CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

THE FACE OF FU MANCHU

1965.  Directed by Don Sharp

They say Fu Manchu is dead, they say he is no more - who the Hell are they kidding?   Here we see the crazed megalomaniac rises from the ashes and set about another attempt at world domination cum destruction - he is a bit of a stubborn blighter to say the least.

Nayland Smith (Nigel Green) sees Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) beheaded but when he arrives back in England his suspicions are aroused after a series of gristly strangling’s.  As the film progresses it comes to light that the master criminal is back up to his shady goings-on in a secret hideout beneath the River Thames.  It turns out that the person beheaded was a hypnotised double - how crafty hey?  Now, after kidnapping the renowned Professor Muller (Walter Rilla), he tries to force the great scientist to relinquish the key to making a deadly solution from a rare Tibetan flower.  It is with this solution that Fu Manchu holds the world to rights, one false move and every living thing will die - the man is mad I tell ya, mad.

Once again lee plays the role of the lead maniac with chilled precision, his nemesis played by Green is an affective character and rather than full blown horror what we get here are pure fantastical adventures almost straight out of a Boy's Own Comic.  Don't try to read anything too deeply into these films and enjoyment can be had.  This, by the way, was the first in a 5 film series.

   

THE VENGEANCE OF FU MANCHU

1967.  Directed by Jeremy Summers

More nasty goings on from the oriental super-criminal who takes great delight in causing pain, disaster and embarrassment.  This 3rd film in the series is a frisky romp with high adventure and a few moments that raise a titter and now and again, as well as a welcome shudder.

Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) is in residence at a remote hideaway in the Chinese province of Gansu.  He is joined, as ever, by his vicious daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) and is plotting the death of his arch-rival and eternal thorn in his side, Inspector Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) of Scotland Yard.  Alongside his revenge he is also striving to become the leader of the world’s super criminals, one of whom he makes a close acquaintance with.  The film rolls along in fantastical fashion with an outlandish storyline that doesn't really captivate. Fu Manchu kidnaps a doctor and his daughter and forces the medical man to carry out a facial reconstruction in the hope of making a Nayland-Smith double.   The resultant clone is put into a trance and forced to kill whereupon the real Nayland-Smith is captured my Fu Manchu.  Will the double be hung and our hero detective be killed soon after?  Will the evil mastermind take over the world?  Will we stay intrigued enough to actually care?

The outstanding feature of these films is Lee's ice-cold performance and the odd snippet of decent action.  The storyline is tenuous, at times ridiculous and the atmosphere and mystery of the Sax Rohmer books is just not captured at all.  This is a harmless movie though, the beheading scene quite strong for what is an adventure yarn and I suppose I will dip in again as I have fond childhood memories of these far-fetched frolics.

   

THE HILLS HAVE EYES

1977.  Directed by Wes Craven

A cult film that, for me at least, has lost some of its chomp and is now just a weak forerunner of many similar efforts that have upped the ante.  I didn't realise the tameness of the film and the dubious acting were so obvious - this one though is still held in high regard by many.

A family are on their way to California but, after calling at a lonely garage and coming across an old crank called Fred (John Steadman)  they move on and 'surprise, surprise' their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. The family need help, two members go off in search of assistance, one is Dad, Bob Carter (Russ Grieve) who attempts to return to the gas station.  He arrives at his destination, finds a fear-filled Fred trying to hang himself whereupon he cuts down the terror blighted fellow and hears the tale of his son's family - a pack of deranged cannibals who live in the hills through which the Carters have traveled.  Bob returns, Fred meets his demise as do several members of the stranded Carter family.  One of the pet dogs helps out, the hungry relatives are planning a feast, what we get offered is a fight for survival.

Again, a typical horror scenario - group of people get stranded, group of people get picked off one by one, the end result is usually a bloodbath.  This offering is something of a 'cult' classic but here the word 'cult' is used in the negative.  The film has not stood the test of time and is a weak effort that never really chills.  The family of retards is disturbing albeit comical but more could have been done with the potential nastiness of the film I feel. 

   

THE BRAIN

1962.  Directed by Freddie Francis

An overlooked film that combines Noir-esque atmosphere, horror and distinctive directorial touches to give it quite a unique flavour.  Of course, keeping a brain alive is far from original but combining it with a whodunit plot and some stylish cinematography works a treat.

