Film Review: The Old Dark House (1963)

Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: William Castle
Written by: Robert Dillon
Based on: Benighted by J. B. Priestley
Music by: Benjamin Frankel
Cast: Tom Poston, Robert Morley, Janette Scott, Joyce Grenfell

William Castle Productions, Hammer Films, 86 Minutes, 77 Minutes (original cinema cut)

Review:

“You see, it’s an old house. Old and dark.” – Potiphar Femm

William Castle has had many of his films remade in more modern times. But this film of his is actually a remake of an older film from 1932 that starred Boris Karloff.

This is also a really interesting production, as it was made by a legendary American horror director and the British horror studio powerhouse, Hammer. Also, the film is in color, which may be normal for Hammer but it isn’t for Castle.

Like Castle’s other movies, this one mixes comedy into the horror story. I feel like this is the most comedic of his films, though, as it really hams it up and also doesn’t deliver as many scares as The House On Haunted Hill, 13 Ghosts or The Tingler.

This film also didn’t rely on elaborate gimmicks hidden throughout the theater in an effort to create a more “virtual” viewing experience.

With all these differences between this and Castle’s previous pictures, his quality and creativity still flourished. The finished product is a whimsical and amusing movie with a likable cast and a simple but entertaining plot.

I mostly know Tom Poston from seeing him on the ’80s sitcom Newhart when I was a kid. But he was also on a lot of other shows and worked the celebrity game show circuit constantly. The guy was always on my TV but I can’t recall seeing him in an actual motion picture other than this.

Poston has stellar comedic timing, though, and it’s on full display here, as he carries the picture on his shoulders and is in every scene because he’s sort of the audience’s eyes and ears in this weird, haunted house with the crazy family that lives there.

The rest of the cast is very good too, though. I liked the love triangle story between Poston and the two females leads.

Additionally, this has Robert Morley in it and I’ve liked him ever since I first discovered him in Theatre of Blood alongside Vincent Price.

This 1963 version of The Old Dark House is just a great, goofy popcorn movie that’s horror themed but light on scares and heavy on hilarity.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other William Castle pictures, as well as Hammer films from the ’50s through the ’70s.

Film Review: Wrath of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin gyakushû (original Japanese title), Daimajin Strikes Again, Majin Strikes Again, The Return of Giant Majin, Return of Majin (US alternative titles)
Release Date: December 21st, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kazuo Mori
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Hideki Ninomiya, Shinji Hori, Masahide Iizuka, Muneyuki Nagatomo, Junichiro Yamashita, Toru Abe, Takashi Nakamura, Hiroshi Nawa, Tanie Kitabayashi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 87 Minutes

Review:

This is the third and final Daimajin film. These movies were all shot and released in the same year. Sadly, this great concept didn’t continue on like other kaiju and tokusatsu franchises but maybe that’s for the best as every Daimajin film has real quality.

From memory, this was my least favorite. However, seeing them all again after so long, I have to say that this one slightly edges out the other two. I think that the first one had the better story and the second one had the better finale. However, this one seems to be the most balanced, as its story rivals the first film, its action rivals the second while both of those things are really, really good.

This installment in the series is also carried by a group of child actors. This can often times be disastrous or just lack in quality but these kids were great and loveable.

I also really liked the three samurai that were trying to capture the runaway kids. They had good chemistry and they played off of the kids really well.

The story primarily follows these kids on a great journey across a region of feudal Japan. It draws allusions to The Fellowship of the Ring in that way, as they have to reach their objective over a long distance while being pursued by a great, deadly force.

In the end, we get to see the giant stone demon come back to life and crush vile tyrants. This is always the highlight of these films and it is used to great effect, here, even if some of the shots appeared to be reused from the previous films. This was pretty common in Japanese kaiju pictures, though, but at least it isn’t a technique that was as bastardized as it would become in the Gamera movies.

I love the hell out of this series. But what I love even more is that they don’t lose steam and that the series goes out on a bang.

That being said, I’m fine that there are only three of these and the short-lived franchise quit while it was ahead.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960)

Also known as: House of Fright, Jekyll’s Inferno (US alternative titles)
Release Date: August 18th, 1960 (Germany)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Wolf Mankowitz
Based on: Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Music by: David Heneker, John Hollingsworth, Monty Norman
Cast: Paul Massie, Dawn Addams, Christopher Lee, David Kossoff, Francis de Wolff, Oliver Reed (uncredited)

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes

Review:

“London and I are virgins to one another.” – Dr. Henry Jekyll

This is another rare Hammer gem that I hadn’t seen until now, as it was never streaming anywhere or on an affordable DVD. It came in a Blu-ray box set I recently picked up, so I was glad to finally see it. With that, I also got to see Christopher Lee’s most eloquent use of facial hair.

