Film Review: The Evil of Frankenstein (1964)

Also known as: Frankenstein’s Monster (Sweden)
Release Date: May 8th, 1964 (US)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: John Elder
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: Don Banks
Cast: Peter Cushing, Sandor Eles, Peter Woodthorpe, Katy Wild, Duncan Lamont, Kiwi Kingston

Hammer Film Productions, Universal Pictures, The Rank Organisation, 84 Minutes

Review:

“I realized long ago that the only way to prove my theories was to make something in my laboratory that actually lived. I never told you, Hans… I succeeded once.” – Baron Frankenstein

Continuity?! Who the hell needs bloody continuity?!

This is the third film in Hammer’s long running Frankenstein film series but it completely overlooks the solid second film and only builds off of what happened in the first one. So I guess it’s like an alternate “part two”.

While that’s pretty common in horror franchises these days, it’s a little strange that they ignored the second film, which I thought was pretty good and had a really satisfying ending that set up a formula for future sequels.

In this chapter, Peter Cushing’s Baron Frankenstein searches for his creation from the first picture. He ends up finding the monster frozen in ice. The monster is then defrosted and brought back to life.

The film goes back and shows the creation of the monster but these flashbacks are new scenes and different from how they appeared in the original picture. So really, this kind of omits the context of the first film in a similar way to how Evil Dead 2 retells the events of The Evil Dead in its own condensed way.

Despite all that confusion, as I’m a stickler for continuity, I still like this chapter in the franchise. But if Peter Cushing is playing Baron Frankenstein, I’m probably going to like the film. Luckily, none of them are really bad.

This one was distributed in the United States by Universal Pictures, which gave the Hammer team the ability to make the monster look more like Universal’s classic design from the Boris Karloff movies. Weirdly, they made the creature’s head way too boxy in their attempt at creating the look of the Karloff creature. For most people it probably looks bad but it is at least a memorable version of the monster unlike the versions we got in parts two, four and five.

While this one isn’t directed by Hammer’s maestro behind the camera, Terence Fisher, it still has the same sort of spirit and tone. Freddie Francis did an acceptable job in place of the great Fisher.

The Evil of Frankenstein is a pretty strong outing by Hammer, even though it’s not one of the best in their long filmography. I still enjoy it for what it is and it kept the series interesting and fresh. And as always, Cushing was dynamite.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Living Skeleton (1968)

Also known as: Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (original title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Hiroshi Matsuno
Written by: Kikuma Shimoiizaka, Kyūzō Kobayashi
Music by: Noboru Nishiyama
Cast: Kikko Matsuoka, Yasunori Irikawa, Masumi Okada, Nobuo Kaneko, Kō Nishimura

Shochiku, 80 Minutes

Review:

The Living Skeleton is two things: eerie and atmospheric. It also reminds me of the darker episodes of the Japanese TV show Ultra Q, which was like a Japanese X-Files, three decades before that show even existed.

But it is darker and more haunting than that show, as this isn’t geared towards a younger audience. And in fact, the opening scene is pretty violent stuff.

The film opens with modern pirates taking over a ship off the coast of Japan. The pirates murder the crew and passengers before getting away. As the film rolls on, we see that this incident has caused a lot of spiritual unrest in the afterlife and a balance must be restored.

The story is a mixture of a traditional ghost story and Japanese folklore tales. There are skeletons underwater, a girl possessed by her dead sister and a few other surprises throughout the film.

The effects are really good. Especially considering the time that this was made and for the fact that it was a Japanese picture with a modest budget. And while some moments look a bit hokey by today’s standards, it all still works and the chilling atmosphere wraps around you like a thick blanket on a wet, cold day.

I really enjoyed this and while a lot of the events in the film seem almost random, for those more clued in to Japanese folklore, it’s a really cool experience. The Japanese have always been extremely creative with the monsters that have cemented themselves in their culture. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject matter and they have so many ghosts, spirits and “yōkai” that are just really damn cool.

Japanese horror is a breed all its own. The classic stuff is really cool and very different than what America or Europe has pumped out for decades.

The Living Skeleton is a rather short motion picture but it does a great job of showcasing Japanese terror and fears in a variety of ways.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Japanese fantasy horror of the ’60s and ’70s: House, Kwaidan, Onibaba and Attack of the Mushroom People, to name a few.

