CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

FIRE MAIDENS OF OUTER SPACE

1956. Directed by Cy Roth

Imagine being told to make a sci-fi film and being given a production time of 2 weeks and a budget of £1.50 - can you only dream of what would be the end result?  Dream no longer, this film is a real example of things done in a rush and with very little cash to splash.  Again the 1950's produce the low-brow goods, anyone who indulges must be utterly mad!

It seems there are signs of life on the 13th moon of Jupiter and five manly astronauts, led by Luther Blair (Anthony Dexter), set off to find out more.  What they come across is a civilization that deems itself to be the 'New Atlantis' a tribe led by one old crackpot and a harem of pretty girls.   The initial action is had soon after landing when a man-like monster is attacking one of the girls who turns out to be named Hestia (Susan Shaw).   Hestia introduces the party to her 'father' figure, Prasus (Owen Berry) and the bevy of beauties which gets the astronauts hormones racing.  Prasus wants the visitors to stay and help them destroy the monster but Duessa (Jacqueline Curtis), the leader of the women, wants the men to stay and be used as breeding material.  We find ourselves in a situation of indecision and with the film plodding along until the monster breaks into the city and helps all and sundry race to a finale.  The closure is cheap, corny and in keeping with a tale of underwhelming nonsense.

Why I indulge time and effort in these films is beyond me?  Why they tickle my fancy also confounds the cranial juices but there you go, it must be something about the 'have a go' mentality behind the creations and the child-like innocence found in escapism done on the cheap.  This is a very shabby escapade but one to enjoy, titter at and take for what it is.  It may have been dubbed 'the worst film ever made' by many critics but I suppose that is better than being a humdrum 'middle-of-the-road' bout of banality.

 

BEHEMOTH THE SEA MONSTER

1959.  Directed by Eugène Lourié

What, a 1950's monster flick based on the side-effects of atomic radiation - surely not!  This was a favourite of mine when I was a nipper, I had not seen it for over 30 years, these are my thoughts on another adventure from the time of nuclear obsession.

US scientist Steve Karnes (Gene Evans) gives a lecture to the British Scientific Society regarding the dangers of nuclear testing and its effect on marine life.  Before he has a chance to return home a fisherman is killed in Cornwall in mysterious circumstances and then thousands of dead fish are washed ashore. The dead fisherman seems to have some radiation burns and some samples of the dead fish appear to contain some radioactive contamination.  Karnes has suspicions of a huge sea beast, suspicions that are enhanced after a photograph of a giant footprint is attained following an attack on a farm in Essex.  After a visit to see a palaeontologist (Jack MacGowran) the creature is identified as a Paleosaurus and the hunt is on to destroy the raging radioactive beast before it runs riot and continues its murderous rampage.  Karnes devises a plan, we, the viewer, are left to watch the action unfold and the dubious effects flicker our way - I find myself wondering at the end of the adventure why this was such a boyhood favourite!

With Andre Morrell starring as Professor James Bickford the film has a bit more promise but in truth this is just a regular B-movie made to go through the 'monster-motions' and appeal to the one's with a fetish for such dabblings - in fact, just like me.  The story though moves at a good pace and I was enchanted throughout - I suspect some may wonder why this is the case but those that know will know why, the others are beyond explanation.

 

THE BRIDES OF FU MANCHU

1966.  Directed by Don Sharp

More oriental escapades via a tale based on the Sax Rohmer written word.  Again mystery, cruelty and the insatiable need for all-consuming power are the driving forces that attempt to keep us entertained over the 93-minute running time - I am all agog.

It is 1924, Dr Fu Manchu (Christopher Lee) is at it again, this time kidnapping the daughters of prominent scientists in the hope of blackmailing the fathers into creating a blast-wave device that will wreak havoc upon the world.  Whilst putting many a lass under sufferance his daughter Lin Tang (Tsai Chin) gets in on the act and shows her nasty nature whilst Nayland Smith (Douglas Wilmer) and Dr Petrie (Howard Marion-Crawford) are trying to deal with the deviancies and get this threat to civilisation stopped once and for all.  Hypnotism, power hungry-mania, a cold cruelty and a Bond-esque type feel to the whole film make this a highly watchable jaunt with the showdown at the end as expected and resulting in the strong hint of a follow-up - as if we couldn’t have guessed.

The second in the series and if truth be told, a fair yomp under the influence of the nefarious one.  Lee is exemplary in his role. the action is well-balanced between moments of suspense and overall I think this is worth anyone's time.  It is pure escapism, nothing more, nothing less, Fu Manchu is a character well known and always worth catching up with. 

 

THE TERROR OF THE TONGS  

1961. Directed by Anthony Bushell  

A sincere Fu Manchu look-alike film with a sinister oriental society led by a made-up Christopher Lee and the usual adventure had.  This release is borne of the Hammer Studios and that in itself is worthy of one's attention.