What’s interesting about this movie is that it takes the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story and does its own thing with it. That’s kind of Hammer’s modus operandi, anyway, and it usually leads to good, fresh results because frankly, there really isn’t a Hammer movie I haven’t liked.

I really enjoy this film’s lead, Paul Massie, as he was able to play both versions of himself very well and differently. He’s able to do this incredible thing with his eyes when the crazy starts taking over. He almost plays the role like a solid actor from the silent era, where focusing on the physicality of performance has to take center stage over anything else.

However, this isn’t a silent film and Massie is good with his line delivery and overall acting. But his ability to sort of call back to silent era techniques, even though it’s not specifically necessary here, was kind of cool. I feel like he was probably a fan of the work of Lon Chaney Sr. or Conrad Veidt.

Strangely, Massie had a short career. He did eight films in his first five years and then only did three more between 1962 and 1995. I’m not sure why he didn’t work after being pretty prolific in British cinema but based off of his performance in this picture, he could’ve easily made a dozen or more movies for Hammer and Amicus. That is, unless he didn’t want to be trapped in horror pictures.

I also love that Christopher Lee looks like an absolute boss in this. He’s a total high society bastard in this movie and it’s just fun to watch him let loose in this.

Additionally, we get a scene with a very young Oliver Reed where he gets to interact with Lee. Both men are Hammer legends and it’s just cool seeing them come to fisticuffs.

This was directed by Hammer’s top guy, Terence Fisher. It feels very much like a Fisher movie, as it encompasses his style, uses some of his tropes and hits some of the same beats one would expect from his work. I wouldn’t say that it’s derivative or anything but if you can imagine a Fisher Jekyll & Hyde picture, you wouldn’t be too far off from what the final product is.

I liked this motion picture. It’s nowhere near Hammer’s or Fisher’s best but it would certainly play well in a marathon featuring Fisher’s takes on classic literary horror.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror pictures of the late ’50s through early ’70s.

Film Review: Return of Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Daimajin ikaru (original title), The Return of Giant Majin (US TV title), Majin (Spain)
Release Date: August 13th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Shiho Fujimura, Taro Marui, Takashi Kanda

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 79 Minutes

Review:

Return of Daimajin was the second of three Daimajin movies, which were all filmed at the same time and were all released in Japan in the same year: 1966.

All the films have a very similar premise in that they see a giant, stone protector arrive to smash the hell out of tyrannical warlords who try to exploit the weak and the poor.

These are also period pieces and have the feel of a jidaigeki picture until the big demon monster shows up and essentially transforms these into kaiju movies in their third act.

Overall, I found this film’s story to be a bit weaker than the first picture but that was offset by the big finale, which I liked a lot more in this installment. I think a lot of that has to do with Daimajin literally parting the water like the Red Sea in the Bible and slowly walking towards the village full of tyrants, building tension and horror.

Also, the evil tyrant’s death was simply awesome.

I also thought that the special effects felt a bit more refined and perfected. The miniature work was solid and it holds up over fifty years later.

The action also played better and it was just cool seeing the big demon crush these scumbags while tearing down their town.

While at face value, this movie might just come across as “more of the same”, it’s the subtle differences that make it work. I guess it’s kind of like Friday the 13th movies where they follow a predictable formula in the same type of setting but if you’re a fan of the films, you don’t care and each one just has something special and unique within it.

Most people probably won’t dig these movies and that’s fine. However, for kaiju cinema fans that haven’t experienced any of these, you really should check them out.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: These Are The Damned (1962)

Also known as: On the Brink (working title), The Damned (alternative title)
Release Date: November 16th, 1962 (Australia)
Directed by: Joseph Losey
Written by: Ben Barzman, Even Jones
Based on: The Children of Light by H.L. Lawrence
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Shirley Anne Field, Oliver Reed, Alexander Knox, Viveca Lindfors

Hammer Films, 87 Minutes, 96 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I like to listen to people who know what they’re talking about. My trouble is I never believe anything they say.” – Simon Wells

This is a Hammer movie that I have never seen. Also, I didn’t know anything about it and went into it blindly. That was the best way, as it went in wild directions, surprised me and kept me pretty glued to it until the final frame.

That being said, this was great and if you want to check it out, don’t let my review spoil it for you. Just go watch it because it shouldn’t disappoint and it’s better to know nothing about it. Even the trailer is too much of a spoiler.

