Film Review: Samson Vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

Also known as: Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (original Mexican title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona Blake
Written by: Alfonso Corona Blake, Rafael Garcia Travesi, Antonio Orellana, Fernando Oses
Music by: Raul Lavista, Galdino R. Samperio
Cast: El Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico, Maria Duval, Javier Loya, Ofelia Montesco

Filmadora Panamericana, Fonexsa, Tele-cine-radio S.A., 89 Minutes

Review:

“The fight must go on.” – El Enmascarado de Plata

I think this is one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed. I was probably out macking on chicks at a high school football game or something. But I didn’t remember them ever riffing one of the El Santo movies. Also, I thought I saw TV’s Frank’s last episode but this played out in a way I didn’t recollect, so I guess I never saw it.

Anyway, this is one of the many El Santo movies from Mexico. He was the top lucha libre star of all-time and a bonafide movie star in his country.

However, all of the old school lucha libre movies are strange, low budget affairs that usually saw luchadors fight supernatural or alien threats. Here, El Santo fights a horde of vampire women. In other words, the premise is awesome, if this is your sort of thing.

What I like about these lucha movies is that they feel like Mexico’s version of Japan’s tokusatsu genre. El Santo is Mexico’s Ultraman and I guess that makes Blue Demon Mexico’s version of Kamen Rider, albeit without the sweet motorcycle.

As far as El Santo pictures go, this one is pretty good. It almost taps into a Hammer Horror vibe with its vampire women and it reminded me of The Brides of Dracula. Granted, Peter Cushing wasn’t here to kick ass as Van Helsing but Santo did a fine job and even got to mix it up in the ring, which is always a plus even if it is customary in a lucha flick.

I thought that this film was pretty entertaining for its genre and I can’t shit on it like most people without an appreciation for lucha movies would. In fact, it is one of the more enjoyable films featured on MST3K and TV’s Frank should be happy that he went out on this one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other El Santo movies, as well as the films starring Blue Demon.

Film Review: The Ambushers (1967)

Release Date: December 20th, 1967 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Henry Levin
Written by: Herbert Baker
Based on: The Ambushers by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Herbert Baker, Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Senta Berger, Janice Rule, James Gregory, Albert Salmi, Kurt Kasznar, Beverly Adams, John Brascia

Columbia Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

[a new female recruit gets turned on by Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” playing in the background] “You really like Perry Como that much?” – Matt Helm

The first two Matt Helm films were a lot of fun and really capture the magic and charisma of Dean Martin. I thought the first two were pretty consistent, overall. This one, however, falls off a bit and it looks as if the formula is running out of steam.

Still, Dean Martin makes this picture work and it’s hard to deny his charm and his ability to command the screen and make his audience smile along with him.

As far as the story goes, this one was weak. It features a government made UFO for some reason and a lot of wacky stuff that doesn’t work as well as the wacky stuff we saw in the installments before this chapter in the franchise.

Also, the intro to the film and the title are confusing, as we’re introduced to the idea of this all female assault team called “The Ambushers” but really, they don’t exist in the film in any sort of meaningful way to justify the title or the movie’s awesome opening credits sequence.

Sure, we get to see Dean Martin hamming it up and flirting with good looking ladies at the agency’s HQ in the first act but once he’s off to Mexico, that’s pretty much it for Dean Martin being a guy in a sea of hot women.

The film does have some strengths apart from Martin.

I thought that the Mexican brewery shootout and fisticuffs were well done and the environment was used superbly within the sequence.

Also, the big climax was well written, well structured, executed nicely and pretty energetic. It had a lot of good hilarious bits in it and it sort of makes up for the duller parts of the film.

Now there aren’t many dull moments but the film feels as if they blew most of the good jokes in the first two pictures and didn’t have a lot left to work into this one. But Martin did his best.

I thought the special effects came off well. There is a lot of cheese with it though, like the sparkler guns that levitate objects and the weirdly out of place UFO but some of the levitation gags worked. Well, except for the parts where you could clearly see wires lifting up people and objects. I was pretty impressed with how well the bar scene came out though. The sequence with the bottle pouring and the floating glasses moving across the room and into people’s hands looked perfect.

