Film Review: Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960)

Release Date: December 26th, 1960 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Alan Hackney
Music by: Alun Hoddinott
Cast: Richard Greene, Sarah Branch, Peter Cushing, Niall MacGinnis, Nigel Green, Oliver Reed (uncredited), Desmond Llewellyn (uncredited)

Yeoman Films Ltd., Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“This is not a game, Madam, I’m dealing with criminals!” – Sheriff of Nottingham

I’m kind of shocked that this site is two months shy of its five-year anniversary and this is the first Robin Hood movie that I’ve reviewed! Damn, I’ve been slacking on one of my all-time favorite legendary characters! I must rectify it with this movie and many more in the coming months!

Anyway, I guess I’m glad that I started with one that I had never seen and one that was made by one of my all-time favorite studios, Hammer Films. It also features horror icon Peter Cushing and has smaller parts for Oliver Reed, Nigel Green and James Bond‘s original Q, Desmond Llewelyn.

This film’s Robin Hood is played by Richard Greene, who actually played the character in the British television show The Adventures of Robin Hood for four seasons, totaling 143 episodes! So for fans of that show, this film must’ve felt like a theatrical finale, despite other characters being recast.

I really liked Peter Cushing as the Sheriff of Nottingham and the only real shitty thing about that iconic character in this version of the story, is that he never gets to meet his end at the hands of Robin Hood. Instead, he’s murdered like a dog by his superior, who was just tired of listening to him obsess over Hood.

I thought that Richard Greene made a solid Robin Hood and since I’ve never actually watched his show, I might try and track it down. If I do, obviously, I’ll review it.

This was a thoroughly entertaining Robin Hood picture and I liked the sets, costumes and overall look of the presentation. Granted, being that this is from the UK, it’s easy to make the world of Robin Hood look right. Plus, they still have so many castles and old structures that it’s not difficult finding the right places out in the wild.

I was glad that Hammer’s most celebrated director, Terence Fisher, was able to dabble in this style of film, as he predominantly did horror for the studio.

In the end, this was a better than decent Robin Hood flick with good actors, a nice pace and an authentic look.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Also known as: Terror of the Hatchet Men (alternative US title)
Release Date: March 15th, 1961
Directed by: Anthony Bushell
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone

Merlin Film Productions, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain? It is painful in the extreme I can assure you.” – The Tong Leader

When I recently reviewed Hammer Films’ The Stranglers of Bombay, I discovered that this film was somewhat of a remake of that film. Watching this, I didn’t see it. I guess there are some similar narrative beats and both take place in exotic places in Asia but this is much more a proto-Fu Manchu picture than anything else.

With Christopher Lee in the lead, as the Chinese criminal kingpin, I feel like this lead to him starring in those five Fu Manchu pictures that stretched from 1965 to 1969. Hell, this probably inspired their creation.

However, this is better than those Fu Manchu movies. I think that Christopher Lee’s performance is solid in each of those, as well as this picture, but this really is the genesis of his longest run as a character other than Dracula.

I like that this takes place in Hong Kong but it still has that patented late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer style to it. I’m actually surprised that the studio didn’t recycle some of these sets into sequels for this, as Lee gives a really chilling performance and because this was different enough from Hammer’s regular output that they could’ve crafted another franchise from this, as they did with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

I understand why this was just a one-off, though, as it’s not as good as the first installment in Hammer’s core franchises. Also, Christopher Lee was not a fan of the makeup and considered it the most uncomfortable that he had ever worn up to this point in his career. But this was his first starring credit, as his other well-known films before this had him playing the monster to Peter Cushing’s hero or mad scientist.

Once again, I thought that Jimmy Sangster wrote a pretty good script for Hammer. The sets are good, as are the costumes. The makeup passes the test for the era, even if modern HD restoration brings out its flaws more.

Overall, The Terror of the Tongs is better than I anticipated it being.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Witchfinder General (1968)

Also known as: The Conqueror Worm (theatrical title), Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General (UK complete title), Matthew Hopkins: Conqueror Worm (US complete title), Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm (US promotional title)
Release Date: May 15th, 1968 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Michael Reeves
Written by: Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Based on: Witchfinder General by Ronald Bassett
Music by: Paul Ferris
Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Wilfrid Brambell, Patrick Wymark, Robert Russell, Nicky Henson, Hilary Dwyer

Tigon British Film Productions, American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Men sometimes have strange motives for the things they do.” – Matthew Hopkins

I always get Witchfinder General a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm and Cry of the Banshee mixed up in my head. They both star Vincent Price in a very similar role, deal with the same subject matter and came out around the same time.

