CATACOMB OF TERROR
 

20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH

1957.  Directed by Nathan Juran

A Ray Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion monster invades the screen with a tale of a mission to Venus gone wrong and an alien frustrated going on the rampage.  The action is fluent and non-stop with the storyline solid and leading up to an expected finale.  I have seen this many times over the years, it is engrained in the mind.

A spaceship that has been to Venus returns home, crashes in the Mediterranean Sea much to the horror of the local fisherman.  2 spacemen are rescued by the fisherman, one Colonel Bob Calder (William Hopper) survives, the other dies from a fatal disease that was responsible for 8 other crewmen's demise.  During this time a local boy finds a translucent cylinder that has come from the crashed ship. Inside the cylinder is a strange jelly-like mass - the boy duly thinks there is a profit to be made.  He sells the cylinder to Dr Leonardo (Frank Puglia), a zoologist who is in the area studying sea creatures.  Leonardo and his Granddaughter Marisa (Joan Taylor) eventually witness a strange creature hatch out from the cylinder which, within a few days, grows to an overwhelming size.  Of course it isn't long before Calder is on the case with one eye on the alien and one eye on Marisa.  The creature runs riot, ends up in a zoo, has a brawl with an elephant and finally comes under bazooka fire.  The film ends with Marisa in Calder’s arms - well, it had to happen didn't it.

This is a good regular romp with a quickly moving tale, decent performances and a solid monster to get the inner child yelling for more.  It is of an age but it has stood the test of time and brings back some fun memories of escaping from life into a world of pure fantasy - ace.

   

PHASE IV

1974.  Directed by Saul Bass

A very individualistic film shot in its own style with a somewhat claustrophobically scientific approach that keeps things minimal and surprisingly enthralling.  It is a piece that is worthy of attention and one that throws forth the age old threat of insects taking over the planet.  It may seem as though all has all been done before but in this case, it hasn't.

The scene is set in Arizona where 2 scientists, James Lesko (Michael Murphy) and Ernest Hubbs (Nigel Davenport) are working in a sealed dome trying to deal with a new strain of ant that has recently undergone a swift evolutionary development that is seemingly a threat to the local human population and beyond.  The cause of this strange state of affairs was a mysterious cosmic event that is left unexplained.  The main bulk of the film deals with the two central characters and their fight against the colony although a young local, Kendra Eldridge (Lynne Frederick) comes into the mix after her family is killed and she is discovered as the lone survivor.  The tension builds after Hubbs is bitten by an ant and starts to act rather strangely and Lesko strives to communicate with the ants and make some sense of the madness.  An invasion of the lab comes, we are given glimpses of a suspected leader, Eldridge reacts and feels that she is the reason for the attack and so leaves the dome in order to sacrifice herself.  The film ticks onward, Lesko and Hubbs have different plans, one meets his demise, the other plans to poison the colony - and in store is one surprising and weird ending.

Seeing is believing here and mention must be had of the great wildlife footage, the general atmosphere and the overall convincing roles the 2 leads put in.   This is a slow brewing film, one with an alternative ending and one shot with a certain eerie visuality that makes for something a little 'off kilter'.   This is definitely a mood movie and one to be watched in the dark.

 

THE BLOB

1958. Directed by Irving Yeaworth

A film most people have heard of, an independent film a lot of people have seen and a film many actually think that is better than it actually is.  How Steve McQueen went on from this acting debut to have a decent career shows there is hope for anyone - by heck, talk about wooden.

The film begins with a lovey-dovey couple, namely Steve Andrews (Steve McQueen) and his girlfriend, Jane Martin (Aneta Corsaut) parked up in Lover’s Lane in a small Pennsylvanian town where they see a meteorite crash.  We cut to an old man who finds the meteorite, prods it with a stick and gets his hand covered in an adhesive mass.  The man is in pain and soon discovered by Andrews and Martin who take him to see the local doctor.  The doctor plans to amputate the infected arm but dawdles for too long and ends up with a living 'Blob'.   This monstrous lump goes on a rampage, kills the Doctor and his nurse with Andrews witnessing the former attack.  Of course, the police are informed by the teenager but dismiss his ravings as a wind-up - little do they know there is some gooey trouble in store.  Eventually the authorities are convinced, the local teen gang are called into action and a final showdown is had.  Along the way we see minimal excitement and much formula but somehow, we remain entertained - shameful isn't it.

