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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.

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Friday, December 13, 2019

War Of The Colossal Beast (1958)

Starring Sally Fraser, Roger Pace, Dean Parkin, Russ Bender, Rico Alaniz
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

The sister of Glenn Manning, the Army colonel who grew to a height of 60 feet after being exposed to an atomic explosion, traces him to Mexico, and urges the army to find a way to help him.

Bert I. Gordon's sequel to his own The Amazing Colossal Man, strangely returns none of the cast from the original picture, with Fraser stepping in as a new character and Parkin replacing Glen Langan as the titular monster, disguised by a skull-like makeup over half his face, to avoid confusion with the footage of Langan from the first film.  That makeup and the special effects in this followup are a bit more accomplished than in the previous entry, although the story's pretty thin, and the plot point of giving the giant amnesia and making him mute doesn't help to flesh things out any.  I did enjoy the buildup to the Colossal Man's reveal, with the mystery of a young boy in shock and Rico Alaniz's memorable appearance as a Mexican police official something of quality.  However after the giant is captured, it's pretty much a rehash of the first film, including a lengthy flashback to the footage with Langan.  Still, there's some entertainment to be had, and the 1950s atmosphere and production values were welcome to me.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Slaughter Of The Vampires (1962)

Starring Walter Brandi, Graziella Granata, Luigi Batzella, Dieter Eppler, Edda Ferronao
Directed by Roberto Mauri
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A count and his bride move into an old castle, unaware that it still remains the home of an ancient vampire, who has eyes for the countess.

An Italian vampire film, also released under it's original title La strage dei vampiri as well as Curse Of The Blood Ghouls in America, per Wikipedia, the picture is a solid night's entertainment for vampire film fans, although it doesn't offer a whole lot that's new or different.  All the stock characters from the Dracula films are here, from the virginal beauty to her supportive husband to the undead count and the vampire hunter imported to battle the fiend, and essentially retells the same story.  What the film does offer is impressive sets, filmed at a real castle in Italy, according to IMDB, and a moving camera well used by cinematographer Ugo Brunelli to create suspense in the nighttime scenes.  Granata is breathtakingly gorgeous as the countess and the vampire's primary victim, and has a real screen presence, dominating the scenes she's in, while Brandi is fairly bland as her husband.  Eppler, as the vampire is okay but not distinctive or memorable enough to rank with other classic portrayals of bloodsuckers.  I enjoyed Aldo Piga's driving score and the way it incorporated the countess' moody piano waltz, which apparently everyone in the castle knows how to play!  It's a great looking film, and a fun enough diversion, but for me, it was really just stepping in the same footprints of earlier classics.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Horrible Dr. Hichcock (1962)

Starring Barbara Steele, Robert Flemyng, Silvano Tranquilli, Maria Teresa Vianello, Harriet Medin
Directed by Riccardo Freda
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Twelve years after the accidental death of his wife, an acclaimed surgeon returns to his mansion with a new bride, who soon becomes convinced the house is haunted.

I viewed the American release of this Italian chiller, which according to film historian Troy Howarth has had scenes cut from the original, which likely explains why I found some of the film's subtexts a little difficult to understand.  The film however is a well-photographed and paced gem, with fine direction by Freda, which keeps the audience guessing as to what is going on.  This isn't one of Steele's greatest roles, playing the victimized second wife, but she's fine in the part, and gives the audience its entryway into the story and central character to follow.  Roman Vlad's music score, although at times a bit simplistic and at others a bit over the top, gives the thriller a worthy musical setting that helped sustain my interest.  I look forward to seeking out the Italian release in hopes of an even richer cinema experience.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Starring Martin Kosleck, Byron Sanders, Barbara Wilkin, Rita Morley, Ray Tudor
Directed by Jack Curtis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

An alcoholic actress, her assistant, and their pilot find themselves stranded on an island where a scientist is performing secret experiments on flesh eating bugs that soon threaten them all.