Film Review: Eyes Without a Face (1960)

Also known as: Les yeux sans visage (original title), House of Dr. Rasanoff (alternate title), The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus (US dubbed version)
Release Date: January 11th, 1960 (France)
Directed by: Georges Franju
Written by: Georges Franju, Jean Redon, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Claude Sautet
Based on: Les yeux sans visage by Jean Redon
Music by: Maurice Jarre
Cast: Pierre Brasseur, Édith Scob, Alida Valli, Juliette Mayniel

Champs-Élysées Productions, Lux Film, Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France, 84 Minutes

Review:

“My face frightens me. My mask frightens me even more.” – Christiane Génessier

Eyes Without a Face isn’t what I would call a scary horror film, as much as I’d call it a chilling one.

It’s sad, it’s tragic, it has great atmosphere, solid cinematography and incredible performances and all that is really just the tip of the iceberg.

There is something deep and introspective in this motion picture. It’s unsettling but it’s somehow sweet in a very twisted way. Yet that sweetness comes naturally and while you should hate the antagonists of this film, you understand that the horrible things they do is out of love. That doesn’t excuse their horrible acts but for a horror film released in 1960, it makes you sympathize with evil, which wasn’t too common back then.

That being said, it’s still great to see the bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, especially since it comes at the hands of the one they loved most.

The story revolves around a surgeon and his daughter, who has had her face completely destroyed. In an effort to restore his daughter’s beauty, he has his female assistant lure in young girls only to abduct them and steal their face. A lot of the scenes are terrifying, as all the girls seem sweet and innocent, as you know that they are being pulled into something horrible.

What makes things more difficult, is that the disfigured daughter, Christiane, is also a sweet girl who exists within very tragic circumstances. She becomes aware of what’s happening and it’s a sad realization and hard to watch unfold on the screen. But Christiane’s face is obscured by an almost faceless mask for most of the film. Édith Scob was able to convey Christiane’s emotions quite well though, considering that all she had to work with were her eyes and body language.

The surgeon’s assistant is played by Alida Valli, who you will recognize from the original Suspiria, as well as the near perfect film-noir The Third Man. Valli gives a stupendous performance here as she uses her charm to trap the young girls and deliver them to the mad surgeon.

The film also has an incredibly effective and very unique score done by Maurice Jarre. It has a real contrast to the tone we see on screen, as the music is lighthearted and almost comical in certain moments. I think that it was used to make things purposely disjointed and more unsettling in specific scenes. It may seem out of place and strange at first glance but by the end of the film, it works amazingly well.

There are also a lot of really stellar shots in the film. The scene where we get a bit of the face reveal of Christiane, when she comes face to face with one of her father’s victims is incredibly powerful and creepy. Also, the scene of Christiane walking outside, after releasing the savage German Shepherds and caged doves is beautiful.

Eyes Without a Face is more of an experience than a movie. It probably won’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it did with people in 1960 but if you love a film with an interesting atmosphere and something with real emotional depth to it, then you’ll probably dig this picture.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: it’s pretty unique but I like watching this with 1962’s Carnival of Souls.

Film Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Also known as: Frankenstein Made Woman (Portugal)
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder)
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, 86 Minutes (UK), 92 Minutes (US)

Review:

“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.” – Baron Frankenstein

I was working my way through the Hammer Films Frankenstein series but I had to jump ahead to this, the fourth installment, as it’s the only one I don’t own on DVD and I can only see it on FilmStruck, which is sadly closing up shop November 29th.

This one is a bit different than the three before it, as Baron Frankenstein actually seems pretty level headed and exhibits some empathy. While I prefer the mad scientist role for Cushing, he was never quite as mad as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein and he actually seemed fairly rational at times. I guess, he was less cartoony but at the same time, his evil nature felt more pure and less like a caricature.

I do enjoy seeing Cushing’s Frankenstein seeming to have learned from his past mistakes and shitty behavior. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped his work but he is more responsible and less reckless with it.

Also, his work has strangely evolved, as now he’s found a way to trap the souls of the recently deceased in an effort to put them in a new body and give them life again. It’s a really bizarre turn but I’ll accept it, as this is the fourth of these films and it allows for some creative freedom and not just a rehash of the standard Frankenstein plot.

The monster in this chapter is a young girl with a disfigured face. But before she becomes a monster, we see her and her father constantly bullied by three rich assholes from the village. The girl’s boyfriend is one of Frankenstein’s assistants but he is blamed for the murder of the girl’s father, which was actually committed by the rich assholes when they were trying to steal wine. The assistant is executed but Frankenstein is able to trap his soul and return it to his deceased body.

