Film Review: Paranoiac (1963)

Release Date: May 1st, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Josephine Tey, Jimmy Sangster
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Janette Scott, Oliver Reed, Sheila Burrell, Alexander Davion, Maurice Denham

Hammer Films, 80 Minutes

Review:

“Now I need to drink some more.” – Simon Ashby

Last week, I watched Nightmare, another rare black and white movie from Hammer and also directed by Freddie Francis and written by Jimmy Sangster. While I enjoyed it and felt like it slightly missed the mark, I feel like this picture, which came out a year earlier, is a better film.

Granted, a lot of that credit could go to Oliver Reed, as his performance here is intense and enchanting. And honestly, this is one of many movies I can now point too and say, “That guy is an underappreciated and underutilized actor and here’s why!”

Something else that helps this movie is that it is horror but it also has a film-noir type plot about family inheritance, a once dead sibling returning, a psychotic narcissist trying to turn his sister insane, an incestuous subplot and more twists and turns than that silly road in San Francisco.

Even though this doesn’t feel like a typical Hammer Films movie, it’s kind of cool and does a lot with very little.

The end sequence is really well executed and in both noir and horror fashion, the asshole gets some good comeuppance.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, as it’s one of the few Hammer films I haven’t seen but I was pleasantly surprised. Especially, when I just thought it’d be a lot like Nightmare. It definitely exceeded that decent movie and also provided a memorable performance by Reed.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer horror films of the ’60s.

Film Review: The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

Also known as: Kiss of Evil (US TV title)
Release Date: September 11th, 1963
Directed by: Don Sharp
Written by: John Elder
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Clifford Evans, Edward de Souza, Jennifer Daniel, Noel Willman, Barry Warren, Brian Oulton, Noel Howlett

Hammer Films, 88 Minutes, 93 Minutes (TV cut)

Review:

“When the devil attacks a man or woman with this foul disease of the vampire the unfortunate human being can do one of two things. Either he can seek God through the church and pray for absolution or he can persuade himself that his filthy perversion is some kind of new and wonderful experience to be shared by the favoured few. Then he tries to persuade others to join his new cult.” – Professor Zimmer

Man, this was a really solid Hammer vampire flick and even though I saw it years ago, I didn’t remember it being this good.

The story follows two newlyweds traveling for their honeymoon. They end up in a small Bavarian village in 1910. While there, they come to discover that the people are a bit off. As the story rolls on, we come to learn that the small community is being controlled by a vampire cult that lives in a nearby castle. The cult tricks the newlyweds at a party and abducts the wife, trying to make the husband believe that he arrived there alone. The husband then teams up with a Professor, who lost his daughter to the cult. The two men then seek vengeance against the vampires in an effort to save the young man’s wife.

For a Hammer film that doesn’t feature any of Hammer’s go-to big name actors, this is still on the level of those other movies. Clifford Evans and Edward de Souza had worked for Hammer before and they did hold their own without the help of Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Oliver Reed or Andre Morell.

This was directed by Don Sharp, though, and even if he wasn’t one of the top two Hammer directors, he did a good amount of films for the studio over his career and always hit the right mark, tonally and narratively.

This picture looks great but then again, all Hammer films of the 1960s did. It recycles some furniture and other set pieces but that kind of just adds to the overall appeal of the Hammer aesthetic.

Additionally, the climax to this film is superb and I dug the hell out of it. For the time, the special effects worked well and it was cool seeing these vampires meet a sort of ironic demise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer vampire movies.

Film Review: Dementia 13 (1963)

Also known as: The Haunted and the Hunted (UK alternative title), Dementia (working title)
Release Date: August, 1963 (Indianapolis premiere)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: William Campbell, Luana Anders, Bart Patton, Mary Mitchell, Patrick Magee, Eithne Dunne

Roger Corman Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“It’s nice to see her enjoying herself for a change. The mood around this place isn’t good for her…. Especially an American girl. You can tell she’s been raised on promises.” – Louise Haloran

Dementia 13 is the first film that Francis Ford Coppola directed that wasn’t a nudie cutie. It was also produced by Roger Corman, after Coppola had worked on Corman’s The Young Racers. With leftover funds and some of the same actors and being in the same country, Corman intended to shoot another quick low budget flick but he ended up giving the reigns to Coppola with the request being that he make something Psycho-like and it had to be done cheaply.

Coppola wrote a brief draft of the story in one night and gave it to Corman while also describing the most vividly detailed sequence. This impressed Corman and he gave Coppola the remaining $22,000. Coppola also raised some extra funds himself by pre-selling the European rights to the film without telling Corman.

Ultimately, Coppola’s antics didn’t really strain the relationship between he and Corman and the film has gone on to be somewhat of a cult classic. It’s hard to say whether or not it would’ve reached that status without being Coppola’s first legitimate movie but nonetheless, it’s definitely earned its money back more than tenfold over the years.

