Film Review: The Pirates of Blood River (1962)

Release Date: May 9th, 1962 (Denmark)
Directed by: John Gilling
Written by: Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Gary Hughes
Cast: Christopher Lee, Kerwin Mathews, Glenn Corebett, Oliver Reed, Peter Arne, Marla Landi, Desmond Llewelyn, Michael Ripper

Hammer Films, Columbia Pictures, 87 Minutes

Review:

“[to the elders] I am not guilty. The cause of Maggie’s death… was fear. Fear of her brutal husband. Yes, fear is your weapon, and it’s a dangerous weapon because one day it will recoil on your heads.” – Jonathan Standing

Well, since I recently watched The Devil-Ship Pirates, one of the few Hammer Films swashbucklers, I figured that I’d also check out this film, which came out just before it and also stars Christopher Lee.

I actually liked this a wee bit more than The Devil-Ship Pirates, as it seemed to have more going on. I really enjoyed the plot of the other film but this one seemed to have more layers and more at stake. Regardless, they’re both enjoyable for those who like classic swashbuckling tales.

In this one, we see Lee play an actual pirate, where he played a Spanish naval commander in Devil-Ship. It was cool seeing him with the traditional garb and eye patch. He also got to use his sword, which is always a bonus. I don’t think people know that Lee actually has the most sword fights in motion picture history. I think that’s a cool fact that gets lost because he’s primarily known for being in horror movies and not action pictures.

I really enjoyed Kerwin Mathews in this, as well as Hammer regulars Oliver Reed and Michael Ripper. We even get to see Desmond Llewelyn, which is always a treat when he appears outside of his most famous role as Q in the old school James Bond movies.

All in all, this is a pretty decent swashbuckler from a studio that probably should’ve made more than they did. But I get it, horror was Hammer’s real bread and butter. 

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: other swashbuckling/pirate movies by Hammer like Captain Clegg a.k.a. Night Creatures and The Devil-Ship Pirates.

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: The Magic Sword (1962)

Also known as: The Seven Curses of Lodac, St. George and the Dragon, St. George and the Seven Curses (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 25th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Bert I. Gordon
Written by: Bernard Schoenfeld
Music by: Richard Markowitz
Cast: Basil Rathbone, Estelle Winwood, Anne Helm, Gary Lockwood, Liam Sullivan, Maila Nurmi

Bert I. Gordon Productions, 80 Minutes

Review:

“[chuckling] You don’t like Sir Branton? Oh, come now. A damsel in distress can’t afford to pick and choose.” – Lodac

Bert I. Gordon may have been one of the few true kings of schlock but he was also one of the best. While his films are all pretty terrible from an academic standpoint, they all exude a special sort of charm and are very watchable if you are a fan of pure hammy schlock.

This movie is no different and like many of his other films, this one found itself reaching a sort of immortality by being riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

The Magic Sword is a pretty neat early ’60s sword and sorcery flick. It also stars Basil Rathbone, a fantastic actor but one who also found himself in a lot of schlock-y pictures later in his career.

But that doesn’t mean that Rathbone gave up and didn’t put his best foot forward. He is the best thing about this movie and he’s committed to his role of evil sorcerer quite well.

I loved Rathbone in this and even if the film is kind of shit, he elevates it when he is present onscreen.

Now this film did have a scant budget but it made the most of it and gave the audience some pretty decent sets and a cool battle with a giant dragon at the end of the film. I really dug the finale and the dragon model’s giant head looked pretty impressive for an early ’60s low budget adventure film.

Bert I. Gordon isn’t quite Roger Corman but this is one of those pictures where he does give him a run for his money.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other sword and sorcery or sword and sandal pictures of the era.

Film Review: Samson Vs. The Vampire Women (1962)

Also known as: Santo vs. las mujeres vampiro (original Mexican title)
Release Date: October 11th, 1962 (Mexico)
Directed by: Alfonso Corona Blake
Written by: Alfonso Corona Blake, Rafael Garcia Travesi, Antonio Orellana, Fernando Oses
Music by: Raul Lavista, Galdino R. Samperio
Cast: El Santo, Lorena Velazquez, Jaime Fernandez, Augusto Benedico, Maria Duval, Javier Loya, Ofelia Montesco

Filmadora Panamericana, Fonexsa, Tele-cine-radio S.A., 89 Minutes

Review:

“The fight must go on.” – El Enmascarado de Plata

I think this is one of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 episodes that I missed. I was probably out macking on chicks at a high school football game or something. But I didn’t remember them ever riffing one of the El Santo movies. Also, I thought I saw TV’s Frank’s last episode but this played out in a way I didn’t recollect, so I guess I never saw it.