If you’re still here, some spoilage will happen as I continue to write.

Anyway, this started out as youth biker movie and I kind of thought it might just be Hammer’s attempt at capitalizing off of that growing trend. However, it evolves into a chilling science fiction horror flick of a pretty high caliber. It also takes awhile to get to the sci-fi twist, which made it even more effective once you get pulled out of the real world and into something much more fantastical.

This was a chilling and pretty emotional picture, much more so than your standard Hammer fare. You really felt for the kids in the movie and their terrible situation. But this also drew you in like the early episodes of Twin Peaks, where you knew there was some great, strange mystery and you had to see how it could possibly be explained.

There is a secret military base, a wild conspiracy and it’s the human adults that are the real monsters.

Frankly, this is a departure from what Hammer is most known for and it’s damn refreshing to see, even all these years later, as the studio tried to move outside of its stylistic box and ended up succeeding, creatively speaking.

Additionally, this is really well acted and it’s no secret that I love Oliver Reed but this has to go down as one of his best performances and I’m really glad that I sort of just stumbled upon this.

These Are the Damned isn’t widely known, even by Hammer aficionados like myself. It should be, though. It’s one of Hammer’s best pictures and one of the best horror/sci-fi pictures of its time.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other lesser known Hammer films and other genre bending films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Daimajin (1966)

Also known as: Majin (France, US), Majin the Monster of Terror, The Devil Got Angry, Majin the Hideous Idol, Majin the Stone Samurai, The Vengeance of the Monster (US alternative titles)
Release Date: April 17th, 1966 (Japan)
Directed by: Kimiyoshi Yasuda
Written by: Tetsuro Yoshida
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Miwa Takada, Yoshihiko Aoyama, Jun Fujimaki, Ryutaro Gomi

Toho Co. Ltd., Daiei Studios, 84 Minutes

Review:

The Daimajin trilogy is mostly forgotten today. Many fans of kaiju and tokusatsu flicks haven’t even seen or heard of the movie. There are several kaiju film friends I’ve met online over the years that were actually introduced to these movies by yours truly. However, I didn’t know about them either until I came across some photos of the movie’s monster online in the late ’00s.

I bought the American Blu-ray set when it came out around 2012 or so and since then, I’ve developed a really deep appreciation for these movies due to their uniqueness and coolness.

They’re not traditional kaiju movies and I guess you could even debate whether or not they even fit the kaiju genre, as they play more like a jidaigeki with heavy fantasy elements. Plus, the monster is just a giant stone statue that occasionally comes to life to crush tyrants and their minions.

My brain categorizes it as a kaiju flick, though, as ever since seeing this, I’ve always thought about how this film’s big stone demon would fare against Godzilla, Gamera and other well-known giant monsters if he were scaled up to a similar size.

The story here is simple and it’s pretty much the same for all three movies despite the smaller details. A tyrant in feudal Japan does bad shit and draws the ire of this angry god, who feasts on the sounds of the crunching bones of a tyrannical army.

Daimajin doesn’t say anything but his presence is greatly feared as he is simply a force of nature in the form of a stone man, cleansing the Japanese countryside of scumbags. He’s unrelenting and will not stop until small corrupt empires are flattened and crushed.

The story that leads up to the monster coming to life in this movie is pretty good. It filled in the blanks nicely and made you have an emotional connection to the people being victimized by the evil bastards that deserved their fate.

I love this movie, the film series and the monster. This is one of the coolest kaiju film series of all-time and frankly, it deserves a lot more recognition than it gets. These are much better movies than what’s typical in the kaiju genre.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in the series, as well as other ’60s kaiju flicks.

Film Review: Tower of London (1962)

Release Date: October 24th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Leo Gordon, F. Amos Powell, Robert E. Kent
Music by: Michael Anderson
Cast: Vincent Price, Michael Pate, Robert Brown, Charles Macaulay, Joan Freeman, Morris Ankrum

Edward Small Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

“[as a ghost, showing the whip lashes on her bare back to Richard of Gloucester] Wouldn’t you rather look at my back? Is it not attractive as a woman’s back should be?” – Mistress Shore

Growing up a big fan of Vincent Price, Tower of London wasn’t really a favorite film of mine. Although, I have to say that I kind of enjoy it now.

Sure, it wasn’t as colorful and energetic as his other pictures with director, Roger Corman. However, it is well acted and showcases Vincent Price as a real bastard with a certain charisma. He takes this completely evil character and gives him life in a way that is unique, entertaining and chilling.

