Film Review: Creature From the Haunted Sea (1961)

Release Date: June 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Fred Katz
Cast: Anthony Carbone, Betsy Jones-Moreland, Edward Wain

Filmgroup, 75 Minutes 

Review:

Creature From the Haunted Sea is famous for having one of the most hokey monsters in cinema history. As a kid, I saw several late night horror shows that featured a clip of the monster in their credits sequence. He was also used in a lot of other stuff too, always to be made fun of.

The film itself has an abysmal 3.4 rating on IMDb. While it is a bad film, that’s a bit harsh and maybe goes to show that this is the sort of film that only appeals to old school horror lovers that can see beyond the flaws of the era and this film’s budgetary constraints, appreciating the whole picture for what it is, a lot of friggin’ fun.

Directed by Roger Corman, it is safe to assume that this was shot in an afternoon on a budget that could only afford snacks for the cast and a a pair of googly eyes for the creature that was essentially just a big dude wrapped in a sheet of dark wool. Corman was famous for being able to film an hour of footage in a fifteen minute shoot. While I am being facetious, if anyone could bend the laws of space and time like that, it would be Roger Corman.

This film has a great sense of humor and maybe that is lost on modern audiences. Although, it does go a bit overboard and becomes bizarre, at times. There is a character that is a complete moron and he mostly speaks in animal impersonations. He meets a Puerto Rican island woman who does the same thing and they fall in love. Her name is Porcina and it is really fitting.

The story is fairly interesting at its core. A criminal lot makes a deal with a Cuban general to steal a bunch of gold to fund a counterrevolution, as this takes place just after Fidel Castro gained power. The criminals plan to double cross the Cubans and fake an attack by a sea creature, sinking the gold to the bottom of the ocean, only to be procured at a later date, once the Cubans are picked off. Except, there really is a monster.

The final shot of the movie is one of my all-time favorites as it shows the creature, picking his teeth at the bottom of the sea, while sitting on the trunk of gold.

Creature From the Haunted Sea is a delight, if you have an appreciation for the work of Roger Corman. It teamed him up with long-time collaborator Charles B. Griffith, who wrote a ton of his earlier films.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: Yojimbo (1961)

Release Date: April 25th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Eijirō Tōno, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura

Kurosawa Production, Toho Co. Ltd., 110 Minutes

Review:

Akira Kurosawa is one of the five directors in my Holy Quintinity of Auteur Filmmakers. He is absolutely one of the greatest directors to ever live. While it has been awhile since I worked my way through his entire oeuvre, it is Yojimbo that I have always had the fondest memories of.

I am working through Kurosawa’s films in an effort to review them but we will see where this ranks once I release my list of Kurosawa films, ranked from greatest to still damn good – because he is incapable of creating bad pictures.

Yojimbo is also one of the most influential films ever made. That might even be an understatement. To start, Sergio Leone’s near masterpiece A Fistful of Dollars is a loose remake of Yojimbo. That film spawned a trilogy starring Clint Eastwood in his most iconic role. The other two films were For A Few Dollars More and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, which is arguably, the best film ever made. That trilogy, The Dollars Trilogy, went on to spawn a bunch of ripoffs in the spaghetti western genre throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Those films were eventually ripped off by Quentin Tarantino and a bunch of other modern directors. Ultimately, Yojimbo, a Japanese film that was released 56 years ago, still influences the film industry today on a global scale. Its effects will always be felt. Not a lot of movies can achieve something like this. It is important to know the history of these things and to give credit where credit is due. Yojimbo was a total game changer in 1961.

All that being said, it was great revisiting this film, as it has been some time since I’ve seen it. I lent my Kurosawa collection to a friend several years back. That asshole fell off the face of the Earth and ended up moving to Denmark. I’m sure my DVDs went with him. I will track you down, Svend!

