CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

THE MONKEY'S PAW

1948.  Directed by Norman Lee

A film version of that eternally classic tale by W. W. Jacobs that sees disaster come from seeming good fortune and the end culmination of rising horror beautifully delivered and leaving a sense of unsettling uncertainty.

The main tale follows the Trelawne family who work in a small humble shop that just earns enough money for the family to get by on.  Trouble arises when Mr Trelawne (Milton Rosmer) acquires a Monkey's Paw from a travelling salesmen who says that the dubious article grants the purchaser 3 wishes.  Mr Trelawne, as it turns out, is in need of £200 after frittering his money away with the local bookmaker.  Of course it goes without say that he makes his first wish much to his wife's (Meg Jenkins) dismay.  Our debt-bound man eventually gets his £200 via the hands of a local Speedway Track manager (Alfie Bass) who brings news that Mr Trelawne's son has been horribly killed in a motorcycle accident - It seems the paw is hell-bent of having the last laugh.  After the funeral the last 2 wishes are used with the whole sense of the unreal rising to a completely new fantastical level - the end scenes that follow are utterly absorbing and lift the film from a sub-standard situation.

The film here is a drawn out affair and somewhat rather 'dry' in places and as one versed in all thing 'horrified' the ending was more than a little well-known. Despite this though the finale is wonderfully executed and the final despondency and atmospheric terror the highpoint of the film.  I will dabble again, and of course the story will always be a favourite.

   

THE CREATURE WALKS AMONG US

1956. Directed by John Sherwood

The third and final instalment in the 'Creature' series with a dilution in quality expected.   It is a cynical approach but time proves this is usually the case but one never knows and to be fair, the opening two films have been highly entertaining with the first, a genuine all-time classic.

We begin as a follow-on form the previous flick with the Gill-Man having escaped from the Ocean Harbour Oceanarium in Florida and now being tracked down in the Everglades by a team of scientists led by the unhinged Dr William Barton (Jeff Morrow).  Barton is seen as the extremely jealous husband of Marcia (Leigh Snowden) who attracts the attention of many men including the expedition guide Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer).  In the mix is Dr Tom Morgan (Rex Reason) the sub-hero who has a tenuous and teasing relationship with Marcia thus keeping a sub-plot very much on the simmer.   Eventually the team capture the Gill-Man who is burnt in the process.  After a surgical procedure and the removal of his bandaging it is noted that the Creature is shedding his skin, breathing through a lung-system and apparently metamorphing into a somewhat human-state.  Barton is overly enthused and has big plans but these all go awry after murder is committed, blame is passed and retribution is had.  The Creature takes no prisoners and longs for life back underwater - the question is, with these dabbling humans will he ever make it?

At times this is a dry film, at others intriguing but overall it is a hit and miss affair.  For a final offering though it is far from a turkey and certainly rounds off a decent triumvirate of good old Universal Horror.  The finale does leave matters open for a follow-up offering but it never happened, I think it was just as well.

   

THE WOMAN-EATER

1958. Directed by Charles Saunders

A crazy cheapo-film with a storyline that is laughable in the extreme and yet still holds the fascination of people like-myself and those equally absorbed in such low-budget nonsense - I can't fault em.

Dr Moran (George Couloris) heads off to the Amazon to seek out a tribe who are using a mysterious juju that helps bring people back to life.  Before contracting a severe virus Moran witnesses a tribal ceremony that sees a young woman fed to a carnivorous tree - we are then transported forward 5 years.  Now Moran has the tree in his home plus the tribal drummer Tanga (Jimmy Vaughan).  Experiments are underway to discover a life-reviving serum, Moran is sacrificing women to the tree and then extracting a serum that will perform the sought after miracle - it isn't long though before Moran takes a step too far and is exposed for the lunatic that he is.  During the tale Moran employs a new assistant housekeeper, Sally Norton (Vera Day) who soon becomes unsettled and tells her lover Jack Venner (Peter Wayn) about her concerns.  Also in a state of irritation is Moran's regular housekeeper and long term adorer Margaret (Joyce Gregg) who really does get the crappy end of the cinematic stick.  Anyway all soon unravels for the Doctor, he gets what he deserves, it was destined to happen and we are left…disbelieving for many, many reasons.

Despite being awash with shabby acting, the premise being outrageous and the central 'horror attraction' being of abysmal standard the film has a charm and captures that child-like obsession.   As is usually the case, the advertising poster offers up a promise that can't be met but such is the way with these things – all we can do is indulge and not be overly critical.  

   

THE GIANT CLAW

1957. Directed by Fred F. Sears

An incredible and utterly fantastic film with no sense or sanity and of pure B-movie proportions that only the deeply entrenched will enjoy.  The script is dubious, the premise un-bloody-believable and the effects - well, the monster must be one of the most ludicrous in cinema history but...I would watch this one all over again, what does that say about my state of mind?