Overall, it’s not a great film and the story is kind of meh but I do enjoy the performances of Patrick Magee, a long-time favorite of mine, as well as William Campbell and Luana Anders.

Additionally, the film does create a solid, creepy vibe that has held up well.

For the most part, it is competently shot and Coppola showed great promise and a great eye with his work, here.

I think that the plot could’ve been better if there was more time to write it and refine it but Corman productions rarely had that luxury and these things were just pumped out on the cheap with the crew immediately having to move on to the next picture.

All things considered, this is still better than it should have been and Coppola did make chicken salad out of chicken shit. While it’s not the best chicken salad, it is certainly palatable and mostly satisfying with enough sustenance to get you by for the time being.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror films of the 1960s, as well as other very early Francis Ford Coppola movies.

Film Review: The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

Also known as: The Graveside Story (re-issue title, Germany)
Release Date: December 25th, 1963 (Detroit premiere)
Directed by: Jacques Tourneur
Written by: Richard Matheson
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Joyce Jameson, Joe E. Brown

Alta Vista Productions, American International Pictures, 84 Minutes

Review:

“To… uh… paraphrase the venerable adage: we shall kill two birds, with one… pillow.” – Waldo Trumball

When I was a kid, I thought that the plot to The Comedy of Terrors was genius. In fact, it inspired a script outline that I wrote in high school for a movie I wanted to eventually make called Cremation.

The plot is about a funeral parlor owner who is about to lose his home/parlor due to not having any business. So he sets out to create business by killing some of the richer people in the community. Eventually, he sets his sights on his rich landlord because that would solve his biggest problem.

While the plot may sound dark and twisted, this is also a comedy and not standard 1960s horror fare.

The film also stars four great horror legends and it is directed by Jacques Tourneur, who helmed some solid horror and classic film-noir pictures in his day.

The humor is great and the tone of the film is superb. Vincent Price and Peter Lorre always had incredible chemistry and this might be the best they’ve ever been together, even though I consider The Raven to be a better film.

I also like the recurring gags in the film with Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone, who don’t have as much screentime as Price and Lorre but they still add extra layers of awesomeness to the proceedings. Joyce Jameson is also entertaining and perfect in her role, as the object of Lorre’s affection while being married to the cantankerous and murderous Price.

This is a goofy but solid horror comedy in a time where films like that were rare. In the end, this really just showcases how great these actors were, all around, despite being mostly typecast as “horror actors”.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other pictures Vincent Price did for American International. Especially those co-starring Peter Lorre and/or Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone.

Film Review: Diary of a Madman (1963)

Also known as: The Horla (working title)
Release Date: March 6th, 1963
Directed by: Reginald Le Borg
Written by: Robert E. Kent
Based on: The Horla and other stories by Guy de Maupassant
Music by: Richard LaSalle
Cast: Vincent Price, Nancy Kovak, Lewis Martin, Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry, Ian Wolfe

Robert E. Kent Productions, Admiral Pictures, United Artists, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Murderers. They’re all the same. Humanity would be much better off without them.” – Police Captain Robert Rennedon

Vincent Price really could do no wrong in the ’60s. He was on a tear, especially with the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he was in and all the other films he fit in between those shoots.

Unlike those Poe films, this one wasn’t directed by Roger Corman and it wasn’t a Poe story at all. However, this feels very close in visual and narrative tone to those other movies. This is Price’s most Poe feeling of his non-Poe pictures.

The plot is based off of a few stories by Guy de Maupassant, a French author who was considered to be a master of the short story. This primarily adapts a story called “The Horla”, which features an invisible supernatural being referred to as a Horla. This being haunts and possesses human beings and uses them to do terrible things, such as murder.

Vincent Price’s Simon Cordier becomes the newest victim of the Horla, as he comes into contact with it after visiting a prisoner, who is awaiting the guillotine after murdering four people. Upon this man’s death, the Horla sets its sights on Cordier and drives him to madness. However, Cordier continually fights back in an effort to destroy the Horla and to release the truth behind all the crimes by writing all the details in his journal.

I really love this movie and outside of the Poe ones, this was a Price picture that left an impression on me at a young age when I was just discovering the actor. The story is really good and Price delivers in every single scene, making you feel sorry for the peril he’s in, as he’s truly a nice and innocent man, forced to do heinous things.

I thought that the director, Reginald Le Borg, really created one of the best Price pictures of the ’60s, even if this one isn’t as fondly remembered as many of the others. He was no stranger to horror, having directed one of the Mummy movies for Universal, as well as directing other legends like Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Basil Rathbone and John Carradine. While Le Borg could have just been emulating the style of Corman’s Poe movies, the end result, here, is quite good.