If you have seen A Fistful of Dollars, the plot here is basically the same. A stranger strolls into town and discovers that it is overrun by human vermin. He takes it upon himself to rid the town of the human vermin and save its people from tyranny. To do this, our hero joins one gang and then switches to the other and vice versa. He displays his bad assery by besting the best thugs these gangs have to offer. He also uses his influence and skill to play both gangs against one another. The plot is very layered but well-written and executed. Eventually, his scheme is figured out and he is overwhelmed and beaten nearly to death. He recovers, hides out in a nearby shack and returns, killing all the bad men and returning the town to the nice people. Then our hero walks off into the sunset to probably find another town to save from evil.

Yojimbo is a manly man’s movie but it can be enjoyed by anyone that has a love for justice and for pieces of crap getting wiped off of the Earth’s crust. It is perfectly paced, immaculately shot and well acted. Toshiro Mifune has a certain amount of gravitas and this is probably the most gravitas he’s every freely waved around, as he cuts through vermin and becomes a one man army against not just one but two large gangs of violent evil scum. It is like Death Wish 3 set in feudal Japan but with a lot more talent behind and in front of the camera. I personally feel that Death Wish 3‘s last twenty or so minutes are the greatest action finale ever ingrained on celluloid. Apart from that, it doesn’t hold a candle to Yojimbo, just to be clear.

By the time this film was made, Akira Kurosawa was already a master. He had already made Seven SamuraiThe Hidden FortressRashomon and a slew of other classics. Yojimbo is excellence in execution. It was a perfect collage of all the techniques Kurosawa had mastered on those other masterpieces. To be honest, there really isn’t a negative thing I can say about the film. Seriously, I tried to pick things apart while watching it and I mulled it over for hours. Yojimbo is a perfect film or at least, as perfect as a film can get.

There was a direct sequel made a year later, which is just a bit of a step down but it is still pretty amazing too. It’s called Sanjuro and I plan to rewatch that one again soon in an effort to review it.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Reptilicus (1961)

Release Date: February 20th, 1961
Directed by: Poul Bang (Danish version), Sidney W. Pink (English version)
Written by: Ib Melchior, Sidney W. Pink
Music by: Sven Gyldmark
Cast: Carl Ottosen, Ann Smyrner, Mimi Heinrich, Dirch Passer

Saga Studios, American International Pictures, 81 Minutes

Review:

Reptilicus is what happens when the Danish think that they can make their own knockoff of Godzilla. While I can’t blame them, as other countries have tried the same thing but this non-Japanese kaiju flick is on a whole nother level of sucktitude.

To start, the creature looks worse than a rubber dinosaur you’d find on the bottom shelf of a gas station for a dollar. It’s not particularly cool or scary or even threatening. It is a sort of rubbery wet dragon looking thing with a long neck, little hands and a fat body. It doesn’t look very mobile and it actually isn’t. Godzilla would probably use Reptilicus as a bean bag chair while commanding its head to slither into the kitchen to fetch some snacks.

Reptilicus also has a stupid power. He spits some sort of neon green glop which doesn’t seem to do much other than visually creating an artistic transition from scene-to-scene. So really, his power just makes the film’s editors’ lives easier.

The movie is also bogged down by the stupidity of a character named Peterson who is a goofy lumberjack looking guy who acts like that unfunny asshole Jerry Lewis. He is actually Dirch Passer who is some famous Danish comedian. Just imagine watching a Godzilla picture and all of a sudden, for no reason whatsoever, Jerry Lewis walks into a scene to be a spastic moron making funny faces.

Reptilicus is a poorly made film. It is one of the worst Godzilla knockoffs ever made and there are a ton. But at least it finally gets its just desserts being that it is featured in the first episode of the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000.

While this deserves to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer, it isn’t as bad as the other films I’ve put through it before reviewing this one. Weirdly, I like the film for its strange flaws and hokey effects. Horrible monsters have a place in my heart for some reason. So I would categorize Reptilicus as a Type 2 stool, which is defined as “Sausage-shaped but lumpy.”

Rating: 4/10

Film Review: Gorgo (1961)

Release Date: January 10th, 1961 (Japan)
Directed by: Eugène Lourié
Written by: Robert L. Richards, Daniel James, Eugène Lourié
Music by: Angelo Francesco Lavagnino
Cast: Bill Travers, William Sylvester, Vincent Winter

King Brothers Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, British Lion-Columbia Ltd., 78 Minutes

gorgo_1961Review:

This is a kaiju film that was released in Japan first. Yet, it isn’t Japanese, it is actually British.

