Film Review: Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

Also known as: Rasputin (Spain)
Release Date: March 6th, 1966 (UK)
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Christopher Lee, Barbara Shelley, Francis Matthews, Richard Pasco, Suzan Farmer, Joss Ackland 

Seven Arts Productions, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“When I go to confession I don’t offer God small sins, petty squabbles, jealousies… I offer him sins worth forgiving!” – Grigori Rasputin

This might not be Christopher Lee’s best film but it is certainly one of his greatest performances of all-time and the greatest out of all the Hammer Films pictures he starred in.

The movie is a very loose biopic about Grigori Rasputin, a man whose legend has grown well beyond reality. Still, the guy was damn interesting and gained control over some powerful, influential people.

Also, his death is pretty legendary but I’m not going to rehash all the details about the man and his death. Go to Wikipedia for that, if you’re unfamiliar with it.

This film doesn’t cover Rasputin’s whole life, it just covers the end of it. It essentially starts with some character building and context to setup who he is and then immediately gets into how he “mesmerized” an influential Russian family, causing some serious harm to the people trapped in the gravitational pull of his orbit.

The film also eventually gets to his death. However, being that this was a superb picture for Hammer, I’m actually kind of shocked that they didn’t find a way to resurrect the madman for a series of sequels that would be a lot more horror heavy. It definitely feels like it was a missed opportunity. Plus, I would’ve liked to have seen what a director like Terence Fisher could’ve done had he gotten a crack at the Hammer version of the Rasputin character.

This is well acted and honestly, it really stands out in that regard, compared to other Hammer movies of the time.

Rasputin: The Mad Monk is one of the best motion pictures that Hammer ever made and I feel like it’s sort of been forgotten, as people tend to gravitate more towards the films that feature Dracula, Frankenstein and vampires in general.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films with Christopher Lee.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965)

Release Date: November 6th, 1965
Directed by: Norman Taurog
Written by: Elwood Ullman, Robert Kaufman, James Hartford
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Frankie Avalon, Dwayne Hickman, Susan Hart, Jack Mullaney

American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“Igor, you idiot, why must you listen to me when I’m wrong?” – Dr. Goldfoot

Can you have a beach movie without the beach? Well, this certainly feels like it, as it features a ton of scantily clad beauties, as they try and steal the fortunes of rich tycoons. They’re also robots created by a mad scientist and a criminal mastermind in an effort to fund their evil doings.

In a lot of ways, this feels very similar to the Matt Helm movies with Dean Martin, which also featured scantily clad beauties, diabolical mad men and spy shenanigans.

Coming out at the height of the spy and beach movie genres, this utilizes both and also adds in horror legend Vincent Price and beach movie icon Frankie Avalon.

The movie is over the top to the point of being outright parody but it is a strange, amusing picture that may not have been a massive hit but has since developed a good cult following for those who like the varying genres this attempts to mash up. It also got a sequel, which I will review in the near future.

For the most part, this is good, mindless fun. Turn off your brain, kick back and enjoy the awesome batshittery. Plus, for ’60s cinephiles, it’s just really neat seeing Price and Avalon in the same flick.

For some, this will seem like an outdated relic without much in it worth giving a shit about. But those people can have their Academy Award nominated bores. Cool people would rather watch this and leave Ordinary People to the pretentious intellectuals.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: its sequel and other Vincent Price pictures that he did for American International.

Film Review: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

Release Date: May 9th, 1962 (Denmark)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corebett, Oliver Reed, Peter Arne, Marla Landi, Desmond Llewelyn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[to the elders] I am not guilty. The cause of Maggie’s death… was fear. Fear of her brutal husband. Yes, fear is your weapon, and it’s a dangerous weapon because one day it will recoil on your heads.” – Jonathan Standing

Well, since I recently watched The Devil-Ship Pirates, one of the few Hammer Films swashbucklers, I figured that I’d also check out this film, which came out just before it and also stars Christopher Lee.

I actually liked this a wee bit more than The Devil-Ship Pirates, as it seemed to have more going on. I really enjoyed the plot of the other film but this one seemed to have more layers and more at stake. Regardless, they’re both enjoyable for those who like classic swashbuckling tales.

In this one, we see Lee play an actual pirate, where he played a Spanish naval commander in Devil-Ship. It was cool seeing him with the traditional garb and eye patch. He also got to use his sword, which is always a bonus. I don’t think people know that Lee actually has the most sword fights in motion picture history. I think that’s a cool fact that gets lost because he’s primarily known for being in horror movies and not action pictures.

