Film Review: The Terror of the Tongs (1961)

Also known as: Terror of the Hatchet Men (alternative US title)
Release Date: March 15th, 1961
Directed by: Anthony Bushell
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Christopher Lee, Yvonne Monlaur, Geoffrey Toone

Merlin Film Productions, Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 76 Minutes

Review:

“Have you ever had your bones scraped, Captain? It is painful in the extreme I can assure you.” – The Tong Leader

When I recently reviewed Hammer Films’ The Stranglers of Bombay, I discovered that this film was somewhat of a remake of that film. Watching this, I didn’t see it. I guess there are some similar narrative beats and both take place in exotic places in Asia but this is much more a proto-Fu Manchu picture than anything else.

With Christopher Lee in the lead, as the Chinese criminal kingpin, I feel like this lead to him starring in those five Fu Manchu pictures that stretched from 1965 to 1969. Hell, this probably inspired their creation.

However, this is better than those Fu Manchu movies. I think that Christopher Lee’s performance is solid in each of those, as well as this picture, but this really is the genesis of his longest run as a character other than Dracula.

I like that this takes place in Hong Kong but it still has that patented late ’50s/early ’60s Hammer style to it. I’m actually surprised that the studio didn’t recycle some of these sets into sequels for this, as Lee gives a really chilling performance and because this was different enough from Hammer’s regular output that they could’ve crafted another franchise from this, as they did with Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy.

I understand why this was just a one-off, though, as it’s not as good as the first installment in Hammer’s core franchises. Also, Christopher Lee was not a fan of the makeup and considered it the most uncomfortable that he had ever worn up to this point in his career. But this was his first starring credit, as his other well-known films before this had him playing the monster to Peter Cushing’s hero or mad scientist.

Once again, I thought that Jimmy Sangster wrote a pretty good script for Hammer. The sets are good, as are the costumes. The makeup passes the test for the era, even if modern HD restoration brings out its flaws more.

Overall, The Terror of the Tongs is better than I anticipated it being.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Scream of Fear (1961)

Also known as: Taste of Fear (UK)
Release Date: March 30th, 1961 (London premiere)
Directed by: Seth Holt
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Clifton Parker
Cast: Susan Strasberg, Ronald Lewis, Ann Todd, Christopher Lee, John Serret

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

“You say my mind is affecting my legs. You’re wrong. It’s my legs that are affecting my mind.” – Penny Appleby

Man, when it comes to old school Hammer movies, I’ve come to realize that most of the really good scripts come from Jimmy Sangster. While this isn’t the best of the films he’s written, the story is solid and it sticks with you.

The plot follows a wheelchair-bound heiress named Penny, who returns to her father’s home after the suicide of her best friend. Upon arrival, her father is absent and she has to contend with her stepmother, who she doesn’t trust and has just met.

Penny believes that she sees her father’s corpse in the guest cottage at night and she screams hysterically, alerting her stepmother. Upon discovering Penny, the corpse is nowhere to be found. So the family doctor, played by the legendary Christopher Lee, is summoned to treat Penny for trauma and her potential hallucinations.

The family’s chauffer pulls Penny aside and admits that something unusual is going on and that he’ll help her discover the truth. However, Penny doesn’t fully trust him. All the while, a police detective shows up and believes that Penny has her own strange secrets.

I don’t want to spoil too much but the setup has a lot of layers to it and it almost feels very noir-esque, as it opens the door to a lot of potential twists and surprises.

I’ve got to say that the acting in this is quite exceptional and exceeds what was the normal level of performances in Hammer pictures. Susan Strasberg is pretty damn convincing in her role and she was so dedicated to it, that her style of method acting drew the ire of her co-star Ann Todd.

However, Christopher Lee, a man with over 200 credits to his name, considered this the best film that Hammer ever made with him in it. While I don’t think it’s that good, Lee’s opinion should matter quite a bit, considering his long, iconic career and for how many movies he was featured in under the Hammer banner.