In fairness this is a shabby film with awful acting, a poor script, a premise that is ludicrous and some cheapo effects but, it is worth dabbling with and revisiting when the head is low.  I think the fact that people make this kind of lunatic fringe sci-fi nonsense is somehow heart-warming and gives us all hope - madness hey! 

 

THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS

1940. Directed by Joe May

7 years on from the original and although the film title states a return of the 'Invisible One', here we see a new lead scientist indulge in some disappearing shenanigans and eventually end up insane.  There is a lot to live up to here but with a certain famed horror actor at the helm, the promise may just well be fulfilled.

Dr Fank Griffin (John Sutton) brother of the original invisible man, injects suspected murderer Sir Geoffery Radcliffe (Vincent Price) with an invisibility drug.  Radcliffe, accused of killing his brother, vanishes from his prison cell and goes in search for the real murderer with Detective Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) hot on his trail.  Initial suspicions of the guilty party fall upon Willie Spears (Alan Napier), an employee of the Radcliffe Family mining operation.  Spears, who has recently earned a promotion, is tracked down and after a car chase points the finger at Radcliffe's cousin, a Richard Cobb (Cedric Hardwicke).  Another chase soon follows, a confession is revealed but in the action Radcliffe has been struck by a bullet fired by Sampson.   The film ends with Radcliffe's life on a knife-edge - only the last seconds inform us if he will live or die.

For a follow-up to an undeniable classic this is a more than adequate offering with a steady pace, some neat effects and one or two unique oddments thrown-in (I mean, how manner other films have invisible Guinea Pigs).  Radcliffe's descent into madness is enthralling, the murder mystery plot well held together thus making for a very rewatchable film.

 

13 GHOSTS

1960. Directed by William Castle

You know the crack with William Castle films, a decent storyline used to carry a gimmick and expose some experimental effects.  Castle knows his stuff (and his audience) and although these films appear dated they are still classics in their own right.

The story here concerns a Dr Plato Zorba who leaves in his will a haunted house, complete with 12 ghosts (and a pair of special glasses for seeing them), for his nephew Cyrus (Donald Woods) and his hard-up family.  As a bonus the house also comes with the odd and eerie housekeeper Elaine (Margaret Hamilton).  The ghosts take on a variety of forms, a fiery skeleton, a lion tamer, an executioner with severed head and an Italian chef amongst others.  Within the house is a horde of buried treasure which will help the impoverished family no end but the family lawyer Benjamen Rush (Martin Milner) also has his heart set on the dosh and manipulates Cyrus's son Buck (Charles Herbert) who accidently comes across the money.  To release the 12 ghosts a 13th is needed and after Rush attempts to kill Buck, but cops it himself, he becomes the key to freeing the house of the unsettling hauntings and the film is neatly wrapped up.  The film ends with the special goggles being blown up by an unknown force and the fact that we see Elaine grab a broomstick and give an enigmatic look towards the camera leaves things cutely up for debate.

A neat film in many ways and one that was obviously ideal for cinema play.  Watching on video all these years later is not the same and the whole offering surely loses some of its weight and individuality - nevertheless, this was intriguing enough to give birth to a remake in 2001 although with the gimmick of Illusion-O - what a shame!

CHILDREN SHOULDN'T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS

1972. Directed by Bob Clark

From the dustbin of low-budget video-nasties comes an early zombie flick that sees a group of hippies dabble in Satanism and eventually get trapped in a remote cottage - this is a very odd film to say the least.

