CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

THE TERROR

1963. Directed by Roger Corman

After becoming separated from his regiment, 18th century French Lieutenant Andre Duvalier (Jack Nicholson) comes across a mysterious young woman (Sandra Knight) wandering near the sea. After a brief conversation she goes forth into the sea and disappears. Duvalier, who tries to save her, loses consciousness and awakes in an old hags (Dorothy Neumann) house whom claims to have no knowledge of the girl. Duvalier leaves, sees the woman again, nearly dies yet is saved by a man who tells him to go to castle of Baron Von Leppe (Boris Karloff) whereupon he sees the girl once more. The tale from here twists around itself and has the accursed Von Leppe living in fear and confessing to a dark secret that unfolds as very much the central plot.

As you may have guessed this is very much a convoluted Corman cheapo with the limited budget the main drawback to the films fluidity. There is much criticism of this effort yet I find myself not as offended and let down as I should be. There are some decent moments and of course a few blips but you take Corman as he comes and should know what to expect. Karloff gets on with things and gives a convincing performance despite the script and it is good to see Dick Miller (star of A Bucket of Blood) doing a decent job in the role of Stefan.  I have seen a whole lot worse and for fans of cult movies this one will fill a void for sure.

   

KING OF THE ZOMBIES

1941. Directed by Jean Yarborough

It is World War 2, a plane is low on fuel and picks up a faint signal from a nearby island.  A crash landing follows and the three crew members find refuge in a mansion run by the sinister Dr. Miklos Sangre (Henry Victor).  The survivors James ‘Mac’ McCarthy (Dick Purcell), his manservant Jefferson ‘Jeff’ Jackson (Mantland Moreland) and Bill Summers (John Archer) soon get the jitters as the goonish and irritating Jackson raises the alarm to a zombified presence.  The zombies are controlled by Sangre who is eventually discovered holding a satanic ritual in the cellar where he is trying to extract war intelligence from a previously captured US Military man.  The disturbance by the 3 intruders causes the zombies to turn their attentions to their leader and so the end is not far away.  It is a simple plot, played out with a simple style and marred by the racist use of Mantland Moreland who is nothing more than a token gesture loon. 

This film is of its time and has a mode that is typically run of the mill.  It is watchable but not one you’d play over and over again.  The moronic Moreland will ruin the flick for some but save it for others but beyond that there is little to raise the roof about with this one.  A Monogram moment to ponder very much now and again.  For film buffs though it is worth watching for Henry Victor who is most famous for his strongman role in Freaks – hardly a great performance here but it adds to the trivia.

   

IT

1990. Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

A strange malignant force in the guise of an evil clown named Pennywise (Tim Curry) is terrorising and killing the children of Derry. A gang of kids are brought together after a series of strange visions and set themselves up as 'The Losers Club'. Their aim - to rid the town of the murdering menace. They succeed and go their separate ways but 30 years later 'IT' all starts again. The original members all meet up again (except one) and all have a premonition before the rendezvous warning them to go back or die. The group have doubts but decide to face the force full on and rid the town once and for all of the dreaded being.

The story in itself is obviously far fetched and the final confrontation somewhat laughable but what intrigues more than anything is the interaction and bonding between each member of the 'Losers Club' and how they grow from what they were to what they are. There is some decent acting and heart-touching moments of nostalgia and lost youthful innocence that override the weaker moments of the film and so give an unexpected weight rather than rely on blood and guts to provoke interest.

If you like Mr Kings work then this will be lapped up and if you like your horror with a little depth then no doubt this will appeal also.

   

PSYCHO
 
1960. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
 
Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a lowly, frustrated officer worker who has a tricky love life and not much money.  An opportunity arises to steal $40, 000 from her company which she takes with both greedy hands.  She flees along the highways with a head full of paranoia and questioning doubts.  Tired after a long drive and during an atmospheric downpour she decides to take a break at a secluded motel run by the nervy Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins).  Bates is, it seems, brow beaten by his mother and comes across as a disturbed mummy's boy on the cusp of a breakdown.   The atmosphere builds nicely, Mr Bates really does unsettle and the rest is irresistible Hitchcock horror.  The shower scene is classic cinema and even if you haven't even seen the film I bet you are already familiar with this murderous moment.
 