The film is set in the year 1910, the Red Dragon crime family have murdered the daughter of Captain Jackson Sale (Geoffrey Toone) so as to protect their identity.  Sale swears revenge and walks head on into a wave of intimidations spread by the terrifying Tongs.   A strange beggar (Marne Maitland), hell-bent on toppling the corrupt organisation, joins Sale in his quest and along the way love interest is provided by a mix-raced serving girl known as Lee (Yvonne Monlaur).  The pace is adequate throughout, the tension decent and the horror provided by a few fingers being lopped off and the overall threat of the Tongs who are led by Chung King (Christopher Lee) and his enforcer Tang Hoa (Roger Delgado), is spot on the mark.  A traitor is eventually exposed and a final showdown had before the abrupt ending - all the while I found myself thoroughly entertained.

Not a bad film at all, nicely coloured, the acting is fine and the action plentiful to keep one involved.  Many familiar faces join the fray and this is Hammer's first showing with Christopher Lee as the main star - it was a wise choice and of course, led to many further successes.   

 

THE GIANT GILA MONSTER

1959. Directed by Ray Kellogg 

Cheap monsters, hot-rods, some corn-ball singing and an heroic teenager - what more could any B-movie loving maniac want for his well-earned money?  Well...oh forget it, let us get to the nub of the matter and reveal what transpires in another attempt at tingling the ticker via the use of another hefty beast.

This film is set in rural America and starts with a young couple being killed by the giant lizard named in the title (so much for a big reveal then).  Shortly afterwards, the local Sheriff (Fred Graham) and some concerned teens, go looking for their missing friends.  In the bunch of seekers is hot-rod racer Chase Winstead (Don Sullivan) who locates the car and finds reptilian evidence.  The authorities seem unmoved but when a train is attacked and many deaths are had the hungry creature is hunted down.  An assault on the town follows, a dance hall is the main target with the local teens all gathered for a sock hop and looking like a mighty fine meal for the peckish monster.  Step to the fore Mr Chase and with his hot-rod souped up with nitro-glycerine he aims to save the town and the day with a bit of intuition and heroic thinking.  My money was on the lizard, those easily suckered by a pretty face and a lead role no doubt would be backing the lead man - as you can guess, come the end I was rather disappointed.

So, of low costing, of limited acting prowess and of a routine formula and with a cop out for a monster, it seems there is nothing to enjoy here but, for some reason, enjoy it I did and again I find myself tickled by a jaunt into the realms of impossibility and inanity.   I do question myself at times, I wonder why I am enthralled by such sketchy creations – the answer lies within the innocence the escapist indulgence – beyond that there need be no other explanation. 

 

THE MAN WHO COULD CHEAT DEATH

1959.  Directed by Terence Fisher 

Hammer studios aim to provide the thrills here with a flimsy take on the old Oscar Wilde yarn that sees the aging process defied.  Our lead man is played by the cool and calculated Anton Diffring and the scene is set for something rather special.  But, would the potential be met, that is always the ultimate question when faced with these offerings and their intriguing titles, I am under no illusions that many is the time when the title has been more exciting than the film and the promise has outweighed the product – one still switches on in hope!

Our film is set in 1890 in Paris, Dr Georges Bonnet (Anton Diffring) is a doctor and sculptor and although looking like a young man is actually 104 years old.  The reason for his youth - parathyroid transplants every ten years - simple hey!  The transplants are done by the co-founder of the secret serum, Professor Ludwig Weiss (Arnold Marle) but when the Professor has a stroke he is no longer capable of carrying out his surgeon’s role.  Bonnet is now a man on the edge, he has already struck down his latest model and soon Inspector LeGris (Francis de Wolff) begins an investigation which eventually uncovers some rather shady goings on.  It seems Bonnet has harvested his latest gland from a living person, we now learn that the man obsessed with living forever will stop at nothing to get his way - and murder is not out of the question.  Diffring is at his sweating best, tense, focused and insane but the film has a whole lotta talk and very little action and the ending seems to be rather forced.

I expected a great deal here, what I got was a slow-moving piece lacking in momentum and any great terror touches.  There are moments when we are nudged to the edge of our seat but we never really make it and are left somewhat deflated.  The film relies too much on the verbals rather than just darn decent action and I feel as though a great chance was lost.  I will watch again at some point, I don't reckon my opinion will change! 

 

MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN

1994.  Directed by Kenneth Brannagh

We all know the story, we are all familiar with many faces in the midst of this remake, we, no doubt, know what to expect.  The hazard of all remakes is that they are prone to falling short of the original and when the original is an undoubted classic, the question arises of why the replication has ever been considered.

We begin with the troubled expedition to the North Pole led by a Captain Walton (Aidan Quinn).   Whilst stranded in the back of beyond they come across Victor Frankenstein (Kenneth Brannagh), a man on the brink of death and insanity and with a strange tale to tell.  Victor then relates his life story thus far, from his early childhood, his memories of loss through to his college years and advances in medical science.  The love of his life is his adopted sister Elizabeth Lavenza (Helena Bonham-Carter) whom he eventually drives away when indulging in is studies and the creation of a living man.  Victor uses the notes of the recently deceased professor Shmael Augustus Waldman (John Cleese) and duly creates the expected abomination (Robert De Niro).   From here the soulless monster goes through trial and torment, pays back the creator with utter vengeance and ends up driven to extreme measures due to his wretched existence.  We finalise matters back at the North Pole - it is a saga well known to all horror aficionados.