Diary of a Madman deserves more praise and notoriety than it has gotten over the years. It’s interesting, even if it’s not wholly original, and it does pretty much everything right.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: other 1960s horror films with Vincent Price, especially his collaborations with Roger Corman.

Film Review: The Atomic Brain (1963)

Also known as: Monstrosity (original title), The Brain Snatchers (script title)
Release Date: September, 1963
Directed by: Joseph V. Mascelli
Written by: Sue Bradford, Dean Dillman Jr., Jack Pollexfen, Vy Russell
Music by: Gene Kauer
Cast: Marjorie Eaton, Frank Gerstle, Frank Fowler, Bradford Dillman (narrator)

Cinema Venture, 65 Minutes

Review:

“Three new bodies. Fresh, live, young bodies. No families or friends within thousands of miles, no one to ask embarrassing questions when they disappear. Victor wondered which one Mrs. March would pick. The little Mexican, the girl from Vienna, or the buxom blonde? Victor knew his pick, but he still felt uneasy, making love to an 80 year old woman in the body of a 20 year old girl; it’s insanity!” – Narrator

This is the second to last movie in my very long quest to watch and review every motion picture that was ever featured in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. It is my last Mike Nelson episode, as I saved a Joel one for the very end and because I liked splitting my time pretty equally between the two hosts. For me, Mike edges out Joel just slightly but since Joel gave us this great show, I gave him the honor of being the grand finale of my MST3K review quest.

Anyway, this film is unwatchable. Mike and the ‘Bots make it moderately tolerable as their commentary rips it to shreds and their segments were solid. However, this should never be watched on its own without the added riffing of the MST3K crew.

It’s boring as shit in every regard and there’s nothing that makes it endearing in any way. It’s not one of those “it’s so bad, it’s good” movies. This is just a dreadful, slow, horribly acted, horribly directed piece of shit.

The story is about a rich, old, eccentric lady that convinces a young scientist to transplant her 80 year-old brain into the body of a 20 year-old woman. Three foreign girls are hired as servants but they are really being vetted for the old woman to choose as her future vessel.

The film’s tagline reads, “WANTED: Youth and Beauty. Will Pay Millions. Only Beautiful and Shapely Girls Need Apply. No References Required. Appointments After Dark Only.”

That sounds like a pretty awesome premise but this film only delivers examples of how not to make a movie.

The Atomic Brain or Monstrosity, as it was originally (and more fittingly) titled, is absolute nonsense. It wants to be a B-movie of the atomic horror age but it’s more like an F-movie that wasted perfectly good celluloid that wasn’t born to have its life wasted on utter shite.

Rating: 0.75/10
Pairs well with: the worst science fiction of the era.

Film Review: Colossus and the Headhunters (1963)

Also known as: Fury of the Headhunters (alternative title)
Release Date: January 10th, 1963 (Italy)
Directed by: Guido Malatesta
Written by: Guido Malatesta
Music by: Guido Robuschi, Gian Stellari
Cast: Kirk Morris, Laura Brown, Demeter Bitenc

RCM Produzione Cinematografica, Alta Vista, 79 Minutes

Review:

Mystery Science Theater 3000 featured a ton of sword and sandal movies, especially those from Italy. The vast majority of them featured Hercules, however. So I guess seeing one focused on Colossus was kind of refreshing. But then again, it’s not Colossus from the X-Men franchise and is instead some buff Italian dude named Maciste.

Regardless of which Colossus Italy gave us, this is a total dud of a movie.

Kirk Morris, birth name Adriano Bellini, was an Italian actor that played the Maciste character a few times, as well Hercules in a couple pictures. He was an Italian bodybuilder that had to be billed with an American sounding name like many Italian actors that found themselves in movies that were trying to get a big piece of the pie that was the United States film market.

Most films like this aren’t very good though. Well, some spaghetti westerns ended up as masterpieces but that genre was sort of born when the sword and sandal pictures became passé. When spaghetti westerns also died off, Italy went and split their action cheapies up between sword and sorcery Conan ripoffs, as well as Mad Max clones.

Point being, the Italians loved making cheap action flicks in the desert. Colossus and the Headhunters was no different. But it, at least, featured some coastline and was actually shot along the Adriatic Sea in the Slovenian region of then Yugoslavia.

The problem with the movie is that even if it has a plot and things happen, it still comes off as incredibly drab and it’s tough to get through without the added commentary of the MST3K cast.

I can look past the production values, the bad dubbing and the shoddy acting. I can’t, however, look beyond the fact that it’s about as energetic as watching a sloth eat a peanut butter sandwich. Colossus and the Headhunters is just a really boring film for the most part. And I think a lot of that has to do with just how generic the action is, even for its era.