The plot revolves around two doctors and their quest to keep a brain alive.  Having run out of luck with a monkey's brain they end up in the possession the brain of Max Holt, an obnoxious and corrupt multi-millionaire who had just been killed in an aeroplane crash.  Dr Peter Corrie (Peter Van Eyck) is Hell-bent on keeping the brain alive and learning its secrets, his partner Dr Frank Shears (Bernard Lee) is less enthusiastic and frowns upon the whole fiasco as unlawful madness.  The brain is soon highly active and via telepathic messages Corrie is made aware that the plane crash may not have been an accident.  From here, the stubborn and obsessive doctor goes on an investigatory trail questioning Holt's family members and close associates.  We end up with a 'guess who' scenario with each potential culprit having good reason to commit the crime.  Eventually, after a few slight twists and turns, all is revealed, with one final touch leaving us wondering if the power of the brain lives on or not.

There is a certain style to this film, a believable pace and a strange ambience that gives the whole fiasco an absorbing angle.  The method of the delivery seems almost European, at times things appear quite prepared but, this is a creation that perhaps deserves more notice than it gets and certainly gives a good account of itself despite the unoriginal plot.

   

THE MAZE

1953.  Directed by William Cameron-Menzies

Whenever a film pops up with the tag of being '3-dimensional' one has preconceived ideas of something cheap and nasty that heavily relies on its gimmick to get a fair response.  I entered this one not knowing what to expect, at the end of the film I couldn't believe the fantastical madness that had unfolded.

Scotsman Gerald MacTeam (Richard Carlson) seems happy enough with his fiancé Kitty (Veronica Hurst) until he suddenly breaks the engagement after hearing of his Uncles death.  He ends up inheriting a strange castle where he moves to and acts in a completely different way.  Kitty cannot accept the broken engagement, she goes to see MacTeam and notices his odd behaviour and the fact that he has aged.  After a series of unsettling events that occur within the castle it is in a hedge maze in the gardens that investigations begin and bring light to the sinister situation.  Kitty eventually uncovers a crazed and quite ludicrous scenario  that sees MacTeam and his servant tending to a creature best left for you to discover - you may not believe your eyes, I was hopping mad with excitement come the end of this very angular picture. 

This is a movie that slips beneath the radar, one that is barely mentioned when one browses the more ‘well-thumbed’ horror manuals – it is a shame.  I found myself involved with this movie from the off and quite titivated by the end reveal – it is not often I get surprised, this one did just that!

   

THE TERRORNAUTS

1967. Directed by Montgomery Tully

When first released this film went out to the cinemas as part of a double bill with 'They Came From Beyond Space' - the verdict was that these were the worst 2 films the company ever produced.  Of course in this instance, with Charles Hawtrey thrown into a Sci-Fi debacle one can certainly understand the thinking behind the judgement.

The film revolves around a Radio Telescope Site known as Project Star Talk and its highly focused head Dr Joe Burke.  The project is given 90 days in which to validate the funding it receives for trying to make contact with other worldly intelligence.  During this period the accountant Mr Yellowlees (Charles Hawtrey) is sent over to go through the project's accounts and bumble around in a typical moronic manner it seems.  Eventually a signal is found, contact is made and a spaceship arrives picking up the project shed and taking all those working on the project namely, Burke and Yellowlees, the Tea Lady Mrs Jones (Patricia Hayes); Electronics Expert Ben Keller (Stanley Meadows) and Office Manager Sandy Lund (Zena Marshall).  They are taken to an asteroid from where the signal came, are greeted by a robot and put through a series of tests.  The tests reveal facts of an interstellar war that is approaching Planet Earth, it is now up to our chosen few to join battle and try and defeat the dreaded Terrornauts.  We get a bout of 'Space Invaders', we get an avalanche of ropey acting, we get a storyline that is paper thin and fizzles into non-existence, for some reason though, I feel entertained.

Cheap, tacky and lacking in any gripping excitement this sure-fire dud however is still watchable and has a colourisation that appeals to the inner child.  Nothing profound takes place, the effects are somewhat shambolic but within the low-budget nonsense a certain charm pervades - maybe it is just an age thing.

 

THE BLOODY JUDGE

1970. Directed by Jesus Franco

A tucked away Christopher Lee film that loosely reflects Witchfinder General though with a weaker plot and character base-line and some gratuitous nudity that is thrown in for the sheer hell of it - I am sure some pimpled and frustrated teenagers will appreciate it.

Judge Jeffrey’s (Christopher Lee) has too much power in seventeenth century England and uses it to condemn women as witches and use them to ease his sexual appetite.  The film primarily concerns Mary (Maria Rohm) whose sister has been wrongly put to death at the hands of the evil Judge.  Her lover Harry (Hans Hass jr) is the son of Lord Wessex and joins the rebels in war torn Britain which Jeffrey's soon hears about.  The wicked man of the law plans to capture both Mary, whom he believes is following in her sister's footsteps and Harry.  Of course torture, seduction and insane ego-driven madness all rise to the surface as this historical drama slowly plays out.  Jeffrey’s is eventually cornered and sentenced to death, the question is...will he escape his just desserts and evade the hangman's noose?