Ultimately, Scream of Fear is a nice gem buried underneath the massive catalog of Hammer films. In modern times, people only seem to remember the movies based off of famous literary monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. However, Hammer has so many other movies, like this one, that deserve to be revisited and showcased for modern classic horror fans that might not have dived deep enough.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Cash On Demand (1961)

Also known as: The Gold Inside (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1961 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Quentin Lawrence
Written by: David T. Chantler, Lewis Greifer
Based on: The Gold Inside by Jacques Gillies
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Peter Cushing, André Morell, Richard Vernon, Norman Bird, Kevin Stoney, Edith Sharpe

Hammer Films, 89 Minutes, 66 Minutes (original 1963 UK theatrical release), 80 Minutes (DVD cut)

Review:

“You know, I think banks are rather fun.” – Hepburn

This is a pretty cool Hammer Films production that I didn’t even know existed until I discovered it in a large box set I recently acquired.

This stars of two of Hammer’s greatest regulars in Peter Cushing and André Morell: both mostly known for being in several of the studios great horror flicks. However, this film was Hammer’s attempt at film-noir.

In this, Cushing plays a bank manager and Morell plays a man posing as a customer before revealing himself to be a clever bank robbery that’s willing to have his men kill Cushing’s wife at their home, if he doesn’t play ball and get Morell the money he’s trying to steal.

The film is really held together by the solid performances of the two leads but the script and story are well thought out and pretty clever. More so than what was the norm for the crime pictures of the era. Granted, there are much better film-noir pictures but this one displays a great attention to detail and a fresh take on the bank heist story.

André Morell is exceptional in this and it’s always been odd to me that he was never cherished at the same level as Hammer legends like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Maybe it’s because he didn’t do as many films as those other two men but he’s still Hammer’s number three guy and always brought his A-game, proving he could hang with the best of the best of classic British horror.

The film is also well directed and looks great. It feels very noir-esque, being presented in black and white unlike most of Hammer’s output. However, I wouldn’t call it as stylish as many of the classic film-noir standouts but it didn’t really need the high contrast and overabundance of shadows due to its setting.

In the end, this movie was a pleasant surprise and it boasts pretty perfect performances by two of my favorite actors of the era. For traditional film-noir fans and/or fans of Hammer, this is certainly worth a look.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other British noir films, as well as other films Peter Cushing did for Hammer.

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: Hercules and the Captive Women (1961)

Also known as: Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide (original Italian title), Hercules and the Conquest of Atlantis (original English title), Hercules Conquers Atlantis (UK), Hercules and the Haunted Women (alternative title)
Release Date: August 19th, 1961 (Italy)
Directed by: Vittorio Cottafavi
Written by: Vittorio Cottafavi, Sandro Continenza, Duccio Tessari, Pierre Benoit, Nicolo Ferrari
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr., Armando Trovajoli
Cast: Reg Park, Fay Spain, Ettore Manni, Luciano Marin

Comptoir Français du Film Production (CFFP), SpA Cinematografica, 101 Minutes (original Italian cut), 94 Minutes

Review:

“Uranus… to rule over all!” – Androclo, Re di Tebe, “What you say is blasphemy!” – Ercole

After seeing about a half dozen (maybe more) of these Hercules films, as well as other sword and sandal schlock, featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, they all sort of blend together in my mind. It almost doesn’t matter that this is the most recent one that I watched, most of it already got flushed down the memory hole.

I mean, if anything was truly a dime a dozen, these Italian sword and sandal flicks would take the cake. While there probably aren’t as many of them as there were spaghetti westerns, which took over when these died out, the quality is generally pretty poor. This film is not an exception to the rule and other than dudes yelling about Uranus the whole movie, there’s not much worth remembering.

Hercules in this outing was played by Reg Park, birth name Roy Park because he’s surprisingly not Italian. In fact, he was an Englishman and won Mr. Universe in 1951, 1958 and 1965. He also played Hercules four times. Most importantly, though, he was an idol and mentor to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Park couldn’t save this movie, however, but what Mr. Universe has ever saved a film apart from Schwarzenegger?