My opinion of this remake is of a decent film with some good performances.  De Niro does well enough as The Monster and Brannagh is convincing as Frankenstein with the supporting cast holding their own but, for me, the film lacks true magnetism and is one to watch once or twice and then confine to the collection shelves.  There are far better versions, far worse, this is bets deemed as 'average'.  

 

STRANGER FROM VENUS 

1954.  Directed by Burt Balaban

A real low-cost creation with no monsters, no real surprises and a clichéd format we have seen a million times before.  For some reason though I remained absorbed in this one and came out of the other end with my head involved and a smile of appreciation on my face.  Sometimes, simplicity works well.

We begin with reports of a flying saucer being seen in the sky above the great British countryside.  An American woman is driving along and blinded by the craft's landing lights causing her to crash.  Thankfully she is saved by a stranger whom enters a local inn and adds some sincere mystery whilst reading people's thoughts and rousing the curiosity of those at the bar.  Dr Meinard (Cyril Luckham) is fascinated that the stranger has no pulse, Arthur Walker (Derek Bond) is a high ranking government official and suspicious of this new arrival and at one point, suggests he may know where is missing fiancée is who, as it turns out, is Susan North (Patricia Neal), the lady in the car accident.  Susan eventually turns up, she develops a crush on the man who claims to be from Venus and who was responsible for her miraculous recovery.  We eventually learn the reason for the visit to planet earth, it is a peaceful one that has a simple request, a request that wants to see humanities technological advances be curtailed and done with more care.  Alas Walker has other ideas and sees a chance for him to make a name for himself and discover the intricacies of Venusian technology - there is always one isn't there.  What transpires is a race for time - the stranger will die if not picked up by another ship whilst the government officials have set up a trap to disable the expected saucer - the tension duly builds.

This may be a low-budget escapade with no real horror highs and spine-tingling exposures but it runs at an even tempo, has a magnetic atmosphere and tidily goes through the expected motions.  Films like this just need taking for what they are - my advice, expect little, embrace all. 

 

HALF HUMAN

1955.  Directed by Ishoro Honda

A strange film that is delivered in a series of flashbacks and done with an almost documentary style conviction.  This is a film that never seems to register on the horror-radar and one that seems to get a rather low rating.  I dabbled and came out pleased with what I witnessed.

Members of the Towa University Mountaineering Club are interviewed by a reporter after they return from a skiing trip in the Japanese Alps - the story they relate is both fantastic and intriguing.  It seems that there is a local monster (and his son) alive and kicking in the nearby mountains and after a vicious attack thoughts are towards something akin to an Abominable Snowman.  Rumour gets out, a leader of a carnival fancies catching the creature for obvious financial gains whilst the locals are far from happy.  The son of the creature gets shot, from here trouble brews and with other layers within the patchwork plot we are left with a quirky film that keeps one absorbed for its short running time.

There is not really too much to add to this fleeting assessment other than that this is a too often overlooked curio that needs some seeking out.  I am surprised it isn't mentioned more in many horror-based cinematic tomes as it does have its own identity and effective ambience.  It is one I will re-examine - a genuine snippet of entertaining horror.   

 

INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS

1973. Directed by Denis Sanders

Seductive women, sexual murders, strange going's-on and of course, it is the 70's...there be tits tha’ knows!  This is a low grade movie with a somewhat silly plot with a strange space-age force turning women into lusting queen bees.  It is a ludicrous situation with some dubious acting but...ah well but!

John Grubowsky, a bacteriologist has been found dead, seemingly exhausted via the act of copulation.  Neil Agar (William Smith), a special agent with the States Department Office of Security is called in to investigate and soon hooks-up with the laboratory's head librarian, Julie Zorn (Victoria Vetri) whereupon progress is made into what is actually going on after more men are literally 'balled' to death.  In the midst of all the mystery is the attractive scientist Susan Harris (Anitra Ford) who seduces a fellow scientist Herb Kline (Ben Hammer).  During the drawn-out seduction Harris reveals a pair of black compound eyes, showing she is not of this earth and perhaps of an evil persuasion.  Agar and Zorn are now hot on the trail after watching some videos on the sex-life of bees, Harris is revealed to be an obsessed leader and continues her honey-soaked ways until, she takes a step too far and tries and converts Zorn into one of her sexed-up buzzers - enter Agar to save the day.

This may seem a flimsy and outlandish film, indeed it is but, I found myself quite titivated (emphasis on the tit) and enjoyed the full-on escapade despite is gratuity and sketchy plot.  I think it is directed well, has a certain individual flavour and when compared to other B-movies. has enough 'oddness' value to hold its own.  In a few years I will watch this again, I may question my sanity, I may be still buzzing, I may claim to ‘know better’, although I very much doubt it! 

 

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