Film Review: 13 Ghosts (1960)

Also known as: Thirteen Ghosts (German English title), 13 Fantasmas (Brazil, Mexico, Portugal)
Release Date: July, 1960
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robb White
Music by: Von Dexter
Cast: Charles Herbert, Jo Morrow, Rosemary DeCamp, Margaret Hamilton, Donald Woods, Martin Milner, John van Dreelen

William Castle Productions, Columbia Pictures, 85 Minutes, 82 Minutes (black and white version)

Review:

“[making a birthday wish] I wish we owned our own house, and all our furniture that nobody could take away. [wind blows through the windows and blows out the candles, somebody knocks at the door]” – Buck Zorba

From memory, 13 Ghosts was a movie I wasn’t too incredibly fond of. I mean, I liked it. It just didn’t make much of an impact and I always thought it was kind of cheesy, even when I was a kid.

However, this is the first time I’ve seen the film in at least twenty years. I’ve got to say, I have more appreciation for it now and I enjoyed it quite a bit. That could also be due to recently revisiting the 2001 remake, which was a total turd.

This was just a lot of fun and for the subject matter, kind of wholesome. Even if there is a supernatural death at the end of the movie.

I thought that the cast was actually good and the kid wasn’t even that annoying, especially for a child actor circa 1960. You actually kind of feel for the kid when you know he is being taken advantage of by the villain of the story.

For the time, the special effects are really good and they work. I like that there is a bit of a comedic tone with a lot of the ghosts’ antics.

The thing with William Castle movies is that they were interactive experiences when seen in theaters. I think that the whole experience would have been pretty cool to be a part of. That being said, I think it makes the movies suffer a bit on their own but this one was still lighthearted, fun and fairly jovial.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other gimmicky William Castle horror movies.

Film Review: 12 to the Moon (1960)

Also known as: Twelve to the Moon (alternative spelling)
Release Date: June, 1960
Directed by: David Bradley
Written by: Fred Gebhardt, DeWitt Bodeen
Music by: Michael Andersen
Cast: Ken Clark, Michi Kobi, Tom Conway, Anna-Lisa

Luna Productions Inc., Columbia Pictures, 74 Minutes

Review:

“I should have known, what… what a stupid unthinking fool. I deserve this.” – Dr. Feodor Orloff

12 to the Moon is a pretty dreadful and boring sci-fi picture from an era where most sci-fi pictures were pretty terrible. It’s actually hard to believe that 2001: A Space Odyssey came out just eight years after this.

To be fair, this came out in a time when this genre still didn’t have respect and the vast majority of these pictures were made by cheap studios without a lot of money to help make these film’s better.

Now Columbia Pictures isn’t small but this was obviously made to be thrown on B-movie double bills to attract the youth of the day and drive-in theater crowds that just wanted to make out and eat popcorn. I don’t recommend trying those two things simultaneously, for the record.

This would probably be a long forgotten dud had it not been featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Because of that, it will always have some sort of relevance, as long as MST3K fans are still alive and still going back to watch old homemade video tapes of the episode. Honestly, you can find most of the episodes on YouTube; so you don’t need to dust off the VCR or your VHS library.

At first glance, this is a movie about the space race, as it focuses on a team of twelve scientists who go to the moon to claim it as international territory before those Soviet Reds gets there and claim it for themselves. They even bring a couple of cats with them.

Anyway, this evolves into a movie where the environment is out to kill these scientists at every turn and the scientists even display a level of stupidity that can only be matched by the scientists in 2012’s Prometheus. One idiot discovers some bubbling liquid and excitedly runs over to put his hand in it, burning himself. Somewhere in the galaxy, Picard is facepalming hard.

There are alien hieroglyphics, plots about freezing America, French communists, Nazis being forgiven for horrible crimes, more alien shit and a bunch of clunky sets, bad actors and production crew members that were seemingly asleep at the wheel.

As bad as this is though, I don’t hate it. I can’t recommend it but if you want to subject yourself to this picture, at least watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other schlock-y outer space movies that were on MST3K.

Film Review: Tormented (1960)

Also known as: Eye of the Dead (TV title)
Release Date: September 22nd, 1960
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bert I. Gordon, George Worthington Yates
Music by: Albert Glasser, Calvin Jackson
Cast: Richard Carlson, Susan Gordon, Lugene Sanders, Joe Turkel

Cheviot Productions, Allied Artists, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!” – Vi Mason

How many Bert I. Gordon movies were riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000? I’ve already watched and reviewed a half dozen yet here’s one more.

This one is kind of cool. Well, I guess most of his movies are cool but this one has a bit of an extra edge, simply because I love the scenes with the disembodied head yelling at her killer.