I really enjoyed Kerwin Mathews in this, as well as Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. We even get to see Desmond Llewelyn, which is always a treat when he appears outside of his most famous role as Q in the old school James Bond movies.

All in all, this is a pretty decent swashbuckler from a studio that probably should’ve made more than they did. But I get it, horror was Hammer’s real bread and butter. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Devil-Ship Pirates.

Film Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Also known as: Two Thousand and One: A Space Odyssey (alternative title), Journey Beyond the Stars, How the Solar System Was Won (working titles)
Release Date: April 2nd, 1968 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Based on: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke
Music by: various
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice), Vivian Kubrick (uncredited)

Stanley Kubrick Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 149 Minutes, 142 Minutes (theatrical release), 161 Minutes (initial release)

Review:

“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” – HAL-9000

This is my 2001st film review here on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria) and I held off on reviewing this a few months back because I figured I’d save it for this special occasion. I’m also planning on reviewing its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, for my 2010th. So look for that one in a little less than a week.

Well, I guess I should start this review by saying that it is one of the three films in my Holy Trinity of Motion Pictures alongside The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Dark Knight. So I do have a bias and a bit of favoritism towards this picture but that’s also because it’s a fucking masterpiece of cinematic perfection.

And really, that actually makes this harder to review, as I don’t want to just come across as someone who can’t find flaws in the picture and only sees it through rose colored glasses.

This is cinematic art, however, and it redefined what motion pictures could be forever.

Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest directors that ever existed and even though I think he’s made multiple masterpieces, one of them has to be the best and in my opinion, it is this film.

The story has multiple parts to it and this is a fairly long movie. Despite that, it plays well and moves at a perfect pace, even if some sequences move slowly. While this isn’t really considered a thriller, one specific part of the film very much is and everything surrounding that is done so well that even if I’ve seen this well over a dozen times, it still works for me, every time I watch this.

The acting is understated but in that, it generates a lot of emotion, dread and this is almost a thinking man’s movie. It explores interesting concepts, presents them in a unique way and it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the viewer.

In fact, it does the stark opposite of that and it relies on the audience to pay attention, follow along and figure out things on their own. While I think that the messages and the story are pretty clear, it does leave the film open for some interpretation and the debates people have had for decades over the “meaning” of this film are just as entertaining as the picture itself.

I’ve debated parts of this movie with other film lovers for years and almost every time, I’m left with something new to think about or a detail that eluded me and makes me want to go back and watch the film again.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for the few who might not have seen this film. And frankly, it’s not all that easy to summarize. Maybe, at some point, I’ll write a multi-part essay series on it. Or I’ll bring people in to talk about it if I ever do something with the YouTube channel again.

2001 is perfect in every way, though. Sure, some may disagree and that’s fine but for me, it’s the greatest thing Kubrick, a true master, has directed. It also features some of the best cinematography and sound in motion picture history. And for the time, this, hands down, had the best special effects ever seen on the big screen. Over fifty years later, this looks so much better than the CGI effects of today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, as well as other Stanley Kubrick pictures.

Film Review: The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

Release Date: May, 1964
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, John Cairney, Barry Warren, Andrew Keir, Philip Latham, Natasha Pyne, Duncan Lamont, Michael Ripper, Suzan Farmer

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“They’re Spaniards! I know their stink!” – Harry

I’ve known about this movie for decades but I’ve never been able to find it streaming anywhere and tracking down a copy of it has been met with difficulty. However, I did notice that it’s streaming for free on YouTube, right now. That probably won’t last long, though.

For those who enjoy the horror movies that were put out by Hammer Films, you might also enjoy their swashbuckling/pirate-centric movies of which, there are only three.

This one stars Hammer legend Christopher Lee as the captain of a Spanish warship that has docked next to a British village following the fleet’s defeat to British forces. The captain and his men, however, convince the village that the Spaniards won the war and were now there to take over the town. As the film rolls on, tensions rise and the villagers start to suspect that the Spaniards are lying.

While this is light on the swashbuckling, it does feature Christopher Lee wielding a sword, which is always a plus. It almost plays like a political thriller with pirate-y and Hammer horror vibes mixed in.

It’s pretty well acted for what it is and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Lee play this villainous character, which was a good departure from his other Hammer work.