The Ambushers is certainly a step down. But it still entertains and keeps the party going.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row or The Wrecking Crew: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964)

Also known as: Chikyû saidai no kessen, lit. Three Giant Monsters: The Greatest Battle on Earth (Japan), Monster of Monsters: Ghidorah (Worldwide English title), Godzilla vs. Ghidorah (Finland), Frankensteins Monster im Kampf gegen Ghidorah (Germany)
Release Date: December 20th, 1964 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Shinichi Sekizawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Yosuke Natsuki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yuriko Hoshi, Akiko Wakabayashi, The Peanuts, Takashi Shimura, Akihiko Hirata, Kenji Sahara, Susumu Kurobe, Haruo Nakajima, Shoichi Hirose

Toho Co. Ltd., 92 Minutes

Review:

“Yes, it is possible for someone to be saved from an exploding aircraft. If we understand the curvature of space, we know that the continuum surrounding any spherical body such as our world is composed of different dimensions. The force of the explosion created a gap between these dimensions, and fortunately for her, she fell into it.” – Alien Expert

I’ve put off reviewing this film in the Godzilla franchise for awhile. The main reason, is that I wanted to save it for the week that the new American Godzilla movie was coming out, as that one features the same four monsters featured in this film. So if the new American film is remaking anything, it is closest to remaking this film.

Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster isn’t just one of my favorite Godzilla movies, it is one of my favorite monster movies… ever.

King Ghidorah is, hands down, one of the coolest and most iconic monsters ever created. While he might not be as popular as Godzilla or Mothra, he is most definitely the best villain in Godzilla lore and the true king of Toho’s baddies. He’s also much better than any of the evil kaiju creatures from any other Japanese series whether it be GameraUltraman or anything else. Personally, Gigan is my favorite but I can’t deny the greatness and dominance of Ghidorah.

What’s also really interesting about this film is that it is where Godzilla really becomes a good guy and a protector of Japan and Earth from worse monsters. He teams up with Mothra, after the two of them fought in Godzilla Vs. The Thing and he also encounters Rodan for the first time, which starts off as a big fight but eventually ends with the two of them becoming strong allies.

Ghidorah has three heads, so I guess it makes sense needing three good monsters to fight him. Also, it sort of helps to build up the mystique of the new villain. For the first time ever, Godzilla alone can’t take on another monster. Granted, Godzilla, over time, would evolve to be far more powerful than the standard Ghidorah.

The story of this one is also interesting in that it introduces a monster threat from outer space, as well as bringing in alien races and a new sort of dynamic to the Godzilla franchise, which changes all the movies going forward.

Additionally, this movie was helmed by the A-team of Toho tokusatsu: director Ishirō Honda, writer Shinichi Sekizawa, special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and composer Akira Ifukube. It also features the top Toho actors, the real core of the studio’s talent at the time: Hiroshi Koizumi, Kenji Sahara, Takashi Shimura, Akiko Wakabayashi and Akihiko Hirata.

While I like the original Godzilla and King Kong Vs. Godzilla more than this, this chapter in the franchise is almost a perfect storm where everything just sort of went right. It ups the ante in new ways, is a hell of a lot of fun and it’s the one film that really sells you on how menacing and dangerous King Ghidorah is.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Shōwa era Godzilla movies.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: Space Travelers (1969)

Also known as: Marooned (original title), Abandonados en el espacio (Argentina)
Release Date: November 10th, 1969 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: John Sturges
Written by: Mayo Simon
Based on: Marooned by Martin Caidin
Cast: Gregory Peck, Richard Crenna, David Janssen, James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, George Gaynes

Columbia Pictures, 134 Minutes

Review:

“Okay Buzz you’re right. To hell with waiting for a bunch of slide-rule jockeys. We used to fix the airplanes we flew with paperclips. Lets get into our hard suits and fix this bird.” – Jim Pruett

This is probably the most critically acclaimed film ever to be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, as it is the only picture out of the 200-plus that won an Academy Award. In the case of this movie, it won for visual effects.

That being said, this is still a movie worth riffing, as it is dreadfully boring, slow and despite being full of some good actors, none of the performances really hit their mark.

Originally titled Marooned in 1969, this movie was re-released on VHS around 1990 as Space Travelers. The VHS version is the one that I saw, as it’s the version that MST3K showcased.

I’m not sure if there’s much difference between the two versions of the film but MST3K didn’t have time to fit in a 134 minute picture, so what I did see was edited down. As boring and as slow as this was, I couldn’t imagine watching a version that would be 44 minutes longer than the roughly 90 minutes I saw. But maybe that extra time made the story more interesting.

Still, this is a real dud that wasn’t saved by its good effects, even for its time.

Maybe this was fairly original in the late ’60s and being that it came out during the height of the space race era, it could’ve connected with audiences that were still dreaming about space travel and exploration. But this did come out a year after 2001: A Space Odyssey and I find it hard to believe that even in 1969, that this film would even be in conversations with that one as far as being a top notch sci-fi adventure.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other Space Race era movies about space travel.