Tormented is a ghost story and one of revenge but that’s not to say that the ghost is an innocent victim, as the film starts with her trying to blackmail her ex-lover before he is set to marry another woman. Now the blackmailer falls off of a lighthouse and while there is a chance for the blackmailed ex to save her, he doesn’t and the woman falls to her death, only to haunt him for the rest of the film.

As the plot develops and time rolls on, the man does turn out to be evil and so, I guess you’re rooting for the ghost, even though she’s a shitty person too. But this is a Bert I. Gordon movie, which means you’re supposed to turn off your brain and just let this thing roll on and try to entertain you.

And it is entertaining, even if it is a bad movie and pretty drab at points.

There’s nothing special here but for fans of special effects, especially early, primitive effects that have a certain level of cheesiness to them, Tormented is worth checking out.

This is a mostly decent, late night C-movie that no one should expect to be good but some should still find palatable enough to watch in the dark with some lukewarm beer and room temperature pizza left over from dinner.

Rating: 4.25/10
Pairs well with: other Bert I. Gordon movies featured on MST3K.

Film Review: Pollyanna (1960)

Release Date: May 19th, 1960
Directed by: David Swift
Written by: David Swift
Based on: Pollyanna by Eleanor Porter
Music by: Paul Smith
Cast: Hayley Mills, Jane Wyman, Karl Malden, Richard Egan, Adolphe Menjou, Agnes Moorehead

Walt Disney Productions, 134 Minutes

Review:

“We looked for the good in them, and we found it, didn’t we?” – Reverend Paul Ford

There are few motion pictures as sweet and heartwarming as this one.

It’s been at least three decades since I’ve seen this film but just about everything that Disney put out with Hayley Mills as the star was a classic in my book. Well, except maybe those ’80s Parent Trap sequels but I guess I’ll revisit those in the future to see how they measure up.

But this is a pretty good film that showcases Mills’ natural talent and displays just how charismatic she was and how infectious her charm could be.

I didn’t really love this movie as a kid. I enjoyed it but it wasn’t something I wanted to watch more than a few times because I would’ve rather spent my time watching action, adventure, monsters and spaceships.

As an adult, I was really impressed with this film and I kind of felt like I bonded with it in a way that I never had before. Sure, it’s more of a girls’ movie if you take it at face value but it has a message for all humans and it’s a great message: always look for the positives even in the worst situations.

While that may sound cliche and cheesy, this film presents it in a really lighthearted, digestible and pleasant way. And I don’t think that the film’s message and impact would have been nearly as strong without Pollyanna being played by someone as capable as Mills.

The film is actually an ensemble piece that Mills is the center of. She comes to town to live with her rich aunt after the death of her missionary parents. Pollyanna then touches everyone in town in a pretty profound way that brings people together and helps to unite a community that really needs it.

But there are so many colorful and unique characters that every interaction that Pollyanna has with someone is pretty entertaining and serves a real purpose in progressing the plot towards its emotional conclusion.

Pollyanna might feel dated and slow in parts but it’s a movie with a good message that is timeless. It’s also a well made and beautiful film with equal parts drama, comedy and charm.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hayley Mills Disney movies.

 

Film Review: Take Aim at the Police Van (1960)

Release Date: January 27th, 1960 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa, Kazuo Shimada
Music by: Koichi Kawabe
Cast: Michitaro Mizushima, Mari Shiraki, Misako Watanabe, Shinsuke Ashida

Nikkatsu, 79 Minutes

Review:

Take Aim at the Police Van is a pretty early film in Seijun Suzuki’s long and storied career. In fact, it is the oldest of his pictures that I’ve seen.

Like many of his other films, it borrows heavily from the classic film-noir style in its look and narrative.

I wouldn’t say that this is as stylized as his films from a few years later, 1966’s Tokyo Drifter and 1967’s Branded to Kill, but it definitely has a certain panache to it that is very much Suzuki.

The story starts with a sniper killing two men on a police bus transport. One of the cops on board, a friend of one of the criminals who was set to be released, takes it upon himself to figure out why the bus was attacked and why these men were murdered.

Suzuki with a script by Shinichi Sekizawa, a guy who wrote a lot of kaiju movies for Toho, tells this tale very visually in a style similar to the two decades of American crime films before this. He uses a lot of high contrast shots and the movie, overall, is mostly pretty dark with a big emphasis on shadows.

This is pretty straightforward for Suzuki. He gets in, tells the story and leaves his imprint behind fairly strongly.

For an early foreign neo-noir, this has the right look, the right tone and it perfectly emulates the pictures that visually inspired it.

Now Suzuki would go on to make some real arthouse neo-noir gems with his style turned up to eleven but it’s kind of nice seeing this, a movie that exists before he started taking a lot more creative liberties with his work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Seijun Suzuki neo-noir and Yakuza pictures.

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.