This is the superior of the two films and it boasts one of Price’s greatest performances. It’s also more grounded than 1970’s Cry of the Banshee, which honestly feels like it was made just to piggyback off of this film’s momentum.

The story, here, follows Matthew Hopkins, a famous (or infamous) witch-hunter. It shows his corruption, how he uses his power to rule over those who fear him and what lengths he’s willing to go to essentially prove that he is the ruler of his own domain.

For those who don’t know, Hopkins was a real historical figure and with that, this film had a bit more chutzpah to it than Cry of the Banshee. There was something really sinister about the fact that this was a real guy. Sure, this was glamorized and took some liberties, as it’s a film that had to up the ante and lean into the horror bits, but from what I’ve read about the guy, none of this really seems out of character and in fact, Price’s portrayal of the character may have been tame by comparison. I mean, in just the three years that Hopkins claimed to be the “Witchfinder General”, he killed more suspected witches than his contemporaries did in the previous 100 years.

This is a fairly compelling film, even if it is a bit slow. But even with its apparent faults, Price’s performance is damn convincing and truly elevates what would’ve been a mundane picture, otherwise.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Spartacus (1960)

Also known as: Spartacus: Rebel Against Rome (US poster title)
Release Date: October 6th, 1960 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Dalton Trumbo
Based on: Spartacus by Howard Fast
Music by: Alex North
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Laurence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Charles Laughton, Peter Ustinov, John Gavin, Tony Curtis

Bryna Productions, Universal International, 197 Minutes

Review:

“If you looked into a magic crystal, you saw your army destroyed and yourself dead. If you saw that in the future, as I’m sure you’re seeing it now, would you continue to fight?” – Tigranes Levantus, “Yes.” – Spartacus, “Knowing that you must lose?” – Tigranes Levantus, “Knowing we can. All men lose when they die and all men die. But a slave and a free man lose different things.” – Spartacus, “They both lose life.” – Tigranes Levantus, “When a free man dies, he loses the pleasure of life. A slave loses his pain. Death is the only freedom a slave knows. That’s why he’s not afraid of it. That’s why we’ll win.” – Spartacus

Spartacus is another one of those classic epic films that I had seen in segments, dozens of times, on television at my granmum’s house as a kid. I don’t think that I had ever seen it in its entirety from beginning to end and with that, it’s the only Stanley Kubrick feature film that I hadn’t watched properly.

As a kid, this and Lawrence of Arabia were very similar to me. I also found this to be similar to the old sword and sandal movies of the same era, mainly the Hercules ones. However, Lawrence of Arabia takes place in a very different time and those Hercules movies can’t compete with Spartacus‘ greatness.

To start, this is directed by Stanley Kubrick, a real auteur who is on my Mount Rushmore of film directors. However, this was the one film where he wasn’t fully in control of the production and had to work within the big studio system, as he was brought in to replace a fired director. Kubrick was brought in at the request of his friend Kirk Douglas, who had worked with him previously on Paths of Glory.

Kubrick still utilized his skill set to great effect, however. While I don’t find this movie to be as stylistic as his other work, some of the shots in this are simply spectacular. For instance, watching the soldiers move into position on the battlefield is incredibly impressive and almost otherworldly while also slowly building up a real sense of dread just before the first attack.

The action in general is fantastic in this from the war scenes to the personal gladiatorial battles and every other skirmish in-between.

Beyond just Kubrick’s incredible artistic abilities, the film is loaded with some of the best acting talent that the motion picture industry has ever seen between Kirk Douglas and Laurence Olivier. Not to mention Jean Simmons and Tony Curtis. And to be honest, this is some of the best work all these actors have done individually.

I guess it also helps that the director and his actors had a great script to work with from the legendary Dalton Trumbo, who did a stupendous job in adapting Howard Fast’s Spartacus novel, which I read in middle school and loved.

This is a movie that is pretty close to perfect for being what it is, which is a historical war drama with high stakes, a massive battle, action, romance and a good balance of humor and camaraderie between its stars.

Rating: 9.5/10

Film Review: Scream of Fear (1961)

Also known as: Taste of Fear (UK)
Release Date: March 30th, 1961 (London premiere)
Directed by: Seth Holt
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Clifton Parker
Cast: Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, John Serret

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“You say my mind is affecting my legs. You’re wrong. It’s my legs that are affecting my mind.” – Penny Appleby

Man, when it comes to old school Hammer movies, I’ve come to realize that most of the really good scripts come from Jimmy Sangster. While this isn’t the best of the films he’s written, the story is solid and it sticks with you.

