CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

BLACK FRIDAY

1940. Directed by Arthur Lubin

You can't beat a bit of Karloff and Lugosi, and here we have a fine lashing of both actors in a film that has a Jekyll and Hyde twist with a touch of gangsterism - interesting to say the least!

Professor George Kinsley (Stanley Ridges) is run down by a car full of gangsters during a shoot-out. Kinsely's friend, the renowned Dr Ernest Sovac) witnesses it all and is on hand to administer help to both Kinsley and a gangster injured in the crash, one Red Cannon (also played by Stanley Ridges). It transpires that Kinsley is going to die through a brain injury and Cannon has lost the use of his legs and so, to help both, Sovac implants part of another man's brain into the professor's. The professor recovers but his personality is split, one moment he is a suffering old man, the next he his a cocky gangster looking for revenge and a fortune of $500, 000. Sovac learns of this bounty, he wants a slice of the action to build a laboratory to further his experiment but, Cannon's arch rival Eric Marnay (Bela Lugosi) and his fellow hoods want to an easy payday too - it all adds to the fun.

This is a short film, it flows well and combines subtle horror elements within the gangster plot quite adequately. Karloff is always a pleasure, Lugosi his usual shifty self and Ridges does well to play two opposing roles and keep the viewer tuned in. Another minor gem uncovered - next please!

   

NIGHTMARE CASTLE

1965. Directed by Mario Caiano

A film reliant on its eerie settings, brutality and sinister and gothic appearance that creeps along and duly chills the bones with its cascade of monochrome deviancy. Some marvellous camera work keeps the peepers peeled as a tale of betrayal, revenge and perversion comes to the fore.

Muriel (Barbara Steele) owns a castle and lives with her scientist husband, Stephen Arrowsmith (Paul Meuller) who catches his good lady having it away with David the gardener. Arrowsmith cracks, attacks David with a red hot poker, Muriel with acid before electrocuting them both and removing their hearts which he keeps in an urn. Having found out he isn't the heir and that it is Muriel's sister Jenny (also played by Steele) Arrowsmith uses many a tactic to get his hands on the property including a fraudulent marriage, some voodoo-like work with blood to rejuvenate his aged servant Solange (Helga Line) whom he uses to drive Jenny insane. Of course things don't work out, the grave is defied and Muriel and her lover still have matters to settle and when a Doctor is called to the castle (Marino Mase) and supernatural forces are suspected the film gallops to its finale in quite magnetising fashion.

This film holds its own and although sedate at times Steele keeps the attention of the viewer with two decent performances and Arrowsmith is a fine villain played out in theatrical 'badman' style. The moments of horror are effective and the atmosphere spot on and despite a somewhat rushed ending there is much to enjoy here.

GARGOYLES

1972. Directed by Bill Norton

Some films are sussed as low budget as soon as they hit the screen, this is the case here with unknown faces, rubber suit affects and a flimsy storyline all contributing to a sub-standard offering - and yet, I was still slightly entertained and some of the gargoyle footage did indeed do the trick.

Prior to the film we are given a brief insight into Satan, his downfall and his nasty spawn that rise every 600 years to do battle with the human race. The storyline unfolds and is simple enough, an anthropologist, Dr Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter Diana (Jennifer Salt) are travelling through the deserts of USA where the Doc is looking for material for a forthcoming book. They come across Uncle Willies Desert Museum where a whole host of artefacts and relics are shown by a dubious host. Whilst showcasing his wares Uncle Willie tells a tale of suggestion and is rudely interrupted by a fluttering of wings and a banging on the roof - can you guess what it is yet? Uncle Willie is duly killed and the Doc and his daughter flee with a prize skeleton that the museum owner claimed to belong to a Gargoyle. Here the story gains momentum and the long hidden creatures have returned and to take over the planet and claim what they believe to be rightly theirs.

This is a TV movie, as cheap as soggy chips and is a mere novelty oddment rather than a serious classic. The effects are lacking in quality although the lead demon looks the part and is well-played indeed. The running time is short therefore anyone with a spare hour or so can dip in and enjoy a curiosity to not get over concern by. These flicks have their place, but never at the top of the pile.

   

THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE

1964.  Directed by Del Tenney

A low budget offering that defies its cut-price evolution and comes across as a film with many quality moments and a nice play on the 'whodunit' theme. Roy Scheider makes his acting debut too and the final reveal of the killer is one I certainly didn't expect.