Ultimately, I kind of wish that Hammer would’ve done more films like this. Hopefully, I can find The Pirates of Blood River in the near future, as I’ve always wanted to see that one too.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Pirates of Blood River. 

Film Review: The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Also known as: The Graveside Story (re-issue title, Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1963 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Richard Matheson
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown

Alta Vista Productions, American International Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“To… uh… paraphrase the venerable adage: we shall kill two birds, with one… pillow.” – Waldo Trumball

When I was a kid, I thought that the plot to The Comedy of Terrors was genius. In fact, it inspired a script outline that I wrote in high school for a movie I wanted to eventually make called Cremation.

The plot is about a funeral parlor owner who is about to lose his home/parlor due to not having any business. So he sets out to create business by killing some of the richer people in the community. Eventually, he sets his sights on his rich landlord because that would solve his biggest problem.

While the plot may sound dark and twisted, this is also a comedy and not standard 1960s horror fare.

The film also stars four great horror legends and it is directed by Jacques Tourneur, who helmed some solid horror and classic film-noir pictures in his day.

The humor is great and the tone of the film is superb. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre always had incredible chemistry and this might be the best they’ve ever been together, even though I consider The Raven to be a better film.

I also like the recurring gags in the film with Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who don’t have as much screentime as Price and Lorre but they still add extra layers of awesomeness to the proceedings. Joyce Jameson is also entertaining and perfect in her role, as the object of Lorre’s affection while being married to the cantankerous and murderous Price.

This is a goofy but solid horror comedy in a time where films like that were rare. In the end, this really just showcases how great these actors were, all around, despite being mostly typecast as “horror actors”.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other pictures Vincent Price did for American International. Especially those co-starring Peter Lorre and/or Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.

Film Review: Crypt of the Vampire (1964)

Also known as: La cripta e l’incubo (original Italian title), Crypt of Horror (UK), Terror In the Crypt (US alternative title)
Release Date: May 27th, 1964 (Italy)
Directed by: Camillo Mastrocinque
Written by: Tonino Valerii, Ernesto Gastaldi
Based on: Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Carlo Savina
Cast: Christopher Lee, Adriana Ambesi, Pier Anna Quaglia, Freidrich Klauss

E.I. Associates Producers, Hispamer Films, Alta Vista, 82 Minutes

Review:

“It’s so beautiful here. Perhaps nature has purposely set the stage and is waiting for the actors to enter. But who knows if the play is farce … or tragedy. This is a spot where one could come for pleasure … or for death.” – Lyuba

Being that Christopher Lee is one of my favorite actors of all-time, it’s always cool checking out one of his films for the first time. While I’ve seen all the fairly well-known ones and most of his Hammer work, there are those odd ones that have slipped through the cracks over the years. But the guy has close to 300 acting credits to his name, so there are still several of his movies that I haven’t seen.

This one was a low budget production by Italian and Spanish studios that came out during the height of his career, just before he’d make The Devil-Ship Pirates and The Gorgon for Hammer that same year.

Also, this film is an adaptation of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, which Hammer would also use as source material for their Karnstein trilogy of films, as well as Captain Kronos.

While Lee was no stranger to vampire films, this one provides him with a very different role. It doesn’t push him into another version of a Dracula character and instead, he plays a human count that is concerned that his daughter may be possessed by an evil spirit that brought his lineage trouble in the past.

This film is kind of slow and pretty drab for the most part. However, what it lacks in energy and poor pacing, it makes up for in atmosphere. This is a dark, haunting picture. The surviving prints of this film that have made it online and in spite of being digital, are of pretty mediocre quality. But this actually seems to work for the film, as it appears darker and in a higher contrast than what was probably originally released.

Overall, this picture looks superb, even with the physical elements working against the physical film that they eventually digitized. It’s not an exciting picture, though, but at least Lee gives a solid, convincing performance and the film convincingly manufactures a thick sense of dread and claustrophobia.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other horror films that Christopher Lee starred in apart from Hammer.

Film Review: In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Release Date: November 14th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Robert Stevenson
Written by: Lowell S. Hawley
Based on: In Search of the Castaways by Jules Verna
Music by: William Alwyn, Muir Mathieson, Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman
Cast: Hayley Mills, Maurice Chevalier, George Sanders, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Keith Hamshere, Jack Gwillim, Wilfrid Brambell, Michael Anderson Jr., Antonio Cifariello

Walt Disney Productions, Buena Vista Distribution, 98 Minutes

Review:

“I don’t know which is worse, by George: having you so happy you sing all the time, or so glum you won’t even talk. “The ombu tree is gorgeous. Enjoy it!” Huh!” – Lord Glenarvan

While these kids today won’t have the attention span for this movie, it’s still one of the greatest family adventure films of all-time!

