Film Review: The Camp on Blood Island (1958)

Release Date: April 15th, 1958 (London premiere)
Directed by: Val Guest
Written by: Jon Manchip White
Music by: Gerard Schurmann
Cast: André Morell, Carl Möhner, Edward Underdown, Walter Fitzgerald, Phil Brown, Barbara Shelley, Michael Goodliffe, Michael Ripper, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“I’ve no use for shirkers and there’s no room for self-pity here.” – Col. Lambert

Being that André Morell is my third favorite Hammer actor after Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it was cool seeing him in something from the studio that wasn’t horror. Well, it’s a war film and with war there are certainly horrors.

This also features other Hammer regulars like Barbara Shelley, Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn. Being that this came out in 1958 also makes it pretty early on in their Hammer careers.

The plot revolves around the tension between a Japanese prison camp commandant and a British colonel held captive. The colonel knows that Japan has surrendered but the commandant isn’t yet aware of it. The colonel hides this fact, as the commandant has promised to slaughter a nearby camp full of women and children if Japan loses the war.

It’s a damn good setup and the film slowly continues to build its tension to a point where things start boiling over.

Some of the acting in this is really hit or miss and even if the film is a product of its time, it’s still weird seeing a non-Asian guy playing a Japanese commander. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t have any qualms with Christopher Lee playing Fu Manchu in the ’60s, as he did a stellar job and was believable. Also, his makeup was done by someone making a real effort. Here, the guy really doesn’t even look Asian. It’s just kind of jarring and takes my head out of the film, as I can’t suspend disbelief enough to ignore the glaring detail.

The good acting, mostly by Morell, isn’t enough to offset the strangeness of the Japanese commandant.

Also, this film moves really slow at times, which is surprising to me as it is only 81 minutes.

This is still pretty good, though. Morell absolutely steps up and brings his A-game making this movie much better than it would have been, otherwise.

I also thought that Barbara Shelley held her own and put in a believable performance, as a regular woman trapped in a very perilous situation.

All in all, this was a real departure from what Hammer is generally known for but they still put in a solid effort and this was better than I thought it would be.

Rating: 6.75/10

Film Review: The Fly (1958)

Release Date: July 16th, 1958
Directed by: Kurt Neumann
Written by: James Clavell
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Al Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price, Herbert Marshall, Kathleen Freeman

Regal Films, Twentieth Century Fox, 94 Minutes

Review:

“I shall never forget that scream as long as I live…” – Inspector Charas

People love the hell out of the 1986 remake of The Fly but with that, they really sleep on this one. Plus, this also features Vincent Price, so that alone makes it worth a watch.

Anyway, this is pretty damn good for its time. Price isn’t the main character and his role is sort of a bookend to the larger story, as he appears early in the film to inspire the wife of The Fly to tell her story and then is there at the end, just in time for the big climax.

The story follows a scientist, who is working on teleportation technology in the basement of his large house. As the film rolls on, he gets more and more reckless with his experiments and takes risks he shouldn’t. Eventually, he ends up experimenting on himself but accidentally lets a fly into the machine and turns himself into a half man/half fly monster. Also, there is a fly with a white head flying around. Once we see that fly up close, we discover that the scientist’s human head is attached to it.

The main character is really the wife, played by Patricia Owens, who had to really carry the picture, as the scientist becomes The Fly and thus, has his face obscured, as he hides in the basement. It’s the wife that you really connect to, as she tries to be supportive and help her husband but ultimately, has to deal with heartbreak and desperation as things continue to spiral out of control. All the while, she’s trying to be protective of her young son.

Owens did a solid job in this and she really turned the drama up, which worked like glue, holding the picture together but also making the film feel more legitimate than just a simple 1950s creature feature.

The ending is really f’d up and kind of terrifying in how it was shot and presented on the screen. The sound of the little fly screaming is pretty effective and still disturbing. Sure, the effects look hokey now but it’s all just kind of surreal and gruesome.

The Fly is one of my favorite movies with Vincent Price in it before he started hooking up with Roger Corman on their Edgar Allan Poe adaptations.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: its sequels and ’80s remakes, as well as other ’50s creature features.

