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).”

Film Review: The Loves of Hercules (1960)

Also known as: Gli amori di Ercole (Italy), Hercules vs. The Hydra (US TV title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1960 (Italy)
Directed by: Carlo Ludovico Bragaglia
Written by: Luciano Doria
Music by: Carlo Innocenzi
Cast: Jayne Mansfield, Mickey Hargitay

Contact Organisation, Grandi Schermi Italiani, Paris Interproductions (PIP), 98 Minutes

Review:

This horrendous Hercules film is featured in the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It’s not like we couldn’t see this coming, right? I mean, what would a revival of MST3K be without another awful Hercules film thrown on the docket? To be honest, just about every Hercules film that I have seen from the 1960s came to my attention courtesy of MST3K.

Like most Hercules flicks, this thing is a pretty boring dud. It isn’t interesting, the story is thin and weak and the acting is crap. It does have some nice sets though, even if they generally look cheap. Some of the landscapes and overall cinematography is well done, especially for a motion picture of this quality.

There is one fantastic sequence in this movie. It is fantastic because of how bad it is but it is the sort of bad that makes you really smile.

You see, at one point, Hercules is pitted against a Hydra. What makes this awesome, is that the Hydra is a giant stationary thing with three large heads that just bob up and down. Their eyes glow, as their mouths emit some smoke and a ball of fire once in awhile. The Hydra also has pretty inarticulate paws but that doesn’t stop Hercules from climbing under one and acting like it is crushing him and tearing his bronze muscle man flesh. The Hydra looks like a mechanical monster from a funhouse ride or a Mardi Gras float.

Other than the Hydra, the movie is really dull and pointless. For whatever reason, the Hydra shows up in the middle of the film, instead of being the big finale. So after the Hydra is defeated, you get another 45 minutes of boredom. But at least this is nowhere near as bad as sitting through the long sandstorm sequence from Hercules Against the Moon Men.

Film Review: Horrors of Spider Island (1960)

Also known as: Ein Toter hing im Netz, lit. A Dead One Hung in the Web (West Germany), Body In the Web
Release Date: April 16th, 1960
Directed by: Fritz Böttger
Written by: Fritz Böttger
Music by: Willi Mattes, Karl Bette
Cast: Alexander D’Arcy, Barbara Valentin, Rainer Brandt, Harald Maresch

Rapid-Film Intercontinental Filmgesellschaft, 82 Minutes

Review:

Horrors of Spider Island was featured in the final season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. While it is a putrid film, it did provide a lot of fodder for a great episode of MST3K.

There isn’t anything good a person of taste could say about Horrors of Spider Island. Some of the girls are fairly pretty but nothing to write home about. The women in the film feel like they were pulled out of a bargain basement mail order bride catalog from the Eastern Bloc. They could have been two-for-one specials but that’s fine because in this sort of film, you don’t expect most of them to survive.

We have two monsters in this picture.

The first monster is a giant spider that looks like a generic Muppet that had 8 appendages stapled to it and then ran through an acid bath. Well, it isn’t a giant by human standards, it is just a really large spider. It is probably the size of a really large raccoon.

The second monster is the guy who gets bit by the spider. He is a sort of furry-faced freak in street clothes. He also sports some long furry spider arms that he uses to slowly creep out of bushes creating anything but scares.

Ultimately, not as many people die in this as you would hope. Maybe guys on the film crew fell in love with their mail order brides and didn’t want to off them.

Horrors of Spider Island is far from fantastic. I have always loved island monster movies but this dud just doesn’t deliver, in any way. I also like hokey monsters but they didn’t even try in this movie. I could have made more convincing creatures with just rubber cement and clipped hair from the floor of a barber shop.

All that being said, it is still worth a watch if you check out the MST3K version.

Film Review: Psycho (1960)

Release Date: July 16th, 1960 (DeMille Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Joseph Stefano
Based on: Psycho by Robert Bloch
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin, Martin Balsam, John McIntire, Janet Leigh

Shamley Productions, Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

psychoReview:

I’m a pretty big Alfred Hitchcock fan but it has been quite some time since I have watched Psycho. As a teenager, I watched it a lot, along with many of his other classics. Revisiting it now, I think I have grown to appreciate it even more.

Psycho is a masterpiece of suspense, maybe even more so than Hitchcock’s other work. Suspense is what he was known for, other than being an incredible artist. With Psycho, the suspense just builds and builds until that climactic moment and the big reveal. Even then, it delves even further as things are further explained and the real backstory is uncovered.

Alfred Hitchcock was absolutely meticulous in the creation of this motion picture. Every shot is damn near perfection, the editing is astounding, the sound is pristine, the music is magnificent and the acting is superb.

Every single scene that features Anthony Perkins is a delight. The scene where Perkin’s Norman Bates talks to Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane is a playful and unsettling back-and-forth that most other filmmakers will never come close to eclipsing. The conversation between Bates and the inspector, played by Martin Balsam, is equally as good even though it has a completely different dynamic. Watching it now, even though I have seen it dozens of times, makes me feel like Anthony Perkins was grossly underutilized throughout his long acting career.

The rest of the cast was spectacular too. And frankly, I’m not sure how anyone other than Janet Leigh wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. The fact that Perkins or Miles weren’t nominated is baffling to me. At least Hitchcock was nominated as director, but he didn’t win. Alfred Hitchcock not receiving the respect of the Academy was something that plagued him his entire career.

Psycho also features one of the most iconic scores in motion picture history. However, Bernard Hermann also got the Oscar snub. Looking back at 1960, how many people remember the music of the Oscar winning Song Without End? Furthermore, how many people remember the music of the other nominees: Bells Are RingingCan-CanPepe and Let’s Make Love?

It is quite possible that Psycho was ahead of its time. Before the film, there were very few great horror pictures. Horror has always been considered a lowbrow genre of film, maybe even more so in 1960 when studios were opposed to Hitchcock even making this picture. However, he bucked the trend and created a scary movie that became legendary. He also paved the way for other filmmakers with real talent to try their hand at horror.

Psycho is one of the greatest movies ever made. It deserves its later accolades and it certainly deserves the accolades that it didn’t get at the time it was released. It is better than the film of the year, The Apartment. And honestly, I really like The Apartment.