The tale before us is set in a mansion where Rufus Sinclair has recently passed away and left his will to be read.  The family gather and we are informed that due to suffering from catalepsy Sinclair has made some rather strict requests that, if not adhered to, will result in death to those involved. Those listening to the will are a mixed bunch, some horrified, some shaking off the threat as hokum and only longing to get their hands on the inheritance.  In true Christie-esque style the characters are picked off one by one with a beheading, a facial disfigurement, a drowning, a suffocation and a burning all in the mix.  Eventually we get down to the nitty gritty and the last few stalwarts with a final reveal throwing off all previous suspicions and finalising the film on a quite convincing note.   The best characters of course are the ones without morals, Vivian Sinclair (Margot Hartman) is an unfaithful woman playing with fire and Bruce Sinclair (Robert Milli) a delectable nasty piece of work who treats all like trash and only thinks of his self and his unabashed desires.  There is much to intrigue and involve throughout and it is great pleasure to see some get their brutal comeuppance.

This is a film that could easily slip beneath the radar and one that rarely gets mentioned in the usual terror-filmed tomes and nostalgic examinations.  Tis a shame because there are many ghastly moments to relish, some fine characters to love, hate or laugh at and a neat twist at the end to startle the most insightful watcher.

   

THE CITY OF THE DEAD

1960.  Directed by John Moxey

A story of witchcraft and revenge that is tattooed throughout with great atmospherics and that monochrome aspect we all are absolutely smitten with.  The pace is carefully set, the horror subtle and many of the characters involved are as shifty as you like - all we need on top of this is a plot to hold our attention.

It is 1692 and we are in the tucked away town of Whitewood, Massachusetts where one Elizabeth Selwyn is put to the stake for witchcraft.   Whilst frazzling she utters a curse and then makes a pact with the Devil - one gets a feeling the town is damned from here on in - we duly travel to the modern day.  Witchcraft lecturer, Professor Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee), has enthused one of his students, Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson), and encouraged her to investigate the black arts further by visiting Whitewood, where she may expand her hungry knowledge.   She arrives into a sinister setting with mists rolling and strange people lurking.  She stops at The Raven Inn which is owned by the unsettling presence of Mrs Newless (Patricia Jessell) whom, surprise, surprise, is not what she seems.  As Barlow investigates underhand activities are uncovered and an end is met - her brother Richard (Dennis Lotis) and her boyfriend Bill Maitland (Tom Naylor) need to investigate further - what they find is a cult gone crazy with a need to satiate Satan's eternal lust.

This is an overlooked beauty, shot with an exactitude and an almost theatrical essence.  Each and every player contributes to a slowly simmering episode of evil hoodoo that grabs the viewer by the attentive sensors and never lets go.  The camera work makes all the difference though, that and the constant feeling of threat.

   

I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF

1957. Directed by Gene Fowler Jr

This film is one that sits in the memory banks filed under the ranks of 'cheap' but a recent re-run show sit to be a decent flick and a forerunner of many similar episodes. It is of its time of course but taken at such face-value the film makes for decent viewing.

Troubled teenager Tony Rivers (Michael Landon) attends Rockdale High and is renowned for having a short fuse. We first encounter him in a scuffle with his classmate Jimmy (Tony Marshall) and then see him blow up a few more times and eventually seek the advised help needed. He pays a visit to the dubious Dr Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell), he is given a treatment that he thinks will hopefully put him on the right path. Dr Brandon has far greater designs and gives Rivers a touch of lycanthropy that she seems quite oblivious of. A few killings ensue, Rivers goes on the run, the end that comes is a trifle rushed and is done in, by today's standards, corned style.

Despite its shortcomings this flick is a good jaunt and is a real 50's chiller with a sub-rebel theme that must have certainly held the younger audience's attention. The characters are well delivered and Brandon plays a tetchy young man very well indeed. A B-grade classic methinks, one that many have heard of but perhaps never seen - correct it folks and immerse yourself in some retro-fun.

   

I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN

1957.  Directed by Herbert L. Strock

A film riding on the back of a previous Werewolf film and following a quite similar formula.  It is another short release with some dubious acting and a tin-pot script but something within the mix keeps one entertained and thoroughly absorbed.