Film Review: The Snorkel (1958)

Release Date: June 18th, 1958 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Guy Green
Written by: Anthony Dawson, Peter Myers, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Francis Chagrin
Cast: Peter van Eyck, Betta St. John, Mandy Miller

Clarion Films, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“You think I’m mad, don’t you? They all thought I was mad when I said he killed my daddy.” – Candy Brown

This is another Hammer film I have never seen but was introduced to through a beefy Blu-ray box set I recently purchased, which features some lesser known gems by the greatest horror studio that ever existed.

The Snorkel also has one of the coolest posters I’ve ever seen but sadly, the movie doesn’t live up to its awesomeness. But that’s not to say it’s bad, it’s actually pretty good with a unique story, good performances and beautiful scenery.

The plot of the film is about a murderer that wears a diving mask equipped with air and then hides while he kills his victims with gas. He likes to knock his victims out, then turn on the gas lamps without flame, letting the gas fill the room to asphyxiate his victim. All the while, he hides under a trapdoor in the floor, breathing in clean air through his mask, where he can also listen to the conversations of the police investigating the scene.

Initially, he kills his wife but her daughter alludes to the fact that he also killed her father, previously. The girl isn’t sure how and no one believes her, so she starts snooping around. As the film rolls on, the killer attempts to kill the girl a few times, which culminates in him trying to murder her the same way he did her mother.

The film primarily takes place in a coastal Italian villa. The sets are pretty impressive and just look cool and exotic, especially for what Hammer usually did, which was Victorian horror stories set in England or Germany, in the case of the Frankenstein movies, and various Eastern European places, in the case of the Dracula films.

This is presented in black and white but it’s pretty stylized, which is also bolstered by the exotic locale.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it. I thought it was a cool concept, even if it was a bit hokey and odd. The film is held together by the performances by its leads and it did a good job of separating itself from the standard Hammer formula and excelled at doing its own, unique thing.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’50s through ’70s.

Film Review: Hercules (1958)

Also known as: Labors of Hercules (worldwide English title)
Release Date: February 20th, 1958 (Italy)
Directed by: Pietro Francisci
Written by: Ennio De Concini, Pietro Francisci, Gaio Frattini
Based on: The Argonauts by Apollonius of Rhodes
Music by: Enzo Masetti
Cast: Steve Reeves, Sylva Koscina, Gianna Maria Canale, Fabrizio Mioni, Arturo Dominici, Mimmo Palmara, Lidia Alfonsi, Gina Rovere

Embassy Pictures, Galatea Film, O.S.C.A.R., 104 Minutes, 98 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“Immense and immortal was the strength of Hercules, like the world and the gods to whom he belonged… Yet from letter men he learned one eternal truth – that even the greatest strength carries within it a measure of mortal weaknes…” – title card

There are so many Hercules and sword and sandal movies featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 that I’m glad I saved the best (and first) for last.

This is also the most famous of the old Hercules films because it starred Steve Reeves and its success launched a film series and countless ripoffs because the Italians don’t care about copyright laws.

While this is mostly a competent film and fairly okay for what it is, I still find it slow and kind of boring for most of its duration. The action scenes and the finale are decent for 1958 standards but there isn’t much here that is memorable other than Reeves, himself, and that iconic scene of him using the chains to pull down the pillars with his godlike strength.

The sets and the overall look and design of the production are better than average and I mostly like the lighting but the cinematography is pedestrian, as is the shot framing. While films were generally less artistic and lacking visual experimentation in the ’50s, I kind of expect more from the Italians, who have a certain atmospheric panache when they’re really trying. But this feels like a big action movie playing it safe and therefore, it feels sterile and uninspiring.

I guess people had less standards for these sort of things back then and this motion picture was a big enough hit to keep the sword and sandal genre going. Well, until the Italians and Spanish figured out that they could make westerns for a lot cheaper and get a bigger return on investment. But these films were the bread and butter of Italian and Spanish studios before the three Sergios came along a few years later.

Hercules is an alright movie. I don’t see it as a game changer or all that interesting but it did make a mark that propelled Steve Reeves to superstardom and took sword and sandal cinema to new heights in popularity.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: all the other Italian Hercules and other sword and sandal movies.