Film Review: Machine Gun McCain (1969)

Also known as: Gli intoccabili (original title), Killer MacCain (Denmark), The Untouchables (European English title), For A Price (English alternate title), At Any Price (US working title)
Release Date: April 1st, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Giuliano Montaldo
Written by: Mino Roli, Giuliano Montaldo
Based on: Candyleg by Ovid Demaris
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: John Cassavetes, Britt Ekland, Peter Falk, Gabriele Ferzetti, Florinda Bolkan, Tony Kendall, Salvo Randone, Gena Rowlands, Luigi Pistilli

Euroatlantica, Euro International Film, 116 Minutes

Review:

“What do you do? Sell women? Sell marijuana? – what d’you do? Where’d you get the twenty-five thousand? I wouldn’t give you twenty-five cents. What d’you do? – you go out and you hustle yourself all over the street. Small time – no dignity! You don’t beg.” – Hank McCain, “That’s why, Hank – I need this chance. I got tired of being small change.” – Jack McCain, “You’re gonna be small change all your life.” – Hank McCain

If you like Italian gangster films, you should actually check one out from Italy, as opposed to American films about Italian-American criminals doing mafioso shit for the umpteenth time. The Italians weren’t just known for spaghetti westerns and sword and sandal movies back in the ’60s, they also made solid horror and badass crime pictures.

Gli Intoccabili, also known as Machine Gun McCain in the United States, is a high octane, gritty Italian crime thriller that stars a badass American, John Cassavetes. This also has a young Peter Falk in it. But the real treat is the lovely Britt Ekland, who I crushed on hard when I was a kid and saw her in The Man With the Golden Gun.

I like this movie but if I’m being honest, it is completely elevated by Cassavetes, Falk and Ekland. Without them, it would have just been a fairly mundane gangster movie.

There isn’t a lot of stylistic flourish to this film, which is surprising being that it came from Italy in a time when that country was experimenting with very colorful and vivid cinematography. I’m not saying that this needed giallo flair but it does look quite pedestrian when compared to what else was coming out of Italy in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

I really enjoyed Cassavetes’ McCain and I totally bought into his chemistry with Ekland. Falk was an absolute scene stealer though and for fans of his most famous role on Colombo, his part here is a real departure from the norm. It’s also worth noting that one of Sergio Leone’s favorites, Luigi Pistilli, has a small part in this. You may remember him as the priest brother of Tuco in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly as well as a member of Indio’s gang in For A Few Dollars More.

I should also point out that movie music maestro Ennio Morricone did the score for this. While it’s not as memorable as his work with Sergio Leone, it is still a nice score that enhances the film and gives it more life than it would have had with a less accomplished composer.

Machine Gun McCain is a film that probably sounds cooler than it is but if I’m being honest, it’s really damn hard to say something’s “uncool” if it’s got John Cassavetes in it.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: The Burglars, The Italian Connection, Robbery and Grand Slam.

Film Review: The Castle of Fu Manchu (1969)

Also known as: Sax Rohmer’s The Castle of Fu Manchu (full title), Assignment Istanbul, Fu Manchu’s Castle, The Torture Chamber of Fu Manchu (alternate titles), Le château de Fu Manchu (France)
Release Date: May 30th, 1969 (Germany)
Directed by: Jess Franco
Written by: Manfred Barthel
Based on: characters by Sax Rohmer
Music by: Carlos Camilleri, Malcomb Shelby
Cast: Christopher Lee, Richard Greene, Howard Marion-Crawford, Gunther Stoll, Rosalba Neri, Maria Perschy, Jose Manuel Martin

Balcázar Producciones Cinematográficas, Terra-Filmkunst, Italian International Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“The formula. With this I can control all things – and all men.” – Fu Manchu

I love Christopher Lee but I have never liked his Fu Manchu movies. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen all five of them and this is the only one I’ve seen more than once and that’s simply because it is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This is the fifth and final film and it is said to be the worst one. From my experience with some of the others, none of them are good. But this one, in particular, is dreadfully boring and pretty hard to follow.

Full disclosure, I’m not sure if it’s hard to follow due to it being a clusterfuck of bad, nonsensical writing or because it was a real challenge to pay attention and not doze off to sleep or find myself daydreaming for spans of twenty minutes. I’d say that it’s all of the above.

Christopher Lee can usually carry movies, even bad ones. While he is the brightest spot, by far, in this picture, it’s not enough to draw you in or make you care. I think that even Lee was bored with these movies by this point. I don’t want to say that he dialed it in but this was probably just a paycheck and a way to work for a few weeks between Hammer or Amicus productions.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fu Manchu character anyway, so I don’t have the same sort of enthusiasm for these movies as I do the DraculaFrankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde, Mummy and other classic horror and literary characters he’s made movies about.

This film is a complete waste of time unless you are an MST3K completist and haven’t yet seen the episode with this mind numbing dud.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: the other Fu Manchu movies with Christopher Lee but none of them are very good.