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.

Film Review: Night Creatures (1962)

Also known as: Captain Clegg (UK)
Release Date: June 13th, 1962
Directed by: Peter Graham Scott
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Yvonne Romain, Patrick Allen, Oliver Reed, Michael Ripper

Major Pictures, Hammer Films, Universal-International, 82 Minutes

Review:

“Well if you’ve all done staring.” – Imogen, “If it’s all the same to you miss I’d like a few minutes more.” – Jack Pott

A movie featuring pirates should always feature a good amount of swashbuckling. This one doesn’t but it actually doesn’t hurt it, as it is a Hammer horror picture and there’s more emphasis on the creepy and weird than any sort of pirate action. For this film, non-swashbuckling pirates just work. But adding in some swashbuckling would’ve made it even cooler.

Also, this features three heavy hitters for Hammer with Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. All three of these guys did multiple Hammer movies and their performances were always up to snuff and typically exceeded it.

That being said, I love this movie and I especially loved the concept of it, as well as how the monsters looked, what they actually were and how it all played out visually onscreen.

While Hammer was most known for their re-telling and re-imagining of classic monster stories, they’d always fill in the blanks with cool motion pictures like this that have an original, haunting story and also fit perfectly fine within the larger Hammer horror oeuvre.

The plot here is about a small town that sits near a marsh where the ghosts of men on ghostly horses haunt the area. There is also a creepy scarecrow that seems to appear in different places, watching those who pass through the marshes.

The town’s leader is a minister played by Peter Cushing but we soon learn that he is a famous pirate that has faked his own death and hid within this small community. The other men in the town were also his crew and they have to protect themselves when a hard-nosed naval commander comes to the village in search of the pirate Captain and the truth about what happened to him.

Night Creatures isn’t a complicated film and even the twists aren’t that surprising but honestly, they don’t need to be, as this is just a cool picture with a neat premise and great monsters.

The movie has a very eerie vibe and yet, it’s still a lot of fun and pretty lighthearted. While this might not be very high up on classic horror fans’ lists, it’s always been one of my favorite Hammer movies ever made.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the era, especially those starring Peter Cushing.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Release Date: February 8th, 1968 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by: Michael Wilson, Rod Sterling
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – George Taylor

I’ve been meaning to review the original Planet of the Apes film series for quite awhile but I’ve also been meaning to review a lot of other films too and I can only do so much at a time.

Anyway, I’m here now and I’m glad that I revisited this, as it’s actually been a really long time since I’ve watched the original five films. In fact, it would’ve been before the 2011 reboot series started.

While I’ve always loved the Planet of the Apes concept and I’ve enjoyed all the films in their own way, I never found myself being super nostalgic for them. That’s probably a generational thing, as the first film came out more than ten years before I was born. However, these movies were on television a lot and I grew to really love them but nowhere near as much as the other franchises I loved before I was born like Godzilla, Star Trek, Doctor Who and James Bond.

This first movie is, hands down, the best of the lot. I like the story of the fourth film best overall and it’s the one I would watch the most but this film is on a different level, as far as being cinematic art.

Also, a lot of this film’s greatness is due to Charlton Heston. While he also appears in the first sequel, from memory, that film was an extreme misfire and surprisingly didn’t wreck the franchise. Granted, I’ll have a clearer view on it after I revisit it and review it in about a week.

This film follows a group of astronauts after an accident, they wind up on a planet ruled by intelligent apes. Heston is the only one to really survive through the whole ordeal and the movie focuses on his captivity and his being immersed in ape culture. Mostly, the film serves as a sort of metaphor for xenophobia and bigotry. I think it was Hollywood’s way of making that message more palatable than trying to be heavy-handed about it. Plus, this was supposed to be entertainment. Maybe modern Hollywood should’ve taken notes from older Hollywood. But the message here isn’t too dissimilar from what Stan Lee tried to convey in his ’60s X-Men comics.

The point is, art doesn’t need to be extremely literal. The message, if presented well, can come across and seep into the minds of the art consuming masses. Planet of the Apes succeeded in that regard and that’s probably why it became such an iconic picture in the science fiction genre, which still was a long way off from reaching full acceptance by the general public.

Low brow entertainment aside, this is a well-crafted film with good pacing and even better cinematography and shot framing. From top-to-bottom, it’s a competent picture. It is also well acted and has some of the best special effects of its time. The ape makeup still looks tremendous in spite of its limitations. I was glad that Tim Burton carried the practical, physical style of effects into his 2001 reboot.

Ultimately, the original Planet of the Apes is a true science fiction classic, deserving of its praise and longevity.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Release Date: May 1st, 1961 (UK)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller, Anthony Dawson, Michael Ripper, Desmond Llewelyn (uncredited)

Hammer Films, Universal-International, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Cristina, do you love me? Will you marry me Cristina? You say you love me, will you marry me?” – Leon

The Curse of the Werewolf doesn’t star Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or even Andre Morell but it is hands down, one of the absolute best Hammer Films movies involving a classic monster.

This was their original take on a werewolf movie, similar to Universal’s The Wolf Man, but this one didn’t try to replicate that film and instead gave us something original with a neat Spanish twist to it.