Film Review: Vertigo (1958)

Also known as: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (complete title), From Among the Dead, Illicit Darkening (working titles)
Release Date: May 9th, 1958 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Alec Coppel, Samuel Taylor
Based on: D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore, Henry Jones

Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, Paramount Pictures, 128 Minutes

Review:

“Only one is a wanderer; two together are always going somewhere.” – Madeleine

This is the only one of Alfred Hitchcock’s ’50s and ’60s “masterpieces” that I have never seen. I’m not sure why I haven’t seen it over the years, as I’ve seen all the other films from this era multiple times. However, I wanted to save this one for a rainy day so what better time is there than just before a hurricane?

Having now seen it though, I’d say that it is probably my least favorite of the films considered at the top of Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

The reason being, is I just can’t buy into the plot. There are multiple things that make the plot kind of messy and for a film with a twist, I was able to figure it all out with a half hour to spare. It was kind of disappointing though, because I expected more than what I thought was the ending. But it ended, as I suspected, without any extra flair to put the end result ahead of my expectations.

The problem could be my own, however, as I’ve seen so many Hitchcock films, multiple times, that I can kind of see the tropes from top to bottom and thus, am able to get a pretty accurate sense of where the story is going. I may have had a different view of the film had I seen it a few decades ago like I did most of Hitchcock’s work.

Additionally, the film’s title and it’s plot revolves around a gimmick. The centerpiece of the film is James Stewart’s fear of heights but this is shown through what was a new technique at the time, the dolly zoom. While it’s a shot that has been used to death since this film, it’s a technique that has lost its effect on modern audiences. But that’s certainly not Hitchcock’s fault in 1958.

Apart from all that though, this is still a finely acted film. James Stewart was one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading men and for good reason. The two made magic together. And while this isn’t my favorite film of their pairings, it certainly isn’t a picture that is hindered by anything that Stewart did or the direction of Hitchcock for that matter.

Now while I mostly always love Kim Novak in film-noir, she did feel like she was out of her depth here. Not to knock her, she’s a good actress, but she lacked that extra something special that Hitchcock’s female leads usually bring to a film. She also didn’t have as good of a chemistry with Stewart as Grace Kelly or Doris Day.

One thing that did keep this movie very energetic and also assisted in keeping it well above water was the dynamite score of Bernard Hermann. It fit well with the tone of the picture, especially in that fantastically shot opening scene.

Vertigo is definitely a competent film, technically speaking, but the plot was too wonky. I guess you could get away with faking a death from a fall off of a tower in the late ’50s but I’m pretty sure they’d need to go deeper than a few eye witnesses to identify the body, even back then. Maybe I’m wrong but this just felt sort of thin and a bit daft.

Still, this is pretty enjoyable and even if the mystery fell flat, it was a fun ride until it wasn’t.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Hitchcock’s other thrillers of the ’50s and ’60s.

Film Review: The Thing That Couldn’t Die (1958)

Also known as: The Water Witch (working title)
Release Date: June 27th, 1958 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Will Cowan
Written by: David Duncan
Music by: Henry Mancini (uncredited)
Cast: William Reynolds, Andra Martin, Jeffrey Stone, Carolyn Kearney

Universal Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“[explaining why the branch fell on Linda] It must have been a evil wind!” – Gordon Hawthorne

The poster for this ’50s horror picture is much cooler than the film itself. But yes, there is indeed a severed head that gets carried around. Eventually, the head, that of an evil sorcerer, is reunited with a body. But even though the evil head’s evil plot is about getting put back onto a body, not much comes of it, as the sorcerer is then knocked off pretty easily.

While I watch a lot of schlock pictures, a lot of them have things that make them fun. This one doesn’t though. There is nothing endearing or charming and had this not been in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, I doubt it’d be remembered today in any capacity.

Strangely, this was paired with the infinitely superior Hammer Films classic, Horror of Dracula. Now that’s a double bill with a massive contrast in quality.

The general premise for the movie sounds cool but the execution made me want to execute myself for sitting through it. But apparently, there is a Spanish film from 1972 that has a very similar plot and looks to be better based off of what I’ve read about it online. That film is called Horror Rises From the Tomb a.k.a. El espanto surge de la tumba. I can’t yet vouch for it, as I haven’t seen it.