Sure, you may disagree, but you’re wrong.

This was made by Disney at the height of their live-action adventure epics. It also starred one of their most bankable stars, at the height of her young career: Hayley Mills.

In Search of the Castaways was also an adaptation of a Jules Verne novel and while it might not be as well known as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World In 80 Days or Journey to the Center of the Earth, it is still a grand adventure of the highest and most exciting caliber.

Disney did a fine job in creating this motion picture and despite a few spots with wonky effects, it is one of the best effects blockbusters of its era. Sure, some of it looks dated but there’s also a certain appeal to it. And frankly, none of it breaks the movie or ruins the magic. In fact, it adds an extra level of charm and for fans of classic filmmaking, it’s just cool to experience on the screen.

This is one of those larger-than-life classic films that I wish I could’ve seen on the big screen but it predates me by a few decades. Unfortunately, I’ve never caught it playing anywhere but that’s probably because it’s a fairly forgotten movie. Hell, it isn’t even streaming on Disney’s own streaming service, Disney+.

Honestly, it’s a film that deserves more love. From start-to-finish it is energetic and fun. You’ll like most of the characters, even if the French guy can sometimes grate on the nerves with his singing and goofiness. But for something that is only 98 minutes, the picture covers a lot of ground, goes to a lot of exotic locations and constantly pushes these characters into new situations to overcome.

The core of the story is about two kids looking for their father who is missing somewhere in the world. They’re not immediately sure where but they set off on a long journey, trying to find answers to their father’s whereabouts.

I’m actually kind of surprised that Disney hasn’t tried to reboot this movie yet. I mean, they probably will at some point because original ideas in Hollywood are like trying to catch a leprechaun. However, it’d be damn hard for a modern version of this story to have the same sort of cinematic magic.

All in all, this is just an amusing and lovable picture. It’s a sort of perfect storm of several important factors just coming together and gelling the right way: a Jules Verne story, Disney’s blockbuster filmmaking style and Hayley Mills in her prime. 

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: other Jules Verne adaptations of the ’50s & ’60s, as well as other Disney Hayley Mills movies and other Disney adventure films of the time.

Film Review: The Phantom of the Opera (1962)

Release Date: June 25th, 1962 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: John Elder
Based on: The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Music by: Edwin Astley
Cast: Herbert Lom, Heather Sears, Edward de Souza, Michael Gough, Thorley Walters, Patrick Troughton

Hammer Films, 97 Minutes

Review:

“I am going to teach you to sing, Christine. I am going to give you a new voice! A voice so wonderful that theatres all over the world will be filled with your admirers. You will be the greatest star the opera has ever known. Greater than the greatest! And when you sing, Christine, you will be singing only… for me.” – The Phantom

My memories of this film were much fonder than they probably should have been. Granted, I love Hammer horror, especially the films directed by Terence Fisher. Plus, this had Michael Gough in it and that guy’s typically fantastic.

I still like this film and I thought that the look of it was great and akin to what one would expect from a Hammer horror movie of this era. I also love the look of The Phantom and thought that his mask is one of the best the character has ever had in this story’s long history and countless adaptations.

My biggest issue with this film, though, is that it is really slow and kind of boring, as some segments just drag along at a snail’s pace.

Also, the alterations to the plot didn’t really seem to benefit the story and I have to question why this deviated so much. I mean, that’s something that Hammer did often, as they wanted to tell their own story while using these famous literary characters but The Phantom of the Opera is already a pretty one-note story with a pretty one-note monster. This is probably why there weren’t a slew of Phantom sequels in the classic horror runs of Universal Studios and Hammer Films, which saw several Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy movies.

Still, this is a good, competent film. It’s just not Hammer or Fisher’s best and it sort of feels like it was half-assed at the production stage. Maybe Hammer kept striking oil with all of Fisher’s other films based on classic monsters and all parties involved just phoned this one in.

I used to think of this as one of my favorite film adaptations of the story but it doesn’t hold a candle to the Lon Chaney or Claude Rains versions.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer films of the late ’50s through early ’70s, especially those directed by Terence Fisher.