The girl is severely upset over the death of her boyfriend so she drowns herself. The body is eventually brought to Frankenstein, who is able to not only revive her but to cure her of her disfigurement and physical handicaps. But she loses her memory while Frankenstein and his assistant Hertz try to slowly bring her back towards a normal life.

As she starts to remember things, she is taken over by the vengeful spirit of her dead boyfriend. Possessed, she exacts revenge on the three assholes who killed her father, allowed her boyfriend to be executed and eventually drove her to suicide.

There are a lot of twists and turns and the plot is absolutely bonkers but it’s pretty exciting if you are a fan of Hammer.

Cushing gives a solid performance and I really liked Susan Denberg, as she had a lot of different angles and personalities she had to convey within the 92 minute run time.

This is not a great Hammer movie or anywhere near Terence Fisher’s best but it reinvented the wheel a little bit and for some, that might not work, but for me, I welcomed it, suspended disbelief and just accepted the insanity of the plot.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: Neutron the Atomic Superman vs. the Death Robots (1962)

Also known as: Los autómatas de la muerte (Spanish title), Robots of Death (informal title)
Release Date: August 10th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Federico Curiel
Written by: Federico Curiel, Alfredo Ruanova
Music by: Enrico C. Cabiati
Cast: Wolf Ruvinskis, Rosita Arenas, Julio Aleman, Armando Silvestre, Roberto Ramirez Garza, Rodolfo Landa

Estudios América, Producciones Corsa S.A., 80 Minutes

Review:

Holy fuck, this was unwatchable. I only made it through, actually, because I watched the version that was lampooned by the RiffTrax guys.

This is essentially a lucha libre movie without an actual luchador in it. Maybe the hero was a luchador but he’s not one that I ever heard of and if he is, the way he played this role breaks the sacred rules of lucha libre anonymity.

I can’t imagine trying to watch this without the riffing expertise of Michael J. Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett but I guess Mexicans and American drive-in patrons suffered through it in the early 1960s.

This is a nonsensical mess that doesn’t care in the slightest about fluidity, consistency, coherence or any of those pesky things one needs to make a film that has some sort of actual plot. I guess there’s a plot but it’s all just a weak thread weaving through the random bits and pieces only to create a reason for a luchador superhero to fight “death robots”.

This is a headache. It’s barely a film. As I said, it is unwatchable and I know that I’ll never have the urge to revisit it and I often times revisit bad movies for the sake of re-experiencing their awfulness. But what makes this worse than the worst of films is that it is dreadfully boring. It’s not the sort of bad that you can admire in its own way. This is just a dry, dusty fart of a motion picture.

I’d just say that one should avoid this at all costs. Unless, you are a RiffTrax fan and don’t mind suffering through it with those guys.

Rating: 0.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Mexican lucha libre style movies of the 1960s.

Film Review: Invasion of the Neptune Men (1961)

Also known as: Uchu Kaisoku-sen (original Japanese title), Invasion from a Planet (alternate title), Space Greyhound (US promo title)
Release Date: July 19th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Koji Ota
Written by: Shin Morita, Akihiro Watanabe
Music by: Michiaki Watanabe
Cast: Sonny Chiba, Kappei Mastsumoto, Ryuko Minakami, Shinjiro Ebara, Mitsue Komiya

Toei Company, 75 Minutes

Review:

Not all tokusatsu films were created equal and that’s certainly the case with Invasion of the Neptune Men.

Even the great and legendary badass Sonny Chiba couldn’t save this picture from itself.

However, if you do have a soft spot for the obscure tokusatsu genre, then this may still hold your interest. But there are much greater films within that genre and from this era. All the Toho stuff is damn entertaining and I’m not just talking about Godzilla and other kaiju films.

This is probably most famous, at this point, for being lampooned in one of the later seasons of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mike and the ‘Bots really suffered through this one but they make it more watchable than it is on its own.

The special effects are terrible but that goes without saying. Toei wasn’t at the level of Toho or even Daiei.

The alien robots looks like generic knockoffs of Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (and a dozen other films and shows).

This is also littered with really annoying kids thanks to the awful dubbing. If you want 75 minutes of shrill screaming and loud talking, this will probably be right up your alley. But you should also talk to a psychiatrist because something is wrong with you.

Rating: 2.25/10
Pairs well with: the worst Japanese tokusatsu of the 1960s.