Film Review: The Beatniks (1960)

Also known as: Sideburns and Sympathy (working title)
Release Date: 1960
Directed by: Paul Frees
Written by: Paul Frees, Arthur Julian
Music by: Eddie Brandt, Paul Frees
Cast: Tony Travis, Joyce Terry

Glenville Productions, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Whyyyy, you young hoodlums, I’ll call the police!” – The Hotel Manager, “You say one word to anyone and I’m gonna moon you.” – Bob ‘Moon’ Mooney, “You’re gonna what?” – The Hotel Manager, “Moon you!” – Bob ‘Moon’ Mooney

Paul Frees was most famous for being a prolific voice actor. Still, I guess he got the directing bug after also being a screenwriter on the side. He wrote and directed this film as a warning against the Beat counterculture. It was done in a similar vein to Reefer Madness, which tried to scare people away from marijuana in 1936.

Frees luckily didn’t quit his day job, which was good, as this film was tremendously terrible. In fact, it was put on blast by Mystery Science Theater 3000 during season four. And if you are going to watch this, watch that version.

The story is pretty basic, it just follows around some shitty beatnik characters doing shitty beatnik things. However, this really ups the ante and goes way over the top in trying to demonize beatniks as a whole by painting them all out to be degenerate criminals.

But I guess old folks and the decent people of yesteryear didn’t have time for delinquency.

As one would expect, this is a poorly made film, top to bottom. But things that play like propaganda pieces tend to suck.

It’s mostly dull but it is still interesting, just seeing it as a product of its time.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: other delinquent youth movies shown on MST3K.

Film Review: The Leech Woman (1960)

Also known as: Leech (working title)
Release Date: May, 1960
Directed by: Edward Dein
Written by: David Duncan, Ben Pivar, Francis Rosenwald
Music by: Irving Getz, Hans J. Salteri (uncredited), Henry Vars (uncredited)
Cast: Grant Williams, Coleen Gray, Phillip Terry, Gloria Talbott, John van Dreelen, Estelle Hemsley, Kim Hamilton, Arthur Batanides

Universal Pictures, 77 Minutes

Review:

“What woman lives, who has passed the prime of her life, that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and to know the worship of men?” – Old Malla

This is another one of those Universal B-movie horror pictures that was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000. However, just like some of the others, it’s far from terrible and is actually one of the better movies to be mocked on that show.

Now I can’t say that this is as good as The Mole Poeple or This Island Earth but it’s still an enjoyable romp that has an old school Tiki vibe, lots of crazy science and even a romantic plot.

The plot, in a nutshell, sees a scientist go to the jungles of Africa because there is an old tribal sorceress that has the ability to make herself younger with an arcane ritual. The ritual does involve murder, however, as one of the ingredients needed is the secretion from a male pineal gland. Of course, the scientist and his wife want to steal the secret to use for their own selfish means. This obviously leads to tragic consequences for the pair.

The film is goofy but it’s also kind of cool. While a good portion of it takes place in the African jungle, the sets and the style feel more like they are using a Tiki aesthetic. I mean, that’s fine because in the time when this was made, filmmakers didn’t give a crap about accuracy or even research. African jungles, Pacific islands, Caribbean islands, voodoo bayous… all had the same aesthetic in film circa 1960.

For the time, the genre and the budget, this is a pretty standard film. It’s not well acted and the script is wonky but it is also salvaged by its style, its absurdity and the fact that it’s pretty fun.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other Universal horror films of the era.

Film Review: The Amazing Transparent Man (1960)

Also known as: Search for a Shadow (script title)
Release Date: February 24th, 1960 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Jack Lewis
Music by: Darrell Calker
Cast: Marguerite Chapman, Douglas Kennedy, James Griffith, Ivan Triesault

Miller Consolidated Pictures (MCP), American International Pictures (re-release), 58 Minutes

Review:

“I must know the full potential of your invention because my aim is to make an entire army invisible. Do you understand that? An entire army.” – Major Paul Krenner

Edgar G. Ulmer isn’t a famous director but he is a fairly accomplished one in that he made a film-noir classic with Detour and also a pretty solid old school horror film called The Black Cat, which teamed up then horror superstars Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and John Carradine. He was also one of the German directors that worked on People On Sunday, as well as helming other noteworthy films: Bluebeard and The Man From Planet X.

Later in his career, he directed this film. And while many can call it a turkey, it does mash up two genres he was known for, crime pictures and sci-fi. Also, it was properly riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and has since become a bit of a cult classic because of that.

The Amazing Transparent Man is an incredibly short motion picture but it didn’t need to be longer and it plays more like an episode of a sci-fi anthology television series.

The plot is about a an invisibility machine that an Army major wants to use to create invisible soldiers in an effort to conquer the world. A prison break is orchestrated to free a notorious safe cracker who is tasked with stealing the nuclear material needed to perfect the machine. There are some noir twists, a femme fatale even and we get to see the invisible machine in all its glory, which actually works quite well considering the special effects of the time, as well as this production’s budgetary constraints.

Still, this is far from Ulmer’s best work and is a pretty hokey and slow paced film with wooden acting and not enough imagination considering the premise and how this could have gone in more interesting directions. Additionally, it looks cheap, it doesn’t have anything close to the great atmosphere of his better films and if I’m being honest, I don’t know if he even cared about this picture or if he just needed a paycheck.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other low budget sci-fi pictures from the era, especially those that were featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.

