be able to protect them after the arrival of a greedy relative after the family fortune.

Part disturbing horror film, and part wicked black comedy, this effort from writer/director Jack Hill is certainly unique and still shocking today, even though for the most part any gore is kept off screen.  Creepy black and white photography, an effective score by Ronald Stein, and a good performance by Chaney as the chauffeur help propel the film along to its predictably violent conclusion.  There's also some nice casting on display here, with Ohmart from House On Haunted Hill and 1940s comedy star Mantan Moreland as an early victim for the "Spider Baby" of the title.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Kong Island (1968)

Starring Brad Harris, Esmeralda Barros, Marc Lawrence, Adriana Alben, Mark Farran
Directed by Robert Morris
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While a mercenary searches in Africa for the man who nearly killed him, that same man is engaged in experiments with savage gorillas.

Despite the title, there's no relation between the King Kong movies and this rather routine Italian action film featuring Brad Harris, better known for his sword and sandal films.  Although the gorilla experiments are the most interesting aspect of the movie, the focus is on the revenge quest of Harris' mercenary and some tensions between the supporting cast.  The introduction of the "sacred monkey," a native woman who can speak with the apes, seems rather tacked on, but would have made the film more intriguing had her character been better developed.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Fear Chamber (1968)

Starring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Carlos East, Isela Vega, Yerye Beirute
Directed by Juan Ibanez
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A scientist and his assistants discover a creature made of living rock underground that feeds on the chemical generated in the human body when experiencing extreme terror.

According to IMDB, this is one of a quartet of horror films made in Mexico that incorporated scenes featuring Boris Karloff filmed in America by director Jack Hill.  They would be among Karloff's last films, and do not have a reputation of quality.  This one is certainly watchable, and does an effective job of presenting the terror-filled "fear chamber" the scientists create to shock young women into providing the chemical to feed the creature.  However, while Karloff is always worth watching, the rest of the film doesn't measure up, with poor special effects standing in for the creature, and the transformation of a dimwitted lab assistant into the movie's central villain coming off as pretty comical.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Thunderbirds Are Go (1966)

Starring Peter Dyneley, Sylvia Anderson, Shane Rimmer, Jeremy Wilkin, Matt Zimmerman
Directed by David Lane
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The Tracy family, who with their fantastic rocketships safeguard the world as International Rescue, are called in to protect a spaceflight to the planet Mars, which is endangered by saboteurs.

A big-screen version of the Thunderbirds TV series developed by Gerry Anderson, both feature marionettes as the main characters with impressively sculpted features and no visible wires controlling them.  The special effects are of similar quality, with flying spacecraft, tremendous explosions, and even alien creatures on Mars very effectively presented.  However, there's no depth to the film, with its characters unable to convincingly emote, despite some personal drama written into the screenplay for a few of the Tracy brothers.  Still, this is an impressive technical accomplishment, and a nice change of pace from the usual movie fare.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Devil's Bride (1968)

Starring Christopher Lee, Charles Gray, Nike Arrighi, Leon Greene, Patrick Mower
Directed by Terence Fisher
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

When an esteemed noble finds his young friend has joined a cult of satan-worshippers, he uses his knowledge of the occult to battle the cult leader for the young man's soul.

Better known today by its British title (and the title of the original Dennis Wheatley novel) The Devil Rides Out, this is an impressive Hammer horror film, well-scripted by Richard Matheson, and with an excellent performance by Lee in a rare heroic role.  The performance of Gray as Mocata, the evil cult leader, is just as good as Lee's, and suspenseful cutting between his evil stare and his hypnotized victims is very effective in displaying his villainy.  The special effects are something of a shortcoming, but overall this is an exciting and well-acted movie.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Targets (1968)

Starring Boris Karloff, Tim O'Kelly, Arthur Peterson, Monty Landis, Nancy Hsueh
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

While an aging horror film star plans his retirement, an unbalanced young man prepares to perpetrate a real life horror story with an arsenal of guns he's acquired.

Per IMDB, this was the powerful debut feature for director Bogdanovich, and it offers a choice role to Karloff late in his career, essentially playing himself in a deft juxtaposition of his classic monster of the past with a senseless monster of the present day in the sniper killer played by O'Kelly.  Fans of Karloff, as I am, will relish his kindly demeanor, some amusing scenes he plays with Bogdanovich, portraying a screenwriter, and Hsueh, as his lovely secretary, and his determined showdown with O'Kelly at the movie's climax.  This was not to be Karloff's last film, but it's a fitting coda to his remarkable career.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Corruption (1968)

Starring Peter Cushing, Sue Lloyd, Noel Trevarthen, Kate O'Mara, David Lodge
Directed by Robert Hartford-Davis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

After his fiancee has her face scarred in an accident, a brilliant doctor is able to use a pituitary gland to restore her, but to keep the scars from returning, he must kill to obtain new glands.