Anyway, this is one of the many El Santo movies from Mexico. He was the top lucha libre star of all-time and a bonafide movie star in his country.

However, all of the old school lucha libre movies are strange, low budget affairs that usually saw luchadors fight supernatural or alien threats. Here, El Santo fights a horde of vampire women. In other words, the premise is awesome, if this is your sort of thing.

What I like about these lucha movies is that they feel like Mexico’s version of Japan’s tokusatsu genre. El Santo is Mexico’s Ultraman and I guess that makes Blue Demon Mexico’s version of Kamen Rider, albeit without the sweet motorcycle.

As far as El Santo pictures go, this one is pretty good. It almost taps into a Hammer Horror vibe with its vampire women and it reminded me of The Brides of Dracula. Granted, Peter Cushing wasn’t here to kick ass as Van Helsing but Santo did a fine job and even got to mix it up in the ring, which is always a plus even if it is customary in a lucha flick.

I thought that this film was pretty entertaining for its genre and I can’t shit on it like most people without an appreciation for lucha movies would. In fact, it is one of the more enjoyable films featured on MST3K and TV’s Frank should be happy that he went out on this one.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other El Santo movies, as well as the films starring Blue Demon.

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: Cape Fear (1962)

Also known as: The Executioners (working title)
Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Miami premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: James R. Webb
Based on: The Executioners by John D. MacDonald
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam, Polly Bergen, Lori Martin, Telly Savalas

Melville Productions, Talbot Productions, Universal Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“I got somethin’ planned for your wife and kid that they ain’t nevah gonna forget. They ain’t nevah gonna forget it… and neither will you, Counselor! Nevah!” – Max Cady

I had to rectify a grave injustice that I have committed against myself for decades. That injustice was never seeing the original version of Cape Fear. Strangely, I love both Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, plus this has Telly Savalas in it. That alone should have had me on board for this years ago but alas, I didn’t see this wonderful picture until 2018. In my defense, if I had already seen every classic, I wouldn’t be able to be wowed by them the first time.

This is, far and away, better than the remake done by Martin Scorsese and I am a big fan of that picture. That version got in my head when I was a young teen and it never really released its grip. I do need to go back and watch that one too, in the near future.

Anyway, Robert Mitchum is one of the most charismatic actors to ever grace the screen. When Mitchum decides to delve into darker roles though, the audience is in for a treat. Well, if they consider terror as a treat. He’s just so damn good playing such an evil bastard. Between this movie and The Night of the Hunter, he really exists on an evil level in a way that other actors don’t. If you want to see a master of their craft at work, this is a prime example of Robert Mitchum transcending his craft and having a presence that reaches through the screen and haunts your imagination.

Gregory Peck was perfection as the other side of this coin. He represents good and is a solid moral character that believes in law and justice. He is pushed to his limit and almost crosses over to the dark side a few times but ultimately, he keeps his soul clean and pure. If this was made in modern times, the ending would have looked like an obvious attempt at leaving things open for a sequel. But in 1962, goodness prevails without evil being mortally wiped out. Plus, in 2018, they would have had the hero blast a dozen holes into the bad guy while the audience cheered.

This is just a classic tale of good versus evil and that’s why it works so well. There are no bones about how terrible of a person Mitchum’s Max Cady is and the same can be said about the goodness of Peck’s Sam Bowden.

What was surprising about this, at least for me, is that a motion picture from 1962 could cross the lines that this one did. There were the threats of rape and pedophilia, which are disturbing now but imagine seeing this unfold through the eyes of someone in 1962 when film’s were censored by the morality police and the rating system wouldn’t exist for another 6 years.

Cape Fear is near perfect as a straight up thriller. It gives you an immediate sense of danger and dread and slowly simmers for 90 minutes before its nerve wracking climax.

Every actor in this was superb.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: PsychoThe Night of the Hunter and the 1991 Cape Fear remake.