It was also featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, even though it doesn’t really fit their usual mold of bad movies. That is further reflected by the fact that the cast wasn’t miserable after the movie ended and guest star Leonard Maltin admitted that he liked Gorgo.

With the success of Gojira (the original Godzilla), lots of studios around the world were trying to create their own versions of the popular kaiju. Gorgo was Britain’s attempt at cashing in with their own giant city-smashing monster.

The movie sees a small Irish fishing village defeat and conquer a large reptilian beast. They then get really greedy and sell the monster to a London-based carnival. Once there, the creature is put on display to the amusement of the British people. However, the Brits soon find out that the monster is a baby and the much larger parent is on its way to London to save its kid. Next thing you know, pandemonium ensues, as the giant kaiju crushes London landmarks, which is a nice change to seeing big creatures topple Tokyo Tower or the Diet Building.

Gorgo is a well-executed kaiju movie. The creature is really cool looking and isn’t simply a Godzilla ripoff or a generic dinosaur. He is truly menacing but lovable, at the same time.

The miniatures and buildings aren’t as well constructed and realistic as Eiji Tsuburaya’s props in the early Godzilla pictures but they are still passable when compared to other wannabe Godzilla films.

Gorgo is a really good monster movie experience. I kind of wish this would have spawned its own series or some sort of follow-up or modern remake. Well, at least there was a short-lived Gorgo comic book, at one point.

Film Review: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Release Date: August 12th, 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 85 Minutes 

pit_and_the_pendulumReview:

This is the second in the long series of films that teamed up director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price in their line of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. It also brings in horror icon Barbara Steele on the heels of her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

The cast is rounded out by John Kerr, who plays the other male lead opposite of Price, and Luana Anders, the female co-star who has significantly more screen time than the higher billed Steele.

Pit and the Pendulum is based off of the Poe story of the same name. It takes some creative liberties but does a good job of capturing the Poe feel. The film also borrows some elements from another Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado.

Everything in the film eventually leads to the actual pit and the pendulum from the title. The pit itself isn’t all that exciting, it’s a pit. The pendulum, however, is the centerpiece of one of the best classic horror sequences ever produced. Even now, fifty-plus years later, it is still a chilling and dreadful sequence in the film.

Vincent Price was his typical self in Pit and the Pendulum and my only wish was that he shared more moments with Barbara Steele, who was as alluring as always.

John Kerr was fairly solid, if a bit boisterous at times. His character, like Mark Damon’s in House of Usher, was supposed to be a bit pushy and demanding, as he needed to know the truth behind the mystery that was the central plot.

Pit and the Pendulum is a really good looking picture but then, so were all of the Corman-Price-Poe collaborations. The sets were damn good for a picture with a small budget and short shooting schedule but that was always Roger Corman’s specialty.

This is one of the must-see films in Vincent Price’s long filmography. It has all of the best aspects of a classic 1960s Poe adaptation with very few flaws, other than things that were unavoidable in 1961 with limited resources.

Pit and the Pendulum is a horror classic that has done a fine job of surviving the test of time.

Film Review: The Beast of Yucca Flats (1961)

Release Date: May 2nd, 1961
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: Gene Kauer, Irwin Nafshun, Al Remington
Cast: Tor Johnson, Douglas Mellor, Barbara Francis, Bing Stafford, Conrad Brooks

Cinema Associates, 54 Minutes

beastyuccaflatsReview:

Say what you will about Ed Wood but Coleman Francis makes him look like Peter Jackson. Luckily, for the sake of humanity, Francis only directed three films. The Beast of Yucca Flats is the first in his trilogy of cinematic diarrhea.

The film stars Tor Johnson, most famous for being a professional wrestler and the favorite monster brute of Ed Wood. He is just as lifeless and uncharismatic as he has ever been in Wood’s pictures. The rest of the cast is made up of people you will hope to never see again with a cameo and narration by director Coleman Francis.