We begin with Civil Aeronautical Engineer Mitch MacAfee (Jeff Morrow) out on a test flight whereupon he claims to see a UFO.  Initially his claims are palmed off as a joke even when 3 planes go in pursuit of the object and one goes missing in action.  Flying back to New York with a flea in his ear, and mathematician Sally Caldwell (Mara Corday) by his side, the plane carrying MacAfee comes under attack by the strange flying entity forcing a crash landing.  MacAfee is still regarded as a hoaxer until more aircraft go missing and the authorities have to take his claims seriously.  As it turns out it is a 'big bird from an anti-matter galaxy' that is causing all the mayhem and when it is suggested the bird has come to Planet Earth to build a nest the hunt is on for the eggs and a way to stop this aerial menace.  There are some real comical scenes and some quite farcical suggestions along the way with the thought behind the science surely borne from heads long addled.

Like I say, this is a quite outrageous spectacle of lunatic proportions but, back in the 50'sm for some directors, there were no holds barred.  Complete escapism or complete crap - pure fun or unadulterated foolishness?  Either way, I reckon I will be investing more time in this one and duly wondering what the Hell is wrong with my noggin.

   

PEEPING TOM

1960. Directed by Michael Powell

An intriguing and individualistic film that has a slightly unsettling arrangement whilst dealing with the needs of a somewhat tenderly twisted psychopath.  The themes of abuse, cause and result, cold-hearted brutality and a somewhat upside-down approach to death make the film one not easily forgotten.

The film begins in London with Mark Lewis (Carl Boehm) meeting and killing a prostitute.  During the evil act he films all and even gets coverage of the police taking away the corpse next morning.  Mark soon makes friends with a neighbour called Helen Stephens (Anna Massey) who lives in a flat below his.  In confidence he shows her a series of films of himself as a youngster in which his father used him as a guinea pig whilst testing the psychological impact of fear.  Soon after, our very disturbed lead man kills again, Mrs Stephens comes to realise that all is not well after viewing one of his snuff-movies whereupon she is caught by the creator and put at the point of a brandished dagger - will Helen be the next victim of our deranged lead man?  Before long the police are on our killers trail but before his arrest one last killing is had that rounds off a self-made documentary!

As said, this is a unique film with an eerie underbelly of sinister disturbance.  There is a cloying atmosphere at times, the critical feedback was harsh with controversy was high.  Time may have diluted feelings towards its explicit nature but the whole escapade still has the ability to make one think with a certain unsure slant - a small snippet of success therein is found.  

   

THE SECRET OF DORIAN GRAY

1970. Directed by Massimo Dallamano

A lurid and erotic production of the classic Oscar Wilde tale with a glut of salacious blatancy that sees nudity, erotica and debauchery take hold of proceedings thus making this film one for the curious horror nut and the peep-hole pervert from times of yore.

The tale follows a young Dorian who is regarded as both beautiful and vain. In the swinging world of London Town Dorian (Helmut Berger) falls in love with aspiring actress Sybil (Maria Liljedahl).  It seems to be an ideal match up but after getting his portrait painted by his friend Basil (Richard Todd) and realising that his wonderful youth is merely a fleeting moment he vows that the painting will be the only one to grow old whilst he stays young.  The same evening sees Dorian end his relationship with Sybil and become a somewhat different character - has he actually sold his soul to the evil and exchanged morality for vanity?  The development of the story is slow and sordid with Dorian now indulging in sexual liberation and deviancy that results in his heart turning to icy stone and the locked away portrait growing more abominable by the day.  Eventually a showdown comes with Dorian and Basil both facing the painting.  It seems as though our shag-around male whore has had enough - the final sequences are predictable but neatly done.

I like the Dorian Gray tale, it is a shame here that it has been used as a vehicle for a bit of 'tits and ass' rather than used as a psychological drama with emphasis on the inner turmoil of the lead character and the surrounding players concerns.  This is still a passable watch though and the lead lothario is convincing as a narcissistic pig.

   

FLIGHT TO MARS

1951.  Directed by Leslie Selander

A typical film done in typical fashion with typical cheap effects and shady dialogue - what more can one ask of a 1950's bargain basement sci-fi venture - oh yes, the list is endless – typical hey!

An adventure to Mars is had by physicist Dr. Lane (John Litel), Professor Jackson (Richard Gaines), engineer Jim Barker (Arthur Franz), and his assistant Carol Stadwick (Virginia Huston) and Journalist Steve Abbott (Cameron Mitchell).  This first visit to the Red Planet is done with risks known and brave attitudes adopted.  Negotiating through a meteor storm contact with Earth is lost but the intrepid travellers carry on regardless and crash land on their target destination.  The welcoming committee of Martians is led by Ikron (Morris Ankrum) - it is no coincidence that he speaks English and is human in form.  The crew are taken to an underground city and are made welcome whilst they work to repair their ship with the prospect of returning home with new found knowledge which they hope to reciprocate.  Alas Ikron has other plans as he is at the helm of a dying planet and his race needs somewhere else to dwell.  We are left with a race against time for the Earth-Dwellers who try and fix their ship without Ikron realising it whilst the two-faced trickster plans to wait until the rocket is finished before using it for his own devices.