This horror picture offers Cushing a rare opportunity to play a tortured killer, torn between the woman he loves and his noble principles, and the actor plays it well in a unique and convincing performance, augmented by creepy closeups of the normally distinguished actor with his hair disheveled and a wild mania in his eyes.  I'm not as enamored with the filmmakers' choice of using a jazz music score here, but it doesn't distract too much from Cushing's performance or the well-composed screenplay.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Barbarella (1968)

Starring Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Milo O'Shea, Marcel Marceau
Directed by Roger Vadim
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In the distant future, the Earth sends a beautiful female agent to an alien world to find a rogue scientist and the deadly weapon he's invented.

A weird mixture of sci-fi and exploitation, with Fonda finding herself unclothed on several occasions, this movie is pretty much a mess in my opinion.  Although there are some dynamic visuals and impressive sets reminiscent of the designs in the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers comic strips, the plot's pretty much a convenience to place Fonda in sexual situations, both literal and figurative, with the various men she encounters.  Some tongue-in-cheek humor almost redeems the film, with the most clever usage being in the opening credits, designed by the talented Maurice Binder, which try to hide Fonda's naked body as she doffs a spacesuit.  But there's not enough of this to help all these elements add up to a worthwhile film.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Night Of The Living Dead (1968)

Starring Duane Jones, Judith O'Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne
Directed by George A. Romero
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An onslaught of ravenous zombies out to devour their victims forces a group of strangers to barricade themselves inside an abandoned house for survival.

Impressively assembled for an independent movie, and groundbreaking as an inspiration for countless films to follow, this is a justifiably lauded classic.  However, I can't quite commit to unyielding praise of the movie, as it is likely responsible for ushering in a horde of films seeking to be as shocking without the same level of imagination as previous efforts.  The filmmakers should be praised for their casting of an African-American as their central protagonist, devoid of any stereotypes, which countless filmmakers should have done far earlier, and the gripping realism of the zombies' attacks.  Still, I can't quite endorse their guiding of horror films down a new and disturbing path.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Torture Garden (1967)

Starring Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams, Peter Cushing, Maurice Denham
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

In this horror anthology, a carnival showman named Dr. Diablo offers five strangers the chance to see the terrifying events they are due to experience in their future.

One of the most polished of the horror anthologies put out by Britain's Amicus studio in the 1960s, this one features American stars Palance, Meredith, and Adams in addition to the usual British stalwarts and benefits from a pretty good script by Psycho's Robert Bloch.  Meredith makes an intriguing host for the framing story, adding the proper sinister touches in his narration.  The showpiece among the horror tales is likely Palance's story, featuring the actor as a Edgar Allan Poe enthusiast given the opportunity to view Cushing's very exclusive collection of the author's works.  While not all of the tales are particularly terrifying, they all captured my interest, and in my view, make this one of Amicus' most entertaining productions.

The Lost Continent (1968)

Starring Eric Porter, Hildegard Knef, Suzanna Leigh, Tony Beckley, Nigel Stock
Directed by Michael Carreras
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A steamship carrying dangerous cargo and desperate passengers loses its way in a storm, and finds itself in a graveyard of ships surrounded by perilous living weeds and ravenous creatures.

Something of an offbeat sci-fi adventure from Hammer Films, more reputed for their horror pictures, this isn't a great movie, with few interesting subplots fashioned for the passengers aboard ship, but once they get to the ship graveyard, things liven up a bit, with some intriguing creature effects and worthwhile villainy from the descendants of participants in the Spanish Inquisition.  A greater focus on the graveyard and how it came to be would have served the movie better, as most of the characters are stereotypes and their personal dramas not well fleshed out.  Still, it's enjoyable as a time-passer and worth seeing as a fairly unique departure from the Hammer studio's usual output.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Starring Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes, Ruth Gordon, Sidney Blackmer, Maurice Evans
Directed by Roman Polanski
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman moves with her husband into a foreboding apartment house, and after she becomes pregnant, she discovers her helpful neighbors may be satan-worshippers after her child.

Adapted from Ira Levin's novel, and skillfully directed by Polanski, this is a terrific showcase for Farrow, who does a masterful job of conveying the toll of her pregnancy from hell on her mind and body.  As a horror film, it's not terribly shocking, as it's fairly clear from the start what's going to happen to her and her baby, but I'm sure any woman who's gone through childbirth would cringe at what she's put through.  A strong ensemble cast and Polanski's emphasis on realism make this a polished and compelling film, just not a very surprising one.