This is a pretty mundane and monotonous movie where a whole lot of nothing happens, other than a buff dude solving problems by lifting heavy things.

Overall, this is a pretty standard Hercules picture, which means there’s not much to give a shit about. If you feel compelled to watch it, just watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: other Italian Hercules movies, as well as the other sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Bloodlust! (1961)

Release Date: September 13th, 1961 (San Diego premiere)
Directed by: Ralph Brooke
Written by: Richard Connell, Ralph Brooke
Music by: Michael Terr
Cast: Wilton Graff, Robert Reed, June Kenney, Gene Persson

Crown International Pictures, Cinegraf Productions, 68 Minutes

Review:

“Listen, Mister Balleau, fun’s fun. But if you think we’re gonna be the clay pigeons in your shooting gallery – you’re just a little far out!” – Johnny Randall

I’ve seen Wilton Graff appear in other films but mostly as an uncredited bit role. Here, one of his last films, he gets some time to shine. And frankly, he comes off like a poor man’s Vincent Price. But honestly, that is kind of cool, even if he doesn’t quite nail Price’s eloquence, panache and poetic way with words.

Despite that, however, this is a pretty crappy film that was deservedly lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The plot sees some vacationing doofus couples hijack a boat from their drunk captain. They get the genius idea to go explore a jungle island. The drunk captain wakes up and warns them not to. The doofuses quickly discover that the island is owned by a madman. Their insane host then holds them hostage in his home. They all want to escape but before they know it, they’re used as game in the madman’s manhunt.

While I like manhunt movies, this isn’t a near masterpiece like 1994’s Surviving the Game, I say that facetiously, since tone can’t be expressed properly with typed words. But honestly, this is amusing to a degree but far from anything all that worthwhile and the concept has been done much better elsewhere.

On a side note: there is a chick in this movie that is the daughter of a judo expert and she judo flips a henchman into a pool of acid. So for all the weirdos that didn’t think that there were badass female heroes before Captain Marvel, you’re stupid.

Anyway, this isn’t a film that I can recommend unless you watch the MST3K version.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: other black and white horror schlock that was featured on MST3K.

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.

Film Review: The Choppers (1961)

Also known as: Rebeldes del volante (Mexico)
Release Date: November 30th, 1961
Directed by: Leigh Jason
Written by: Arch Hall Sr.
Music by: Al Pellegrini
Cast: Arch Hall Jr., Marianne Gaba, Robert Paget, Tom Brown, Burr Middleton, Rex Holman, Chuck Barnes, Bruno VeSota

Fairway International Pictures, Rushmore Productions, 66 Minutes

Review:

“[to Jim Bradford, as he is being arrested] We had a ball. A real ball.” – Jack ‘Cruiser’ Bryan

Out of all the films with Arch Hall Jr. in them, this is the best. I first discovered him on Mystery Science Theater 3000 years ago when the Eegah episode first aired. Most of his films are written and directed by his father, Arch Hall Sr. While this one is written by Sr. it isn’t directed by him. That’s probably why this is a better film than the others and Hall Jr. came off a bit more relaxed and natural than when he was directed by his dad.

For those that aren’t familiar with Arch Hall Jr., he was an aspiring pop singer and guitarist that was really into hot rods and the rockabilly lifestyle. That being said, The Choppers was a good vehicle for him, pun intended.

The premise is about this gang of young hoods that chop up parked cars and steal their valuable bits. The don’t really steal the cars, they just strip them and then use the parts to make or enhance their own vehicles.

Arch Jr. plays Jack ‘Cruiser’, who is a hot rod driving, guitar strumming, wannabe badass. He gets in way over his head due to his gang of misfits and eventually finds himself in some serious shit.