The plot follows a wheelchair-bound heiress named Penny, who returns to her father’s home after the suicide of her best friend. Upon arrival, her father is absent and she has to contend with her stepmother, who she doesn’t trust and has just met.

Penny believes that she sees her father’s corpse in the guest cottage at night and she screams hysterically, alerting her stepmother. Upon discovering Penny, the corpse is nowhere to be found. So the family doctor, played by the legendary Christopher Lee, is summoned to treat Penny for trauma and her potential hallucinations.

The family’s chauffer pulls Penny aside and admits that something unusual is going on and that he’ll help her discover the truth. However, Penny doesn’t fully trust him. All the while, a police detective shows up and believes that Penny has her own strange secrets.

I don’t want to spoil too much but the setup has a lot of layers to it and it almost feels very noir-esque, as it opens the door to a lot of potential twists and surprises.

I’ve got to say that the acting in this is quite exceptional and exceeds what was the normal level of performances in Hammer pictures. Susan Strasberg is pretty damn convincing in her role and she was so dedicated to it, that her style of method acting drew the ire of her co-star Ann Todd.

However, Christopher Lee, a man with over 200 credits to his name, considered this the best film that Hammer ever made with him in it. While I don’t think it’s that good, Lee’s opinion should matter quite a bit, considering his long, iconic career and for how many movies he was featured in under the Hammer banner.

Ultimately, Scream of Fear is a nice gem buried underneath the massive catalog of Hammer films. In modern times, people only seem to remember the movies based off of famous literary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. However, Hammer has so many other movies, like this one, that deserve to be revisited and showcased for modern classic horror fans that might not have dived deep enough.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Curse of the Fly (1965)

Release Date: March 31st, 1965 (Phoenix premiere)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Harry Spalding
Based on: The Fly by George Langelaan
Music by: Bert Shefter
Cast: Brian Donlevy, Carole Gray, George Baker

Lippert Films, 20th Century Fox, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’re not God, you’re not even human. You murdered those men and you made me a murderer too.” – Albert Delambre

Out of all The Fly movies ever made, this one is the worst.

However, it also has some of the coolest ideas by allowing the experiments to evolve in logical directions that see new monsters come into existence.

The story starts with a guy crashing his car because a very scantily clad babe runs out in the middle of a dark backroad. As the story rolls on, the guy falls for the babe but there is something wrong with her other than the fact that she escaped from a nearby mental asylum.

There are ties to the previous movies in this series but it essentially retcons that continuity. Plus, Vincent Price is nowhere to be found, so the film kind of suffers from that.

Anyway, we discover that there are all these other failed experiments locked away in these stables that are essentially prison cells. We get to see what’s happened to those who were experimented on once this new technology had run amok.

While it’s cool having all these other monsters, the movie is poorly executed and I don’t feel like it really recognized the potential it had with all these bonus terrors the writers and director had in their back pocket.

With that, I also felt like this film franchise really got away from itself. It could’ve and should’ve evolved into something new and fresh but it honestly just fired off a bunch of blanks and didn’t really seem to know what it was even aiming at.

Curse of the Fly isn’t terrible but it isn’t necessarily good, either. But I do like that it seemed to have some creativity in the story even if it was poorly capitalized on.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: the previous two movies in The Fly film series, as well as the ’80s remakes and other creature features of the ’50s and ’60s.

Film Review: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Also known as: The Passionate People Eater (working title)
Release Date: August 5th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Fred Katz, Ronald Stein (uncredited)
Cast: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Myrtle Vail, Jack Nicholson

Santa Clara Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a finger of speech!” – Mushnick

I often times come across people who don’t realize that there was an “original” version of The Little Shop of Horrors that existed before the ’80s movie and the stage interpretations. And since it was made by the great B-movie king, Roger Corman, it’s always something worth pointing out.

The origin of this movie is kind of cool, as Roger Corman was challenged to beat his previous record of filming a movie quickly and with that, set out to film this entire picture in two days. A big part of that two-day window was that he wanted to re-use sets from his movie Bucket of Blood before they were torn down. He succeeded.

The film features a few Corman regulars, most notably Jonathan Haze, as the film’s lead, as well as Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson, in what was his most bonkers role, early in his career. Nicholson actually plays a dental patient that loves pain, which was the same role that Bill Murray played in the ’80s musical remake.

Now this version isn’t a musical like the ’80s film and the stage productions. However, it features a cool musical score by Fred Katz and an uncredited Ronald Stein. I like the odd score so much that I actually own it on vinyl.