The story is about a defecting Soviet scientist with a briefcase full of secrets. His American contacts are murdered by KGB agents, causing the scientist to flee into the Nevada desert. While wandering for a great distance, he is exposed to radiation on a nuclear test sight. The exposure turns him into a mindless killer brute with a skin condition that looks like a cosmetic facial mask that has been left on for far too long. And then he just grunts a lot, carries a big stick and moves with the speed of a slug caught in tree sap.

This is one of the dullest and least exciting movies I have ever seen. It is literally terrible in every way. The editing is probably the worst thing about the picture. The Beast of Yucca Flats transitions from scene-to-scene like a brick to the face. The sound is almost as bad as the editing. Honestly, you could write every aspect of a film down on a piece of paper, throw them in a hat and pull one out randomly and it could make an argument for worst thing about this movie.

In an effort to be objective, I guess I should point out a positive. So the one positive is that The Beast of Yucca Flats is only 54 minutes long. If I have to come up with a second positive, I should mention that it was featured in a really good episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Film Review: Master of the World (1961)

Release Date: May, 1961 (USA)
Directed by: William Witney
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: Robur the Conqueror and Master of the World by Jules Verne
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, Henry Hull, Mary Webster, Richard Harrison

American International Pictures, 102 Minutes (including prologue)

master_of_the_worldReview:

What happens when you mix the master of terror Vincent Price with the works of the amazing Jules Verne and a screenplay by the great Richard Matheson? Well, you get Master of the World!

This film is like Verne’s more famous 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea except for being underwater in a giant menacing ship, it is in the air. Unfortunately it doesn’t do battle with a giant squid but it does do battle with the nations of the world.

I always loved the movie versions of Verne’s classic works, especially from this era. While Master of the World doesn’t quite measure up to 20,000 Leagues or Around the World In 80 Days, it is still an enjoyable picture and feels like a true extension of those films. Even with its much smaller budget and scale, Master of the World still feels like a big movie. Sure, the special effects don’t hold up tremendously but some of the shots and effects were still well executed for their day and for the limited resources American International Pictures had versus Disney.

Casting Vincent Price as Robur the Conqueror was genius. Known mostly for being the leading man in several iconic horror films, Price was able to be sinister, where the role called for it, while also being commanding and intense as the captain of his airship, the Albatross. The film also reunited him with Charles Bronson, as they worked together on the classic House of Wax, eight years earlier. That was the film that really started Bronson’s career.

The character of Robur is a dynamic one. He is the villain of the story but depending upon your point-of-view, could be the hero. Considered a “mad man”, similar to Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues, Robur has created his magnificent airship in an effort to go to war with war. The ship’s purpose is to bully the war-mongering nations of the world into changing their ways. While Robur announces his intention on these nations, he is quick to destroy their warships and their weapons to make his message clear. Robur feels that the loss of thousands is worth it to protect the lives of millions who didn’t ask for war.

The Albatross is one of my favorite vessels in film history. It was steampunk before steampunk was even a thing. It also has the feel of the world from the video game Bioshock: Infinite, which may have borrowed from this movie or the works of Verne in general. The sets that are the ship are very well put together. The colors are nice and welcoming, the use of colored glass enhances the vision of world peace, which is Robur’s goal – even if his means to achieve it are a bit twisted. The Albatross is a menacing warship that doesn’t look anything like a warship. It looks like a nice, cozy place to live. I’m also pretty sure it inspired the airship from Final Fantasy VII.

Master of the World is one of my favorite Vincent Price films, even if it isn’t a horror picture. He owned the role of Robur and gave it a real sense of legitimacy. Charles Bronson was perfect as his foil and the rest of the cast was pretty good too. I especially liked the dichotomy between Price’s Robur and Henry Hull’s Prudent, an arms manufacturer that finds himself captive on the Albatross.

If you like Jules Verne tales in the form of a motion picture, there really isn’t any reason why you shouldn’t enjoy Master of the World. It isn’t a masterpiece but it is a solid film that deserves to be in the same company as the Disney-made Verne movies that had much larger budgets and better resources at their disposal.