I picked this up in a Halloween budget basket, it only cost £3 and came as part of a good promising bundle.  I hadn't seen the film before, expected much but, at the end of the spin, I was left deflated.  Lee, of course, holds is own, the torture scenes are absorbing but the general flow and pointless nudity try and make a middling film something that it isn't.

   

THE STRANGE WORLD OF PLANET X

1958. Directed by Gilbert Gunn

A sci-fi snippet that goes through the same old 'visitor from space gives cautionary warning' routine whilst throwing in an array of theatrical performances and some really shabby effects.  The name of the film, like the content, is cheap and as per, anything starring Forrest Tucker has the seal of B-movie quality.

The tale revolves around physicist Dr Laird (Alec Mango) and his American assistant Gilbert Graham (Forrest Tucker) who are both involved in conducting a series of outlandish experiments with magnetic fields.  After an accident, Brigadier Cartwright (Windham Goldie) investigates along with his side-kick, computer expert (and token gesture woman), Michele DuPont (Gaby Andre).  All experiments soon continue with a strange Mr Smith (Martin Benson) arriving on the scene and giving various warnings.  Dr Laird carries on regardless, the local forest is soon affected and giant insects are borne.  The film tumbles towards the finale, DuPont becomes ensnared in a huge spider's web, then there is a so-called 'big-reveal' that explains away all that has transpired thus far.  The storyline clings on for dear life, the final outcome is in some ways expected, there is no killer punch or unsettling outcome, this is the world of the B-movie after all.

A very tame film with a certain madness invading the script and making for a real patchwork parade with the usual corned cliché’s thrown in.  Sometimes one wonders what the Hell the Directors were thinking when dealing with such flimsy material and as for the special effects people - well that is another matter altogether.  The message is simple, watch, expect little, enjoy!

   

TARGET EARTH

1954. Directed by Sherman A. Rose

The invaders are coming, there is panic in the streets, all we have to rely on are some time-served residents of the 'populace in trouble' role and a script that has many flaws and corned explanations.  Richard Denning is in the driving seat, a man who was either short of work or utterly immersed in these escapades.  We know the route to be taken, but will anything outrageously surprising be encountered along the way?

Frank Brooks (Richard Denning) and Nora King (Kathleen Crowley) join forces after bumping into one another in a seemingly deserted town.  They meet another couple in a bar Vicki Harris (Virginia Grey) and Jim Wilson (Richard Reeves), a couple who have been celebrating hard and are almost oblivious to the desolation.  The small group find out the reason for the abandonment of the city, it is an attack of robots which Brooks considers to have come from Planet Venus.  Whilst looking for a car to escape the city they meet Charles Otis (Mort Marshall) who has also been looking to flee the city but found all cars out of use.  The group take shelter, Otis reads a newspaper that tells of the attack, he panics, runs into the street and is duly shot by a robot.  To add to the groups problems, they are joined soon after by a psychotic killer known as Davis (Robert Roark), who has his own plans for survival. The culmination of events soon comes, not all survive and we wonder if we will be left in suspense or given a clean cut finale - ooh the cliff-hanging thrill of it all.

Despite only using one robot throughout the film and making sure that a very tight budget was adhered to this isn't a bad jaunt.  It goes through the usual rigmarole, it gets the scientists befuddled and then using a somewhat surprise method they find themselves with a chance of saving the plant.  It seems there is always hope, even when money is tight and robots are on the loose.

   

VOODOO MAN

1947.  Directed by William Beaudine

A quick flick with Bela Lugosi hamming matters up and striving with all his might to bring back to life his long dead wife using whatever means he can.  You know what you get with Lugosi, he may not be the greatest actor but he always brings a great ambience to any film.

Dr Richard Marlowe (Bela Lugosi) is using the services of garage owner Nicholas (George Zucco) who misdirects lady drivers into an area that Marlowe can use to shut off the car's engine.  Once the young lasses are alone, two of Marlowe's assistants abduct them and take them back to the mad doctor's residence.  Here they are zombified and used in various voodoo ceremonies, the aims of which are to transfer their inner life essences to Lugosi's wife.  Success is short lived, eventually a 'special' girl known as Betty (Wanda McKay) is taken, it isn't long before her boyfriend Ralph (Michael Ames) is hot on her trail and it goes without saying that Marlowe's plans are about to unravel and his voodoo victims are about to be freed.

This film was shot in 7 days, perhaps it shows and accentuates the general flimsiness of the storyline but for 62 minutes this one is fair enough and is easily breezed through.  There is no hidden depth, no staggering scares, Lugosi flashes his hypno-stare - it is not enough to save this film from the B-grade category it deserves.

   

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