This film is regarded as a 'classic' and one of Hitchcock’s best and I do have to confess that even though I am not a Hitchcock fan this is a fair watch.  However, I do feel that the final 15 minutes of the film we do have a trail off in tension and the story does reveal itself a little too blatantly before the closing curtain.  I have watched this one on several occasions and have always lost interest during the final stretch which I feel a little guilty about due to the gushing praise it does receive.  Nevertheless it is essential viewing and my views will always be in the minority - you can't please everyone!

   

FRENZY

1972. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

For me the best Hitchcock film ever made due to it’s over the top edges, distinct British feel and all round convincing portrayals of assorted characters.

Richard Ian Blaney (Jon Finch) is down on his luck. He loses his job in a local boozer, has a blow-out with his ex-wife, misses out on backing a red hot tip on the horses and eventually gets arrested and convicted for several murders (one of which is his ex-wife) carried out by the Neck Tie Murderer. The real killer, Robert Rusk (Barry Foster), however is still at large and after double crossing Blaney, thus getting him convicted of the crimes, is on the look out for fresh victims. Rusk is a superb character with subtle hints to his twisted mind given throughout the film. Foster excels in a trying role with several scenes pure class and totally unhinged. Blaney is equally intriguing and has a dark edge that adds depth to the grim tale. Chief Inspector Oxford (Alec McCowen) is soon on the case and is yet another quality character with gentle idiosyncrasies and amusing domestic niggles.

A film to absorb over and over with the rape scene, potato truck escapade and all round solid support cast contributing to a classic.

   

DEVIL DOLL

1964. Directed by Lindsay Shonteff

The 'Great Vorelli' (Bryant Haliday) is an evil, twisted, unsettling hypnotist cum ventriloquist who has a dark secret to maintain. His stage show is intense and atmospheric with an eerie tension between Vorelli and his dummy Hugo that really has one wondering what to make of proceedings during the early stages of this film.

The plot truly begins when Vorelli nominates audience member Marianne Horn (Yvonne Romain) to join him on stage. He hypnotises her, forces her to dance and immediately becomes seemingly besotted. Marianne returns to her seat after the performance where her boyfriend Mark English (William Sylvester) awaits with disbelief and distrust. Vorelli however has done his homework and his attraction to Ms Horn is based on financial gain and the story unfolds with the sinister Hypno-nut in hot pursuit of his fortune, at any cost. Hugo and Mr English though have has other ideas.

A bizarre film that is both unique and slightly 'odd' for want of a better word. There are some genuine dark moments of horror, some perspiring performances and a solid twist ending. It isn't a classic but isn't a duff duck either - well worth chasing down.

   

DRACULA'S DAUGHTER

1936. Directed by Lambert Hillyer

A semi sort of follow on to Dracula this one that has its fair share of critics but which is a film I personally find quite enjoyable.

Count Dracula lies dead in his coffin, Renfield is also dead and Professor Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is caught at the scene by two somewhat fumbling policemen. Van Helsing is charged with murder and the bodies are taken back to Whitby police station. When one incompetent leaves to meet a detective who is going to pick up the bodies the most cowardly bobby remains behind. Enter Hungarian countess Marya Zaleska (Gloria Holden) aka Dracula's daughter. The body of the Count is taken and burnt by Zaleska in the hope of relieving herself of the family vampiric curse. It doesn't work. Meanwhile Van Helsing has been joined by friend and psychiatrist Jeffery Garth (Otto Kruger) who promises to assist the Professor. At the same time Garth gets involved with Zaleska after a meeting her at a local party where she reveals that she is desperate for freedom and he has been chosen to help.