But getting back to this film, it’s worth missing. Unless you’re an MST3K junkie like myself and feel the need to sit through hours of schlock just for a few laughs.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s and ’60s horror schlock that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Terror From the Year 5000 (1958)

Also known as: The Girl From 5000 A.D., Cage of Doom (alternative titles)
Release Date: January, 1958
Directed by: Robert J. Gurney Jr.
Written by: Robert J. Gurney Jr., Henry Slesar
Music by: Richard DuPage
Cast: Ward Costello, Joyce Holden, John Stratton, Salome Jens, Fred Herrick

La Jolla Productions, American International Pictures, 66 Minutes

Review:

“In the year nineteen hundred and fifty-eight, Man launched the first satellite and pierced the space barrier.” – Narrator

Even for 1950s American International Pictures sci-fi outings, this is a giant turd. By comparison, it makes AIP’s other sci-fi films look great. But I guess this was used for an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a reason. But even then, this is the bottom of the barrel for the AIP movies used on that show.

The biggest problem with this flick is that it has no energy, it’s boring as hell and when you get to the big finale, it’s as if no one put any effort into it.

Now I can enjoy total schlock. In fact, most of the things reviewed on this site are just that. However, this bores me to tears, even when seen on MST3K.

However, I’m not sure how original the idea for the plot was at the time but this could have actually been ripped off for the basis of the Species film series. While the villain here isn’t an alien, it is a woman from the future who shows up to take men to breed with. There are definite similarities between the two movies besides them both being dull. Granted, Species is much, much better than this film.

The special effects are shit, the acting is boring and Mike Nelson and the ‘Bots are the only reason this motion picture didn’t put me to sleep.

But if I’m being fair, I’ve still seen many movies that are much worse than this one.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other ’50s schlock that was on MST3K like The Screaming Skull and I Was a Teenage Werewolf.

Film Review: The Space Children (1958)

Release Date: June, 1958
Directed by: Jack Arnold
Written by: Bernard C. Schoenfeld
Based on: The Egg by Tom Filer
Music by: Van Cleave
Cast: Michael Ray, Adam Williams, Peggy Webber, Johnny Washbrook, Jackie Coogan

William Alland Productions, Paramount Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“Slowly…and with horror the parents realized THEIR CHILDREN WERE THE SLAVES OF ‘THE THING’ FROM OUTER SPACE!” – tagline

This film has an incredibly low rating on IMDb. I mean, I guess I get it, as it’s not a good movie or even well made. However, I think it’s a bit better than a 3.7 out of 10.

The film is fairly imaginative, I actually liked the story and for a movie with a bunch of kids in it, they aren’t too annoying. Plus, ’50s alien sci-fi schlock is just a cup of tea that I like to sip on the reg.

The Space Children was showcased in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and this certainly deserves that sort of treatment but it isn’t as bad as most of the ’50s sci-fi fare that they’ve riffed on the show.

The story is about this alien brain that comes to Earth and hides out in a cave on the beach. Nearby, the government has a nuclear weapons facility. Now the nuclear missile looks more like a space rocket but we’ll ignore that. Anyway, the alien brain takes over the minds of the children of the scientists working on the nuclear weapon. It uses the kids to sabotage the nuke and we later learn that other alien brains did the same thing to other kids in other countries so that no one had nuclear weapons. While it sounds over the top and cheesy, it’s still a fun plot that worked and this felt like a smarter movie than some run of the mill alien invasion picture.

It’s a really short film and there isn’t much to hate about it. Plus, it was directed by Jack Arnold, who did the first two Creature From the Black Lagoon movies, This Island Earth and other pictures in the sci-fi genre.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: really, any low budget ’50s alien sci-fi flicks.

Film Review: Earth Vs. The Spider (1958)

Also known as: The Spider, Earth Vs. The Giant Spider (Germany), Vengeance of the Black Spider (Italy)
Release Date: September, 1958
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: László Görög, George Worthing Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser
Cast: Ed Kemmer, June Kenney, Eugene Persson, Gene Roth, Hal Torey, Sally Fraser, June Jocelyn

Santa Rosa Productions, American International Pictures, 73 Minutes

Review:

“Well, speaking of spiders – are you sure rifles are just the thing? Insects have a pretty simple nervous system, sheriff. You could plug holes in one all day and never hit a vital spot. If you want to be on the safe side, call the pest control people in Springdale and have ’em send out all the DDT they can find.” – Mr. Kingman

As bad as Bert I. Gordon movies can be, they get a much worse wrap than they probably deserve. Reason being, they all have some sort of charm to them and even if they are a clinic on how not to make a film, they are still pretty entertaining for what they are.