Curtis delivers an impressively mounted independent horror film, notable for some gory special effects, some of which hold up better than others.  However, the anchor of the film is Kosleck, the familiar 1940s Universal contract player, who makes a marvelous villain, even when pretending to be benevolent, delivering his lines in his sinister European accent.  The rest of the cast aren't in Kosleck's class, but Sanders, Wilkin, and Morley fill their roles relatively well.  The film's creature design is also unique, and Julian Stein's music is memorable, adding to the creepy atmosphere.  I wouldn't say the story is the strongest, incorporating a lot of character stereotypes pulled from other films, but Curtis' direction is more than capable, balancing the shocks with some human drama.  It's a film to be appreciated even with some drawbacks.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

The Evil Of Frankenstein (1964)

Starring Peter Cushing, Peter Woodthorpe, Duncan Lamont, Sandor Eles, Katy Wild
Directed by Freddie Francis
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Victor Frankenstein returns home to his ancestral castle, to find it looted and left in ruins, but when he discovers his creature has been preserved, he seeks to return it to conscious life.

Although this, the second sequel to Hammer's The Curse Of Frankenstein, has Cushing return in the lead role, as well as to the castle featured in Curse, Anthony Hinds' screenplay changes many story elements from the original film.  Frankenstein was never sent to the gallows, but merely exiled, he had no partner in the creation of the creature, and the creature never killed a human being, but animals alone.  In addition to these changes, the film's release by Universal Pictures allowed for the monster's makeup to be tailored more closely to Universal's classic design, and electricity from lightning plays a more prevalent role in the Creature's resurrection.  Although some of the production design harkens back to the earlier Hammer film, there are no other holdovers from the original cast, or from the previous sequel, and Kiwi Kingston replaces Christopher Lee in the role of the monster.  Among the film's assets are a driving title theme by composer Don Banks, although I didn't find his other cues as memorable, and fine photography by John Wilcox, who showcases Roy Ashton's creature makeup dynamically in a number of sequences.  The story, which concerns Frankenstein turning to Woodthorpe's reprobate hypnotist in order to spark the creature's brain activity, I found less interesting than those of the other Frankenstein pictures, and hoped for more continuity with the earlier picture.  However Cushing, Woodthorpe, and the supporting cast are all fine, with Hammer's craftsmen providing convincing settings for the Baron's castle and the Germanic village it shadows over.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Beyond Atlantis (1973)

Starring Patrick Wayne, John Ashley, Leigh Christian, Sid Haig, Lenore Stevens
Directed by Eddie Romero
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A band of men and a lady archaeologist visit a Greek island seeking a fortune in pearls, and find evidence the bug-eyed natives may be descendants of the residents of Atlantis.

Like a number of Filipino filmmaker Romero's productions with American stars, this isn't a good film, and those interested in the Atlantis angle won't find much to satisfy them here.  The movie is largely made up of lengthy underwater sequences featuring the skimpily attired Christian leading Wayne and Ashley in searches for the pearls.  Although there are hints of more fascinating story elements, such as the natives' ability to survive underwater without oxygen, a temple containing Atlantean artifacts which is kept off limits by the natives, and a pressing need for Christian's princess to become pregnant by one of the outsiders, those elements are mentioned but frustratingly never explained.  It was good to see Sid Haig have a meaty role as the cruel leader of the men, but few others in the cast stood out, although Ashley had a way different appearance than his clean-cut appearance in the 50s, with a mop of curly hair and a grizzled unshaven face for most of the film.  George Nader, best known for his part in the ridiculed 1950s film Robot Monster, plays the leader of the island, but not memorably so.  The story culminates in a violent confrontation between the natives and the outsiders but rather than providing a satisfying payoff for the film, I found it rather lackluster.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)

Starring Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Gene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey
Directed by Bert I. Gordon
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

A young woman and her boyfriend go in search of her missing father, and find his remains in a cavern inhabited by a giant spider, which soon threatens their small town.

Although it's not quite the equal of the other giant spider film of the 1950s, Tarantula, this is a fun outing by Gordon and crew, with an appealing cast, and a convincing portrait of small-town America.    Not all of the special effects hold up well, but the spider scenes that probably come off best are the sequences filmed in Carlsbad Caverns, with its eerie craggy scenery making a proper home for the giant insect, where it can easily trap its human prey.  Kemmer, the likable protagonist of Edward Cunha's Giant From The Unknown, who also brings along his love interest Sally Fraser from that film, is again likable, and fills a perfect need in the story as the believable scientific expert who devises the spider's downfall.  Familiar '50s character actor Gene Roth is welcome as the local sheriff who laughs at the notion of a giant spider at first, but soon receives his comeuppance.  Albert Glasser provides the proper notes of menace in his music score, according to IMDB, including the decade's ubiquitous theremin instrument among his orchestra.  As for Gordon's direction, it keeps things moving along well enough, making this I think one of his better films.