Film Review: First Spaceship On Venus (1960)

Also known as: Planet of the Dead, Silent Star, Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply, The Planet of Death (alternate titles)
Release Date: February 26th, 1960 (East Germany)
Directed by: Kurt Maetzig
Written by: Kurt Maetzig, J. Barkhauer (uncredited), J. Fethke, W. Kohlhasse, G. Reisch, G. Rucker, A. Stenbock-Fermor
Based on: Astronauci by Stanislaw Lem
Music by: Andrzej Markowski
Cast: Günther Simon, Julius Ongewe, Yoko Tani

VEB DEFA-Studio für Spielfilme, Künstlerische Arbeitsgruppe ”Roter Kreis”, Film Polski, Crown International Pictures, 93 Minutes (original), 79 Minutes (US version)

Review:

It’s rare that a movie featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 isn’t rated at a 4 or below. But this one just barely rose above having to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. Kudos to East Germany and Poland. I wouldn’t quite call this a victory for communism though. It’s not like this was as good as Solaris or anything.

Also, this isn’t a very good movie by any stretch of the imagination but it had pretty good effects and visuals for a really low budget sci-fi epic from its era and from a couple communist countries.

Watching this, I almost thought it was a Japanese production due to the Japanese actors in it. I figured it was from Daiei, Toei, Tsuburaya or Shochiku… you know, one of the tokusatsu studios with less money than Toho. It was also done in a similar style to those films and had a similar type of ingenuity in achieving effects that came off better than they probably should have.

I really love the sequence where the astronauts are trying to get away from the molten goo. I also love the design of the spaceship.

But other than the shoddy effects that I found impressive due to the production’s limitations, there isn’t much else that is good with this picture.

The acting sucks, the dubbing is terrible and even though the cinematography and lighting are fairly decent, the film is often times dull to look at. However, the surviving print isn’t in the greatest quality either.

First Spaceship On Venus is good for what it is. Most people today won’t want to watch it but it does make for a solid episode of MST3K.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: Assignment: Outer Space, Space Probe Taurus, This Island Earth and The Day Mars Invaded Earth.

Film Review: The Girl In Lovers’ Lane (1960)

Release Date: January 1st, 1960
Directed by: Charles R. Rondeau
Written by: Jo Heims
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Brett Halsey, Joyce Meadows, Lowell Brown, Jack Elam

Filmgroup, 78 Minutes

Review:

“Pa doesn’t know much about girls’ clothes.” – Carrie Anders

This movie is pretty damn horrible. However, it provided good fodder for Mystery Science Theater 3000 in season five, as Joel Hodgson’s long run as the show’s host was winding down.

The Girl In Lovers’ Lane is a crime film that makes b-movie crime pictures look like big budget affairs. Even the worst of b-movie film-noir is a step up compared to this picture. Truthfully, if this was more of a noir than a low rent crime picture, it might be better.

The directing is nonexistent and the acting is about as bad as it gets. There is no real cinematography and no shots worth writing home about. It is a picture that is so basic and bland that it makes manila folders look like a trip to Six Flags.

The plot sees two drifters roll into the small town of Sherman. A girl is murdered and then a bunch of boring uneventful shit happens. It is the type of film that makes you want to smack yourself in the face with nunchucks. It is only remotely watchable as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Honestly, Joel and the ‘Bots are at least there to provide you with some good laughs, as they suffer through this dreck with you.

The Girl In Lovers’ Lane is completely forgettable. If it wasn’t for MST3K, no one today would even be aware of its sad and pathetic existence. It offers nothing worthwhile and has no redeeming qualities, whatsoever.

All that being said, it does deserve to be put through the Cinespiria Shitometer. So what we have here is a “Type 7 Stool: Watery, no solid pieces. Entirely Liquid.”

Film Review: The Sinister Urge (1960)

Release Date: December 8th, 1960
Directed by: Ed Wood
Written by: Ed Wood
Music by: Manuel Francisco
Cast: Kenne Duncan, James “Duke” Moore, Jean Fontaine, Carl Anthony, Dino Fantini, Jeanne Willardson, Harvey B. Dunn, Reed Howes, Fred Mason, Conrad Brooks

Headliner Productions, 71 Minutes

Review:

“Are gangster and horror films all you produce?” – Mary Smith

Ed Wood is considered one of the worst directors of all-time. However, with that title, came a certain kind of recognition and a strange appreciation for some of his work. His unique story also led to a great biopic, directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp and a slew of other great actors.

But for as much as Plan 9 From Outer Space is beloved for its faults and strangeness, The Sinister Urge should be shunned for its utter awfulness and complete lack of anything endearing or exciting.

I’ve seen several of Wood’s films and I am a fan of his work, when it is at its most creative and quirky. Unfortunately, The Sinister Urge lacks those things that make other Wood films palatable.

Wood’s script is one of his worst and that says a lot.

The plot is about a serial killer that is picking off actresses from smut films. The killer works for a porno ring that uses him to murder actresses that threaten the business. Jean Fontaine plays Gloria Henderson, the woman who runs the business and has ties to the mob. She takes advantage of young wannabe starlets and pushes them into smut pictures. While this could be a decent setup, the script is so dull and uneventful that the only way you can remotely sit through this thing is by watching the version featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

There are some people that think that Ed Wood was some sort of mastermind that knew what he was doing. They think that his movies were made to be bad, deliberately. As if he could foresee the legend he would become posthumously. The Sinister Urge is a pretty strong counterargument to that theory. It is the worst kind of schlock imaginable and doesn’t even come close to his more endearing work.

I like Ed Wood and I actually respect some of his films for what they are but this is not one of the films worth respecting. There is nothing enjoyable or entertaining about it. For those who have seen his more famous movies before this, this one is a damn disappointment and starts to make things clearer as to why he couldn’t really get good work in Hollywood.

So, yes, this does need to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. And the results read that this is a “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”