This is a limited film in many ways, goes through many usual motions and offers no real excitement.  The story has been flogged to death in a multitude of ways, only patience and a B-movie obsession will get you through with the only highlight being the abrupt ending.

   

THE EVIL DEAD

1981.  Directed by Sam Raimi

A video nasty that eventually became regarded as a classic.  This film I first saw in 1981 on a pirate tape at a youth club, I remember all in attendance were scared witless and all thought we had witnessed something special.  Almost 40 years on I have dabbled into the madness again, wondering if the test of time has been passed.

The story starts in unoriginal style with 5 young teens (3 girls, 2 boys) heading for a break in a remote, isolated cabin.  Upon arrival several suggestive incidents do not bode well and when the trapdoor to the cellar creepily opens the two blokes are stupid enough to investigate.  They find a tape machine, a book bound in flesh and a few other dubious items.  Later that night the tape is played back and reveals the work of an investigator into things sinister.  An incantation is recited, one young lass becomes agitated and when all eventually go to bed, she hears noises in the woods that she feels the need to check out.  A raping follows, several possessions take place and blood spills by the bucketload.  Our lead man, Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell) finds himself in a lunatic situation, fighting off the living dead and striving to keep a hold on his insanity.  The film speeds by, the effects, although now aged, still mesmerise and many gruesome moments still get one staring with disgusted gratification.  The ending, at the time, surprised, now it is all rather routine...but it didn't stop several follow-up films.

Yes, time has passed and things may have become slightly diluted but this film has an abundance of character, a few 'jump-inducing' moments and many delicious snippets made for the horror-film pervert.  I enjoyed my latest catch-up and will certainly indulge again, first though I need to have a dabble with the rest of the trilogy and maybe, the remake.

   

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES

1970.  Directed by Ted Post

This film found itself in the unenviable position of being the first follow-up to the 1968 classic that delivered everything promised in a truly remarkable style.  As with all sequels, the standard was there to be maintained but also the need for something new was ultimately necessary and without any big names at the helm something rather outlandish was perhaps needed to draw in the interest levels.

The film begins with a flashback to the previous escapade with the lead man Taylor (Charlton Heston) seen to leave his sidekick, the mute Nova (Linda Harrison), and enter the Forbidden Zone.  Soon after a second spaceship is seen to land and we have a new astronaut on the scene, namely Brent (James Franciscus).  Our new lead soon discovers Nova and sees she his wearing Taylor's dog-tag - it isn't long after that he goes in search of Taylor and discovers a city run by apes and, after escaping from the primates hairy clutches, a colony of underground mutants too.  The mutants have psychic powers and worship the bomb, a nuclear device that signifies the post-apocalyptic world in which Brent now finds himself.  The apes are keen to re-capture the two escapees; the mutants wish to defend themselves by detonating the bomb - the film races to the finale with an impending doomsday beckoning - can you take it.

This is a film that falls short of the original (what's new) but has its own style and approach that helps it not to be a cheap cop out and too reliant on that which has gone before.  The performances all round are consistent, the success at the box office was healthy and the closure has a few surprises in store - there are worse ways to pass 95 minutes of your life.

   

IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA

1955.  Directed by Robert Gordon

If you are absorbed in all things cinematically fantastical and retro then this film will be on your radar.  It is a name that sticks, and a flick that has certainly done the rounds.   As per, radioactive meddling brings about a natural reaction borne from another enlarged beast - this time one from the deep and lacking a few appendages due to financial restraints.

Pure oil-ball Commander Pete Matthews (Kenneth Toby) captains a nuclear submarine when they encounter a strange sonar reaction borne from a mysterious unidentified object.  The sub is seemingly attacked and tissue is later found that leads to thoughts of a huge sea creature.  Enter the marine biologists, token gesture lady Professor Lesley Joyce (Faith Domergue) and John Carter (Donald Curtis) who eventually identify the tissue as belonging to a giant octopus.  More attacks, the military now move in and all the while Matthews uses his overwhelming and sickening charm to woo the swooning and quite stupid Ms Joyce.  Clues now come thick and fast, the action increases and some fine stop-motion animation footage of the tentacle'd terror is had.  The final showdown sees Matthews insist on being the hero and takes on the destructive giant and duly wins the day.  Of course Professor Joyce is impressed and the film ends with her accepting Matthew's slick and smooth proposal - ooh the greasy bastard.

With Ray Harryhausen effects, a fast delivery and a monster not fully-equipped due to a lack of funds (the 'six-topus' no less) the film has the easy charm and watchablility of many similar flicks.  Lead man and woman (Tobey and Domergue) did a few similar films, here they work well together and contribute to an half-decent adventure.

   

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