I love werewolf stories and I love Hammer, so seeing the studio take on a werewolf character is just cool. Plus, the werewolf, a young man named Leon, is played by the great Oliver Reed.

The story is kind of split into two parts: the first half deals with the origin of Leon and his upbringing, the second half deals with Leon as a young adult, trying to make his way in the world only to have everything upended by the curse he was tragically born with.

Leon has a loving family, gets a good job, meets a beautiful girl, makes a solid friend but the werewolf inside of him cannot be contained and we’re treated to a great Hammer movie that is truly a tragedy for a cast of mostly likable characters that are really innocent and undeserving of fate’s cruel hand.

Like most Hammer films of this era, this is a beautiful and stunning looking picture. Also, like Hammer films of the era, it also recycles some set pieces from other films. I kind of like that though, as it maintains a certain aesthetic and style. Even if this takes place in Spain, as opposed to England (or around Germany), you immediately recognize it as Hammer. A lot of that can also be due to this being directed by Hammer’s ace behind the camera, Terence Fisher.

I really like the story, though. This is a great classic horror tale with a new, enjoyable twist.

The opening sequence tells the story of a beggar who comes to the castle of a real asshole. The beggar is Leon’s biological father and his story, early in the film, really sets the tone for the picture. Frankly, this is a tale about innocence being victimized by the unfair, uncaring universe.

That being said, this is emotionally heavier than most horror pictures of its time. It has a lot of layers sewn into its wonderful tapestry and because of that, it’s one of the best stories Hammer has have told.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Horror films featuring classic monsters like Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

Film Review: The Wild Angels (1966)

Also known as: All the Fallen Angels, The Fallen Angels (working titles)
Release Date: July 20th, 1966
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith, Peter Bogdanovich (uncredited)
Music by: Mike Curb
Cast: Peter Fonda, Nancy Sinatra, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Buck Taylor, Norman Alden, Michael J. Pollard, Frank Maxwell, Dick Miller, Peter Bogdanovich

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“We don’t want nobody telling us what to do. We don’t want nobody pushing us around.” – Heavenly Blues

While people mostly remember Easy Rider as the counterculture biker picture of its time, The Wild Angels predates it by three years, features the same star and was actually the film that kicked off a whole slew of biker and drug movies.

Directed by Roger Corman and starring two of his regulars, Peter Fonda and Bruce Dern, this picture also inspired some other counterculture films by Corman, most notably The Trip.

Overall, this is a pretty dark picture but it has some charm to it, mainly because the main players are so good. Despite the fact that they’re mostly despicable pieces of shit, there is that part of you that wants them to find the freedom and fantastical utopia they are looking for.

At it’s core, this is just a cool movie with cool stars and the film really does a superb job at manufacturing a pretty genuine feeling story about outlaw bikers and their flimsy philosophies. I think that’s the main reason as to why this picture sparked a cinematic trend that saw more films like this getting made for several years.

I wouldn’t place this among Corman’s best films but it is certainly a good one that stands on its own and showcases the director’s talent in spite of his rapid shooting style and microbudget economics.

I also wouldn’t call this the best of the counterculture pictures of its day but it is most definitely a great example of this sort of cinematic social commentary done well.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Roger Corman films from the ’60s, as well as other counterculture and drug pictures of the time. Especially those starring Peter Fonda or Bruce Dern.

Film Review: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1967)

Release Date: June 30th, 1967
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Howard Browne
Music by: Lionel Newman, Fred Steiner
Cast: Jason Robards, George Segal, Ralph Meeker, Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson (uncredited), Jean Hale, Jan Merlin, Clint Ritchie, David Canary, Harold J. Stone, Frank Silvera, Joseph Campanella, John Agar, Joseph Turkel, Alex Rocco, Leo Gordon, Dick Miller (uncredited), Jonathan Haze (uncredited), Paul Frees (narrator)

20th Century Fox, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Wanna know something Jack? I like a guy who can use his head for something beside a hatrack!” – Al Capone

This is definitely in the upper echelon of Roger Corman’s motion pictures. Since I hadn’t seen it until now, it was a pleasant surprise and it actually shows how good of a filmmaker he was in spite of his rapid paced productions while doing everything on the cheap.

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is one of Corman’s more serious films. There are no monsters, ghosts or sci-fi shenanigans, this is just a gritty, hard-nosed gangster movie that features a damn good cast with Jason Robards at the forefront, as the world’s most famous real life gangster, Al Capone.

The cast also features several Corman regulars like Bruce Dern, Jack Nicholson, Dick Miller, Leo Gordon and Jonathan Haze. Beyond that, we also get a young Alex Rocco, as well as Frank Silvera, Joe Turkel and John Agar. This is a movie full of iconic character actors who benefit greatly from the type of characters this picture needed to make it something special and authentic.

At its core, this really feels like an exploitation picture due to the level of violence in it yet it plays like more serious cinematic art. Now I can’t quite put it on the same level as the first two Godfather films but I’d say that it is actually a lot better and more impressive than the standard gangster films that existed before it. It is also somewhat surprising that this was put out by a major studio, 20th Century Fox, as opposed to being released by Corman’s regular studio at the time, American International Pictures.