I think that the most impressive thing about the movie is the special effects. The fact that they were able to create Audrey, the giant, man-eating plant and utilize it so well for this quick shoot is pretty astounding. But then, Roger Corman continually astounded with how quickly he shot his films, the sheer volume of them and how he pinched his pennies while getting the most out of them.

The Little Shop of Horrors is really no different than Corman’s other horror and sci-fi productions of this era in his career. And the end result is an enjoyable, quirky picture that is fun to watch or revisit every couple of years.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: its ’80s musical remake, as well as other early Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: Never Take Candy from A Stranger (1960)

Also known as: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (UK)
Release Date: March 4th, 1960 (London premiere)
Directed by: Cyril Frankel
Written by: John Hunter
Based on: The Pony Trap (play) by Roger Garis
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Patrick Allen, Gwen Watford, Felix Aylmer, Janina Faye, Michael Gwynn

Hammer Films, 81 Minutes

Review:

“This isn’t an ordinary crime like burglary or a holdup.” – Martha

Similar to a lot of the other Hammer films I’ve been watching and reviewing lately, courtesy of a sweet, beefy box set I bought, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie.

I was pretty shocked and impressed with this, however. So much so, I’m surprised that I never knew about this picture and that it’s seemingly been lost to time.

The film is about a small town with a pedophile that is the old, senile patriarch of the town’s richest family. With that, no one really wants to do anything about this predator, as they don’t want to draw the ire of the family, who have lots of money and connections and essentially own everyone and everything in the region.

This is pretty heavy, serious subject matter for a movie that was made in 1959 but I thought that the material was well handled and even if the film feels like it’s leaning into exploitation, it classily reels itself in just enough to be respectable.

Additionally, this is well crafted, well shot, well acted and the picture’s climax of the elderly pedo chasing two young girls through the woods had similar, creepy vibes to some of the best moments from the exceptional film, The Night of the Hunter. In fact, this movie kept making me think of that classic, Robert Mitchum starring film.

I have to say that the main girl in the movie acted great and handled so many tough scenes like a seasoned pro. Gwen Watford, who played the girl’s mother was also really exceptional in this.

Also, Hammer regular Michael Gwynn had a role in this as the young victim’s lawyer. He was also solid and convincing and really shined in the courtroom scenes.

This is a dark, tragic film that most people will find upsetting. However, it’s also a great piece of work and one of the best things that Hammer Films has ever made outside of their more famous monster movies.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films that are more grounded in reality.

Film Review: Golden Eyes (1968)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchû: Ôgon no me (original Japanese title), Booted Babe, Busted Boss, Ironfinger Strikes Back (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 16th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Jun Fukuda, Ei Ogawa, Michio Tsuzuki
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Beverly Maeda, Tomomi Sawa, Andrew Hughes, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

Since I thought Jun Fukuda’s Ironfinger was a pretty solid spy comedy, I wanted to give its sequel a watch, as well.

Fukuda is mostly known, at least in the States, for being one of the two most prominent directors of classic Godzilla pictures. While he doesn’t seem to be held in the same regard as Ishiro Honda, I always saw the two directors as fairly equal. Honda, however, did more of the earlier Godzilla films, where Fukuda did more of the later ones, which some fans like less due to them becoming more and more kid friendly as the franchise rolled on.

Fukuda did lots of other pictures over his career, though, especially for Toho, who loved pumping out quick sci-fi/tokusatsu fare. But between those movies, Toho also had Fukuda do these cool, ’60s spy flicks.

It’s obvious that these films are inspired by the James Bond movies of the era, as well as other spy flicks. At the time, there were many spy comedies like this, which sort of parody the genre but don’t completely deconstruct it like the Austin Powers movies would do later on.

This one pretty much follows the beats and tone of its predecessor but I didn’t enjoy it as much. There are some insanely goofy moments and some of the more over-the-top antics felt like they were too hammy.

For instance, there’s a gunfight scene where the heroes throw two assault rifles closer to the baddies and then shoot the rifles with their own guns, lifting them into the air from bullet ricochets where they fire and kill the villains. It’s f’n ridiculous and while it’s funny, it’s a “jump the shark” moment that happens pretty early into the film.

Still, I did enjoy Akira Takarada in this, as the spy hero. He’s just a good, fun actor and he was in dozens of Toho pictures and also worked with Jun Fukuda quite a bit.

Now I did miss Mie Hama in this one but since these movies are essentially ripping off James Bond, we can’t have the same chick in both films.

In the end, this isn’t as good as Ironfinger but it’s still cool and enjoyable if you like ’60s spy comedies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, Ironfinger, as well as other ’60s spy comedies.

*No trailer available online.