I know that these sword and sandal movies had their fans back in the day but if I’m being honest, it’s the one once popular genre that I’ve never encountered a fan of. I know it’s a bygone style of film but lots of old, short-lived genres have their fan communities. I’ve just never heard anyone ever tell me that they’ve got a deep rooted love in the old school Hercules-esque flicks of yore.

Rating: 2.5/10
Pairs well with: the Hercules movies that were featured on MST3K.

Film Review: The Skydivers (1963)

Also known as: Fiend From Half Moon Bay, Panic at Half Moon Bay (alternative titles)
Release Date: November 13th, 1963 (San Francisco premiere)
Directed by: Coleman Francis
Written by: Coleman Francis
Music by: John Bath
Cast: Kevin Casey, Eric Tomlin, Anthony Cardoza, Marcia Knight, Titus Moede, Keith Walton, Paul Francis, Jimmy Bryant, Harold Saunders

Crown International Pictures, 75 Minutes

Review:

“Suzy, you’re a broad. Get lost!” – Harry Rowe

There are very few things in life as dull and boring as this movie. This is also painful to sit through, even with the added laughs provided by Mike and the ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Coleman Francis is synonymous with the dullest of all schlock. And out of all of his films, this one is absolutely the dullest of the lot.

What’s the plot?

There is none.

There’s just a fuck ton of skydiving and then some mundane talk about coffee sprinkled in to add some excitement.

According to Google, though, the film’s premise is this: A spiteful rich girl plots murder in an attempt to sabotage a sky-diving school run by an ex-GI and his wife.

Yeah, I guess it does have a semblance of a plot but I barely noticed.

Additionally, Wikipedia claims that this is generally considered to be the most watchable Coleman Francis film, albeit still of sub par quality. Citation definitely fucking needed there, Wikibois. I’d watch The Beast of Yucca Flats a hundred times over this shit festival.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about the movie. It’s mostly just skydiving footage with terrible acting, directing and writing trying to string this all together into something coherent. But it failed miserably.

Rating: 0.5/10
Pairs well with: other Coleman Francis schlock. Or if you want something less painful, skydiving into a volcano.

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: From Russia With Love (1963)

Release Date: October 10th, 1963 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Pedro Armendariz, Lotte Lenya, Robert Shaw, Bernard Lee, Daniela Bianchi, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Martine Beswick

Eon Productions, United Artists, 115 Minutes

Review:

“Siamese fighting fish, fascinating creatures. Brave but of the whole stupid. Yes they’re stupid. Except for the occasional one such as we have here who lets the other two fight. While he waits. Waits until the survivor is so exhausted that he cannot defend himself, and then like SPECTRE… he strikes!” – Blofeld

After the huge success of Dr. No, Eon Productions didn’t waste any time in fast tracking a sequel. While that usually results in shoddy results, what we actually got was one of the best James Bond films of all-time and my personal favorite out of the Connery pictures.

This also serves to establish SPECTRE as a much bigger threat than you might realize that they were when watching Dr. No. Blofeld makes an appearance here and he employs two of his best agents (and two of the best Bond villains ever) Rosa Klebb, SPECTRE’s “Number 3”, and Donald “Red” Grant, an incredibly talented and deadly assassin, who really is the evil counterpart to James Bond and the first time we’ve seen this sort of character.

What I really like about the Connery Bond pictures, especially the earliest ones, is that they had a seriousness about them. Sure, they were also playful, as Bond movies should be, but they also knew how to balance it really well. Bond doesn’t yet feel invincible and with the opening scene in this picture, where we see how astute Grant is at killing, the danger in this film feels much more real. I think the very dark opening, regardless of its narrative swerve did a lot in foreshadowing the tone of the rest of the picture.

This movie has a real grittiness to it. However, that grittiness started to dissipate with each new Bond film after this one. A grittiness that is mostly non-existent in the era of Roger Moore.

Part of that is due to the fight scenes. This has some of the best cinematic face offs that you will see from the 1960s. The confrontation between Bond and Grant on the train is almost strenuous to watch because it has a real sense of authenticity to it. It’s might vs. might, skill vs. skill, as two well trained men with deadly hands try to kill one another.

Also, Bond still has all of the elements that made him cool and tough in the first film but it’s at a whole different level here. Dr. No was the trial run and now, by film two, Connery seems more comfortable and familiar with the territory. And the best part, is that this was before the character started to become watered down and cliche. Connery’s Bond has a certain panache and gravitas and the writers weren’t trying to purposefully maximize it or fine tune it yet. Connery just put it out there, carried the film and it was all natural. Or at least it felt that way.

And while you don’t need a lot of money to make a good picture, this film had double the budget of its predecessor and it shows. All the on location stuff was great and even though I love the beauty of Jamaica, the Turkey scenes in this are majestic and made the scale of this film come across as much more epic.

From Russia With Love isn’t just one of the greatest James Bond films, it is one of the absolute best in the entire spy thriller genre.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.