No, you never like Price’s Richard III but that doesn’t matter, as you’re not supposed to. He’s just a hell of a villain played by a hell of an actor and once he gets his just desserts, it’s damn satisfying.

Like all Corman pictures, this was made quickly and on the cheap. But also like many Corman pictures, the end results are much better than one should expect and that’s just a testament to the man’s skill and his brand of cinematic magic.

This is an often times unnerving story but it features ghosts, magic, murder, torture and a legitimate power hungry madman. What’s not to like?

I’m glad that I watched this for the first time in about twenty years, as my opinion on it has changed somewhat. 

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Vincent Price films of the ’50s and ’60s, especially those with director Roger Corman.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: Ironfinger (1965)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchu (original Japanese title), 100 Shot, 100 Killed (literal English title)
Release Date: December 5th, 1965
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Michio Tsuzuki, Kihachi Okamoto
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Mie Hama, Ichiro Arishima, Jun Tatara, Akihiko Hirata, Sachio Sakai, Susumu Kurobe, Toru Ibuki, Chotaro Togin, Naoya Kusakawa, Koji Iwamoto, Mike Daneen, Haruo Nakajima

Toho Co. Ltd., 93 Minutes

Review:

Jun Fukuda is most famous for being the second best Godzilla director after the legendary Ishiro Honda. However, being number two behind a legend like that, a guy who gave us the first Godzilla film, is still a hell of an achievement. Plus, many other directors have come and gone but Fukuda’s films have still stuck out in the people’s conscious.

However, Fukuda didn’t just do big monster movies. He did some spy comedy parody films for Toho when they weren’t looking at him to pump out more Godzilla sequels.

This is the first of those movies and I have never seen it, so I was kind of excited to check it out. Especially, since I also love the spy genre, as well as ’60s Japanese crime cinema and noir-esque visuals.

This also has Mie Hama in it, so that’s a massive plus, as I was crushing hard on her back in the day from her appearances in Godzilla films, as well as her most famous role as a Bond Girl in 1967’s You Only Live Twice.

The film’s story is similar to a ’90s American teen comedy I recently reviewed, If Looks Could Kill, which saw a high school student on a class trip to France get mistaken for a secret agent. Funny hijinks ensued and the inexperienced regular Joe had to find a way to save the day. While the main character in this film isn’t a high school student, he’s just as inexperienced and a bit of a goof.

The lead, played by Toho regular Akira Takarada was energetic and pretty hilarious. It was hard not to like the guy and to cheer for him to beat the baddies and impress the girl.

Ironfinger is a funny, stylish picture that was lighthearted and endearing. It was neat seeing what else Fukuda did for Toho that wasn’t sci-fi related. It also got me excited and motivated to check out its sequel, Golden Eyes.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: it’s sequel Golden Eyes and other Japanese crime films of the ’60s.

Film Review: Twice-Told Tales (1963)

Also known as: The Corpse-Makers (working title)
Release Date: October 30th, 1963
Directed by: Sidney Salkow
Written by: Robert E. Kent
Based on: the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Music by: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Vincent Price, Sebastian Cabot, Brett Halsey, Beverly Garland, Richard Denning, Joyce Taylor

Robert E. Kent Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 120 Minutes

Review:

“Your daughter is a fine specimen, too, isn’t she father? A specimen of the most deadly thing that was ever given life.” – Beatrice Rappaccini

While I’m not the biggest fan of anthology movies, this one is pretty good and it was better than I remembered.

I think that the last time I saw this was when it first came out on DVD, which had to have been more than fifteen years ago now.

I did remember the first two stories in this pretty fondly but I couldn’t recall the third and final act of the film. Seeing this now, I can see why, as it is definitely the weakest of the three.

However, the first two stories are both so good, that I can’t let the third one ruin the movie. Although, it probably should’ve gone first, as it sort of kills the movie’s momentum and pacing.

I’ve never actually read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales, even though I own a pretty ancient copy of it. So I’m not sure if the order of the stories are the same in this film as they are in the novel. If so, I get why the film put them in that order.

Between the first two stories, it’s hard to pick a favorite, though, as both are wonderful.

love Vincent Price in this but then again, when don’t I love the man? The first story might take a bit of an edge, however, as I really enjoyed his chemistry with Sebastian Cabot.

All in all, this was neat to revisit and it fits well with the tone of Price’s Edgar Allan Poe movies and another anthology with him in it from the same era, Tales of Terror.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other ’60s and ’70s horror anthology films, specifically Tales of Terror, which also stars Vincent Price.