Earth Vs. The Spider is no different.

This is not a good film. It’s riddled with bad effects, bad acting, bad direction and a bad script. But if you love giant insect, reptile, amphibian or atomic disaster movies from the early Cold War era, then you’ll probably enjoy this on some level.

The sets in this actually weren’t bad for the time. The stuff in the cave actually looks good, even if the giant spider’s web looks like rope netting from a playground. The setting within the spider’s lair does come off pretty well for a ’50s low budget sci-fi picture.

A problem with this film, which is a problem with all the films within this weird but popular subgenre, is that it’s predictable and there aren’t any real curveballs thrown. But no one watches these flicks for intelligent storytelling.

This was one of many Bert I. Gordon movies that was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. In fact, MST3K is how I originally learned of Gordon and came to have an appreciation for the poorer man’s Roger Corman.

I’d say that this is one of the better films in Gordon’s oeuvre. It might not seem like it has any merit at first glance but there is something about it that brings me back to it every now and again. But I also have a deep appreciation for old school schlock films.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other low budget, giant animal movies from the 1950s.

Film Review: The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)

Also known as: Blood of Frankenstein (working title), I, Frankenstein (alternate title)
Release Date: June 1st, 1958 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Leonard Salzedo
Cast: Peter Cushing, Francis Matthews, Eunice Gayson, Michael Gwynn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Film Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It should have been perfect. I made it to be perfect. If the brain hadn’t been damaged, my work would have been hailed as the greatest scientific achievement of all time. Frankenstein would have been accepted as a genius of science. Instead, he was sent to the guillotine. I swore I would have my revenge. They will never be rid of me!” – Dr. Victor Stein

The Revenge of Frankenstein was the first sequel to The Curse of Frankenstein. It came out pretty quickly, as its predecessor was released just a year earlier. Also, 1958 saw the release of another major Hammer Films movie that also starred Peter Cushing: The Horror of Dracula. Just after that, in 1959, we got The Mummy. Both of of those films kicked off their respected franchises for Hammer. Basically, Cushing was the king of the Universal Monsters remakes in the UK.

Now this isn’t nearly as good as Curse but it isn’t the worst of the Frankenstein sequels either. I feel that the creative process was probably hindered by Hammer Films being spread too thin due to a bunch of films being developed at the same time.

The script is still pretty decent and the story works well in keeping Baron Frankenstein alive and his experiments going.

However, this actually plays more like a drama than a horror film. Sure, there’s a monster but he’s hardly scary and then there’s a man who has been experimented on by Frankenstein and goes mad, dying in the doctor’s arms, yelling his name in front of a bunch of people at a party.

While Baron Frankenstein now exists as Dr. Stein and practices in another town, the yelling of his true name, combined with his likeness, makes the townsfolk very suspicious.

Frankenstein’s assistant in this film is much more on his side than the previous movie and he assists the doctor in faking his own death, once again, so that he can escape, move somewhere else and continue his work. I actually love the final scene in this movie and it firmly establishes that this film isn’t just a sequel but that it’s now an ongoing franchise.

This is an interesting and well crafted chapter in Hammer’s Frankenstein series, even if it is short on terror. It’s carried by the great performance of Peter Cushing, who seems more comfortable in the role and looks like he’s really enjoying the character, which is probably the best role he’s played over his long career.

The Revenge of Frankenstein is a solid outing by Hammer and another good performance by Peter Cushing. I also really enjoyed the performance by Michael Gwynn as a victim of Frankenstein’s work. Gwynn worked in other Hammer films, as well and is probably most recognized as the priest from Scars of Dracula.

Additionally, Francis Matthews was great as Frankenstein’s sinister assistant Dr. Hans Kleve.

In the end, Terence Fisher directed a pretty good sequel to his predecessor that built off of it and set the stage for the chapters after this one.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.