Man, I enjoyed this a lot. There are a lot of characters but they’re not hard to keep track of and this moves at such a brisk pace, it’s over before you know it. Also, 100 minutes for Corman is pretty much an epic, as he tends to like that 65-85 minute mark.

I feel as if this is a flick that has been somewhat forgotten and lost to time, as it came out well after the gangster genre peaked and a few years before it made a comeback. It’s weirdly sandwiched between the two greatest eras of the genre and despite it having a hard edge, it’s groundbreaking feats were quickly overshadowed and surpassed by films of the early ’70s like The Godfather and Chinatown.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other gangster and crime films of the ’60s and ’70s, as well as Roger Corman’s more dramatic work like The Intruder and The Trip.

Film Review: The Skull (1965)

Release Date: August 25th, 1965
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Based on: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough

Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips

I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.

Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.

The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.

What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.

I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.

The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.

Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.

Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.

While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

Also known as: Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tomb of Ligeia (complete title), House at the End of the World (working title), Tomb of the Cat (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: November, 1964 (London premiere)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Robert Towne
Based on: Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Kenneth V. Jones
Cast: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Shepherd, John Westbrook, Oliver Johnston

Alta Vista Productions, Warner-Pathe, Anglo Amalgamated, 81 Minutes

Review:

“Christopher, not ten minutes ago I… I tried to kill a stray cat with a cabbage, and all but made love to the Lady Rowena. I succeeded is squashing the cabbage and badly frightening the lady. If only I could lay open my own brain as easily as I did that vegetable, what rot would be freed from its grey leaves?” – Verden Fell

While this is my least favorite of the Roger Corman and Vincent Price adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s work, it is still a movie that I quite enjoy, as Price is as good as always and this had some great sets and location shooting.

It feels like it is the driest and the slowest of the Poe adaptations but I wouldn’t call it boring, as the plot is pretty interesting and not as predictable as you might think, at first.

This also features one of my favorite Price performances. After having done a half dozen or so movies with Corman and in this style, he really hits it out of the park. He’s really likable and tragic and while that fits most of his characters from the Poe adaptations, there is just another layer to it here. He just feels so human and strangely relatable. Granted, I also lost the love of my life at a point and I guess it may speak to me in a way it might not to those who haven’t experienced that sort of loss.

Overall, this feels like a really refined version of the Price-Corman-Poe formula. My only issue is that it feels slower and that it’s too formulaic. Despite Price’s stellar performance, this does feel as if the creatives are sort of just running through the motions.

Still, it deserves its place alongside the other films in this series of pictures.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Edgar Allan Poe adaptation done by collaborators Roger Corman and Vincent Price.

Film Review: Diary of a Madman (1963)

Also known as: The Horla (working title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1963
Directed by: Reginald Le Borg
Written by: Robert E. Kent
Based on: The Horla and other stories by Guy de Maupassant
Music by: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Vincent Price, Nancy Kovak, Lewis Martin, Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry, Ian Wolfe

Robert E. Kent Productions, Admiral Pictures, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Murderers. They’re all the same. Humanity would be much better off without them.” – Police Captain Robert Rennedon

Vincent Price really could do no wrong in the ’60s. He was on a tear, especially with the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he was in and all the other films he fit in between those shoots.

Unlike those Poe films, this one wasn’t directed by Roger Corman and it wasn’t a Poe story at all. However, this feels very close in visual and narrative tone to those other movies. This is Price’s most Poe feeling of his non-Poe pictures.

The plot is based off of a few stories by Guy de Maupassant, a French author who was considered to be a master of the short story. This primarily adapts a story called “The Horla”, which features an invisible supernatural being referred to as a Horla. This being haunts and possesses human beings and uses them to do terrible things, such as murder.

Vincent Price’s Simon Cordier becomes the newest victim of the Horla, as he comes into contact with it after visiting a prisoner, who is awaiting the guillotine after murdering four people. Upon this man’s death, the Horla sets its sights on Cordier and drives him to madness. However, Cordier continually fights back in an effort to destroy the Horla and to release the truth behind all the crimes by writing all the details in his journal.

I really love this movie and outside of the Poe ones, this was a Price picture that left an impression on me at a young age when I was just discovering the actor. The story is really good and Price delivers in every single scene, making you feel sorry for the peril he’s in, as he’s truly a nice and innocent man, forced to do heinous things.

I thought that the director, Reginald Le Borg, really created one of the best Price pictures of the ’60s, even if this one isn’t as fondly remembered as many of the others. He was no stranger to horror, having directed one of the Mummy movies for Universal, as well as directing other legends like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone and John Carradine. While Le Borg could have just been emulating the style of Corman’s Poe movies, the end result, here, is quite good.

Diary of a Madman deserves more praise and notoriety than it has gotten over the years. It’s interesting, even if it’s not wholly original, and it does pretty much everything right.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other 1960s horror films with Vincent Price, especially his collaborations with Roger Corman.