This film is pretty damn tame though. It’s like if you took The Outsiders, stripped it of everything that made it cool, tried to edit it down to a G-rating and then de-saturated all the color and gave the lead a guitar so he could randomly break off into song from time to time, than you would have this movie.

In the end, this is a really short picture and it isn’t boring. It’s not exciting but it has some value, more so than the other films from this creative team.

But there doesn’t seem to be much of a point to this picture other than reminding kids in 1962 to not be juvenile delinquents.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: ’60s hot rod and biker movies. Also, other stuff with Arch Hall Jr. like Eegah and Wild Guitar.

Film Review: The Phantom Planet (1961)

Also known as: Planeta Fantasma (Spanish title)
Release Date: December 13th, 1961
Directed by: William Marshall
Written by: William Telaak, Fred De Gortner, Fred Gebhardt
Music by: Leith Stevens
Cast: Dean Fredericks, Coleen Gray, Francis X. Bushman

Four Crown Productions Inc., 82 Minutes

Review:

“We are able to translate all languages with voice tone waves.” – Sessom

Another day, another terrible movie that I watched due to it being featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’ve been slowly working my way through the entire MST3K series and I know that I’m more than halfway through it, at this point, but man, there are so many episodes and this feels like a never ending endeavor.

The Phantom Planet is exactly what you would expect from a rocketship movie from 1961 that was made with no budget, very little creativity and a script that probably would’ve been better used to stabilize a wobbly table at Shoney’s.

However, this movie has Coleen Gray in it, which probably means nothing to anyone reading this but she once worked with Stanley Kubrick in The Killing and was in two very good film-noirs: Kansas City Confidential and Nightmare Alley, which is one of the top things Tyrone Power has ever starred in, mind you.

This was also directed by a guy named William Marshall but he isn’t that William Marshall. You know, the suave and sexy black dude that starred in the Blacula films. No, this is just some boring white guy that directed a turkey wearing bells and called it The Phantom Planet.

Now this isn’t the worst space faring sci-fi flick that MST3K has featured. By comparisons sake, it isn’t that bad, actually. It’s still not a good movie but it has the sort of hokiness that is charming.

But let’s run it all down.

The effects are awful, the acting is mostly bad, the direction was pedestrian, the sets were deplorable and the editing was so choppy that I got sea sick and barfed on my popcorn. Still, I don’t hate this.

But that won’t save this movie from going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 3.75/10
Pairs well with: Other MST3K fodder that featured rocketships: Women of the Prehistoric PlanetProject MoonbaseRocketship X-MFirst Spaceship on Venus, etc.

Film Review: Hamlet (1961)

Also known as: Hamlet, Prinz von Dänemark (original German title)
Release Date: January 1st, 1961 (West Germany)
Directed by: Franz Peter Wirth
Written by: Franz Peter Wirth
Based on: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Music by: Rolf Unkel
Cast: Maximilian Schell, Hans Caninenberg, Wanda Rotha, Dunja Movar, Franz Schafheitlin, Karl Michael Vogler, Eckart Dux, Karl Lieffen, Alexander Engel, Paul Verhoeven

Bavaria Atelier, 152 Minutes

Review:

This adaptation of Hamlet actually was fairly well regarded before it was lampooned in the final season of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But to be honest, and this isn’t due to me seeing this get riffed to death by Mike and the ‘Bots, this version of Hamlet really isn’t that great. In fact, it’s boring as hell and Hamlet is a story I have always liked.

Still, this is just dreadful overall. I wanted to be fair to it but even watching it with MST3K commentary was a tough task. At least the comedic bits around the commercial breaks were funny.

There are so many versions of Hamlet that wasting your time on this one isn’t recommended. In fact, I could name a dozen that I would put ahead of this version.

This movie is one of the drabbest that MST3K has ever featured. If I were making a list of the worst of the worst films featured on that show, this could possibly be ranked numero uno. I found it to be literally unwatchable yet I probably deserve a medal because I got all the way through it.

This obviously needs to be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read,”Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 1/10