Professor Frankenstein (Whit Bissell) is on a lecturing tour and is joined by a grudging accomplice Dr Karlton (Robert Burton) in the creation of a human being.  During the opening dialogue between the two wannabe creators a fatal automobile accident conveniently happens nearby and affords them the chance to pick up a few spare parts.  Work begins, Frankenstein charms a lady called Margaret (Phyllis Coates) and promises to marry her.  She becomes his secretary and is advised to keep all callers at bay whilst the Professor indulges in his fantastic experiment.  Margaret becomes suspicious and duly investigates whereupon she encounters the monster. The monsters has been created, the monster wants a new face, Margaret has become an inconvenience and must be got rid of - game on.   To spice matters up the Professor is an utter selfish and arrogant swine and he has a secret chamber where he disposes of his left-over parts via a rather hungry alligator.

At 74 minutes the film is nicely timed and has enough room to keep the story rolling, not let the watcher ponder any sketchy acting and the holes in the plot that make things a little too obvious.  Bissell puts in a fine stint as a real unpalatable bastard and his blinkered approach and self-absorbed focus is totally convincing and typical of the Frankenstein ancestry.  A good part to make for a complimentary double bill - I shall be tuning in again for sure!

   
 

THE VAMPIRE

1957. Directed by Paul Landres

An overlooked snippet of 50's horror that follows a strict formula very much whipped over many years but one that has its own flavour and holds its own amidst a continual bombardment of fang-laden flicks. Although we have a blood-sucker in this one though I can't actual recall and sharp teeth on show.

After experimenting with vampire bat blood and looking to cause regression in human behaviour a Dr Campbell stutters out his last and leaves his colleague Paul Beecher (John Beal) with an ambiguous message and a bottle of pills. Upon arriving home with a bad head Beecher asked his daughter Betsy (Lydia Reed) to pass him some migraine tablets from his coat pocket. Alas the pills given are the wrong ones and as a result Beecher starts to have blackouts during which people around him start to mysteriously die. Beecher eventually uncovers the truth and becomes a drug-dependant sufferer with a deadly secret he can't live with. Investigating matters throughout is Sheriff Buck Donnelly (Kenneth Tobey) a familiar face and one who starts to piece together the fantastical going's-on. The atmosphere, accursed main character and Jekyll and Hyde sequences keep the viewer involved all up until the last moment thus making this a good independent effort.

I think the central character here is played ideally by Beal who conveys his torment and misfortune with convicted emotion and gets the viewer really on his side. The tale moves with good pace and the vampire is a good cheapo monster that has a real haunted appearance. The interplay between Beecher and his daughter is a solid touch and adds a nice extra layer of a pleasing film.

   
 

THE INNOCENTS

1961. Directed by Jack Clayton

Ghostly goings-on in creepy monochrome style with the emphasis set on suggestion and atmosphere rather than blatant and gratuitous shocks. This is a film of subtlety, one that lacks the instantaneous palpitation inducing shocks but instead leaves one considering, contemplating and eventually becoming gently unsettled.

 

   
 

BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE

1958. Directed by Henry Cass

The title of this film leads us to believe there will be fangs bared and dark creepy situations aplenty that will see buxom lasses drained of life and crucifixes brandished to keep evil at bay - not so, thios is what you actually get

The main plot sees a Dr John Pierre (Vincent Ball) convicted of malpractice after a botched attempt at a blood transfusion. The sentenced man of medicine is sent to a prison for the criminally insane. This brutal institution is run by Dr Calistratus (Donald Wolfit), a sinister and theatrical character looking into curing a rare and serious blood disorder that he seems to be fflicted by. Calisratus uses the skills of Pierre to try and find a cure whilst in the meantime, Pierre's fiancee (Barbara Shelley) seeks justice and ends up becoming the house-keeper of Calistratus. We find that there has been a miscarriage of justice, we discover that deliberate hindrances to the flow ofthe law have been had and we also learn that Calistraus' assistant Carl (Victor Maddern) has a bit of a thing for Madelaine and duly comes to her rescure from the clutches of his evil master. The yarn eventually comes to a head, the climax is tame, just like the whole film if one is brutally honest.

No, not the most impressive film and almost akin to a diluted Hammer-esque jaunt with little action. One or two gory scenes are appreciated and the Carl the assistant is a fellow that has a lot on is plate bs a certain nasty streak. Not one to dissect to deeply though and not one to give a new option to the shiver and shake sensation seekers - average to say the least!

 
   

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