With pseudo-lesbianism barely noticeable, a sensuously eye catching lead lady and a neat and tidy plot this isn't too bad at all and although one or two feeble attempts at comedy are made and there is a distinct lack of full on action the whole construction gets by on gentle conviction and subtle atmosphere. It is a shame more wasn't done with Holden and a follow up made where we could get to understand more of her mysterious character. In truth that is the films only flaw for me and I feel as though this effort fits in nicely to its era and surrounding genre.

   

DIE MONSTER DIE

1965. Directed by Daniel Haller

From the inexpensive vaults of American International this film reeks of a Cormanesque construction and has a tale similar to what this bargain basement director produced.

American Stephen Reinhart is a budding scientist and is visiting his girlfriend Susan Witley (Suzan Farmer) in the odd town of Arkham. Upon arrival he his shunned by townsfolk after asking of the Witley residence and so makes his own way there only to be met with rebuke from Susan’s father Nahum Witley (Boris Karloff). Add to this a meeting at the house with Nahum's wife, Letitia Witley (Freda Jackson) who remains hidden and is obviously suffering from some unknown malady, the local area that is void of life and an encounter with a strange figure in the grounds and it is no wonder Reinhart is starting to feel unsettled.

The secret behind all the goings on is a strange glowing radioactive stone that Nahum Witley is keeping hidden and using to enhance the growth of various sorts of life. The tales gets going but the journey I feel is wayward, lacking general atmosphere and too similar to other offerings. Patrick Magee makes the briefest of cameo appearances as a drunken Dr Henderson but even he fails to lift the film. Average to say the least and just lacking that nebulous spark so many counterparts achieve.

 

THE BRAIN THAT WOULD NOT DIE

1962. Directed by Joseph Green

Sinister crackpot Dr Bill Cortner (Jason Evers) has been pottering around on the transplantation front with surprising success. Cortner is involved in an automobile accident with his fiancée, Jan Compton (Virginia Leith) who unfortunately loses her head (yes literally folks) which is picked up and taken by the crazed Doc. Somehow Cortner manages to keep the head alive and sets up a devilish plan to find an appropriate, lust worthy body so as to continue the relationship.

Back in Cortners lab Jan's head sits in a dish where she comes round and sets up communication with a strange beast locked in a cupboard (awaiting the final seconds of the film no doubt). This hidden unsuccessful experiment is Jan's only hope to end her own existence and that of the Doctors who, in the meantime, is out on the prowl for a voluptuous victim. He discovers a facially disfigured model called Doris Powell (Adele Lamont) whom he obviously finds physically attractive. A few drinks back at 'his' place and toward the finale we head.

This is cheapo bunkum and has many clichés within its plot but it is a very entertaining flick with a super duper B-Movie monster at the end. It is nothing more than sensationalistic schlock but who cares. There is a time and a place and this is one to get down off the high horse with and just enjoy.

   

THE LAST MAN ON EARTH

1964. Directed by Ubaldo Ragona

Similar in some respects to Night of the Living Dead but with a unique flavour all of its own. Dr Robert Morgan (Vincent Price) is the sole survivor of a wind borne disease that has wiped out the whole of humanity. His days are monotonous with a ritualistic/routine lifestyle liable to crack the most solid of minds. The curse of loneliness is bad enough but being haunted by a legion of living dead vampires only adds to the anguish and Morgan is very much a man on the cusp. Will he make contact with other humans or will his nightmare continue and he will die as the last man on earth?

This film poses many questions to the viewer such as:- How would I defeat the vampires? What would I do in Morgan’s shoes? How would my mental state hold up under such strain? What would I do to pass the time? etc. Brilliant stuff and done with such a low budget and limited effects.

Price as always is a reliable actor and is thoroughly convincing in a demanding role. The sketchy black and white look only adds to a certain authenticity and it is one to peruse and ponder over many sessions. Based on the 1954 novel by Richard Matheson, I Am Legend, this is a must have piece of horror for the seeker of the atmospheric.

   

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