Film Review: Sanjuro (1962)

Release Date: January 1st, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Ryūzō Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Based on: Hibi Heian by Shugoro Yamamoto
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiju Kobayashi, Yūzō Kayama, Reiko Dan, Takashi Shimura, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takako Irie, Masao Shimizu, Yūnosuke Itō

Kurosawa Production, Toho Co. Ltd., 95 Minutes

Review:

“You tired of being stupid yet?” – Sanjuro Tsubaki

Sanjuro is a sequel to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, which was such a success for the director and Toho that the script for the novel that this was based on, was rewritten to include the famous Toshiro Mifune character from the previous movie.

Yojimbo would go on to inspire Sergio Leone’s “Man With No Name” character over his trilogy of films. It would also inspire countless other spaghetti western movies and other samurai films, as well. But this here, is the one and only true sequel to the Yojimbo story.

The best part of this film is that it was a sequel made by the original director, a true auteur, and its original star. Granted, Kurosawa and Mifune were no strangers to one another and worked on several films together.

This isn’t the masterpiece that Yojimbo is but it is still a damn fine motion picture of the highest caliber for its time and for its scant budget when compared to the rest of the motion picture landscape, which was dominated by bigger budget Western films.

In this story, the famous ronin helps a group of young samurai combat a corrupt politician, who is involved with organized crime and who has framed and imprisoned the uncle of one of the samurai. The story has several twists that make it interesting and unpredictable. Most of the time, Sanjuro puts a plan in motion and somehow the young samurai find a way to muck it up. It isn’t until the end, that they follow Sanjuro’s orders and succeed.

While this is a serious drama, it is also comedic at times, which was a great strength in Kurosawa’s storytelling ability. He lets you know that his characters exist in a somewhat harsh world but he keeps things fairly grounded and lighthearted enough to not allow his films to get too dark. I’ve always been a person that has dealt with pain and tragedy by using humor. So, in a way, Kurosawa’s style speaks to that part of me and I think it speaks to others in the same way.

This film’s action and violence come off as mostly PG rated. Then, in the final showdown, there is a moment where it literally feels like the screen goes red with blood, even though it is still presented in black and white. The final blow to the enemy was violent but effective because it eclipsed anything else in the film and is sort of shocking the first time you witness it. But it is an amazing and beautiful sequence, captured by Kurosawa’s magic.

Sanjuro may even feel a bit more polished than Yojimbo. It doesn’t feel as gritty, anyway. Some of that could be due to a lot of the movie taking place at night where I remember Yojimbo being brighter and happening much more during daylight hours. Plus, Yojimbo was dustier and had the look that would become synonymous with all the spaghetti westerns that tried to emulate it’s visual presentation.

Both movies work so well together and they also compliment each other. Sanjuro gives a little more depth and character to the famous Mifune ronin. If anything, this just enriches the world that Kurosawa gave us in his previous film.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Yojimbo (the film before it), as well as any Kurosawa jidaigeki picture.

Film Review: Ring of Terror (1962)

Release Date: February, 1962
Directed by: Clark Paylow
Written by: Lewis Simeon, Jerrold I. Zinnamon
Music by: James Cairncross
Cast: George Mather, Esther Frust, Austin Green

Playstar, 72 Minutes

Review:

What a dreadful movie. I mean, this is truly terrible. But then again, it was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 for a reason, I guess. But shit, every time I think I’ve found the worst film that MST3K could dig up, something else comes along and surprises me with its absolute awfulness.

Ring of Terror features the oldest college students you’ll ever see, anywhere. Even in modern times where people of all ages go back to school. However, these actors are supposed to be hip youngsters and even when they throw down and party, it’s like a lame ass middle aged party that I assume has the type of food your aunts and uncles would bring over for Christmas that no kid would touch.

This thing is a mess and not only that, it’s a friggin’ boring mess. It’s so dull that it couldn’t even slice through melted butter.

The story is about a college guy that has a fear of the dark or the dead or something. Maybe both. Anyway, he is tasked with stealing the ring of a dead person. If he succeeds he can join a fraternity full of boring old people. If he fails, well… he has to live out a boring college existence on his own. The story is narrated by a graveyard keeper looking for his missing cat. When he stumbles upon a specific gravestone, he is reminded of this stupid dumb story. Why he feels the need to share this with anyone, is baffling. I’d rather share anything other than this story: hors d’oeuvres, an old VHS tape of Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts, an empty shoe box, sarcastic praise, an STD… anything.

This movie is literal poop on celluloid.

That being said, Ring of Terror is going into the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 1/10