A theatre troupe led by a guy named Alan (Alan Ormsby) take a boat trip to a remote island and enter a graveyard for some late-night misconduct which really makes one question the sanity of all involved.  Alan fancies himself as a dabbler in the dark side and sets about trying to scare his troupe witless whilst also having a go at summoning the dead.  His attempts fall flat even though he has exhumed the body of one Orville Dunworth (Seth Sklarey).   The freshly exposed corpse is taken back to the cottage were Alan displays some worrying traits and a need to degrade other members of the party.  During this time the dead have finally decided to rise and are soon making their way to the cottage where they are hell-bent on destroying all those within.  Revenge is had and it seems the walking dead can finally rest, the final sequences to the movie show that this shall not be the case.

Shot on a budget of $50,000 within 14 days and with the use of a patchwork cast the film has many flaws and comedic touches that just don't work.  Despite this, for its time and limited funds, I found the whole escapade entertaining and with one or two creepy moments.  It is a collector's piece and one for those who like cult products - there are many of them about.

   

THE ALLIGATOR PEOPLE

1959. Directed by Roy Del Ruth

Swampy hokum with a scientific experiment gone wrong, a drunken outcast causing mayhem and a man in a rubber suit desperately seeking a cure for his scaly problem. It is a film that displays nothing new and is a mere curiosity for those with twitching terror conks.

Nurse Jane Marvin (Beverly Garland) is on the psychiatrist's couch and, after being sent into a regressive stupor, recalls recent events where she went under the name of Joyce Webster. Joyce was a newly wed, on board a honeymoon train with her husband Paul. Paul receives a note and after going into a panic he duly leaves his wife behind and disappears. Joyce conducts a search for her husband and eventually comes to the town of Bayou in Louisiana’s swamplands.  Here she is picked up by local odd-job man and weirdo Manion (Lon Chaney Jr). Joyce arrives at her destination, The Cyresses Plantation, a place where the one-handed Manion is the handyman and a place her husband Paul entered on his old college enrolment forms. Here she comes across an austere mistress Lavinia Hawthorne (Frieda Inescort) and a Swamp Doctor, Mark Sinclair (George Macready), both of whom are hiding a terrible secret and whom know what has happened to the sought for spouse. The pace picks up, the theatrics are stagy and the acting stiff at times with the finale wrapping up a half-decent jaunt.

A fair snippet of comic-book horror here, the title will be enough to attract many of a certain ilk.  In the midst of many nonsensical offerings such as this I reckon this is worthy of several repeats viewings but don’t expect to have your socks blown off.

   

BEAST FROM HAUNTED CAVE

1959. Directed by Monte Hellman

A crime thriller mixed with a fantastical blend of horror that comes in the form of a sub-arachnid like creature we barely get a decent look at.  The budget again, is set at level minimum, the acting heavily staged and the flow of the plot almost ad-hoc - such is the world of the B-movie.

Set in Deadwood, South Dakota, a group of criminals plan to steal a horde of gold bars from a bank vault using a set-up explosion in a nearby gold mine as a distraction.  The gang leader Alexander Ward (Frank Wolff) sends one of his comrades in crime, namely Marty Jones (Richard Sinatra), to set the timer for the explosion.  Marty his joined by local barmaid Natalie (Linné Ahlstrand) whom he has a crush on.  Whilst in the mine Marty comes across a strange creature that ends up killing Natalie.  Next morning, the explosion goes off, the gang gather their gold and follow a local guide called Gil (Michael Forest) to a tucked away cabin.  Here Ward's partner cum secretary, Gypsy Boulet (Shiela Noonan), shows she has eyes for Gil, Gil becomes aware of the gang's criminal activities and a punch-up contributes to the overall frosty ambience.

During the rest of the plot the beast appears in fleeting glimpses, Gil learns that he is to be disposed of and a final showdown in a mysterious cave sees several killings, a greater exposure of the unsettling creature and a quick and corny ending that indicates the film was running out of dosh.

Another second rater that has charm although the sound in parts is rather muffled, the interaction between some of the actors is truly awful and the overall plot is generally run-of-the-mill.  There are worse films out there but, there are better too - one to watch as a curio and nothing more.

   
   
 
   

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