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

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.

Film Review: Donovan’s Reef (1963)

Release Date: June 12th, 1963 (Philadelphia premiere)
Directed by: John Ford
Written by: James Edward Grant, Frank S. Nugent
Music by: Cyril Mockridge
Cast: John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Jack Warden, Elizabeth Allen, Jacqueline Malouf, Cesar Romero, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne, Dick Foran

Paramount Pictures, 109 Minutes

Review:

“Well, there is our Mike Donovan. Three children and not one marriage. Oh, I do not say that he’s the first man to put the cart before the horse, but three carts and no horse? Huh?” – Marquis Andre de Lage

John Ford and John Wayne made a lot of really good movies together. Some of them had Lee Marvin in them too. Well, this is one of them but sadly, it is the last of them.

This also has Jack Warden and Cesar Romero in it too though, as well as Elizabeth Allen, Dorothy Lamour, Mike Mazurki, Patrick Wayne and Dick Foran. Plus, it is shot in beautiful and luscious Hawaii at the height of the Tiki subculture’s popularity in America.

Donovan’s Reef is a really good and lighthearted movie. It’s a lot more playful than what Ford and Wayne collaborations typically were. Sure, they’d have some tiny comedic moments but this is really a straight up romantic comedy that just so happens to have a male lead with real gravitas.

The thing is, I love seeing Wayne be funny and playful and kind of hamming it up. He doesn’t lose his machismo and if anything, it’s that machismo that makes his lighter roles work so well. For instance, Rooster Cogburn isn’t remotely close to the quality of its predecessor True Grit but Wayne is so damn good in it, playing opposite of Katharine Hepburn in an “odd couple” sort of situation. This is like that in the way that Wayne isn’t afraid to step outside of being the quintessential badass of his era.

I also love Lee Marvin’s character in this and the rest of the cast is damn good too. Cesar Romero was friggin’ delightful. And the young Jacqueline Malouf was perfect and sweet in her role. I truly enjoyed Elizabeth Allen’s role in this though, as she was the perfect pairing for Wayne’s wit and for the romantic stuff. She was the typical “rich white lady thrown into an exotic culture” archetype but she evolved beyond that and gave the role a lot of personality.

This is a beautiful film to look at. Hawaii is majestic and it is on full display in this movie.

Donovan’s Reef was actually much better than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out. It’s definitely something I’ll probably revisit many times in the future.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Ford and Wayne collaborations. For the Tiki aesthetic, The Road to Bali which also features Dorothy Lamour. Also, Diamond Head, which was also filmed in Hawaii and features Elizabeth Allen.

Film Review: The Crawling Hand (1963)

Also known as: Don’t Cry Wolf, The Creeping Hand, Tomorrow You Die
Release Date: September 4th, 1963 (Hartford)
Directed by: Herbert L. Strock
Written by: Joseph Cranston, Bill Idelson, Herbert L. Strock, Robert M. Young
Music by: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Peter Breck, Kent Taylor, Rod Lauren, Alan Hale Jr., Allison Hayes, Sirry Steffen, Arline Judge

Joseph F. Robertson Productions, 89 Minutes

Review:

These really shitty no budget horror/sci-fi pictures from the 50s and 60s usually never had enough money to hire a full ensemble of characters. Well, this managed that feat except none of the actors are really notable except for Alan Hale Jr. but this came out a year before he was “The Skipper” on Gilligan’s Island.

The monster in this thing was literally a crawling hand. It was like Thing from The Addams Family except it was still attached to an arm that slowed it down and made it an even less effective monster.

The arm is all that’s left of an astronaut that exploded. However, the arm is possessed by a sinister alien. After a bunch of people are strangled to death by the alien possessed astro-arm, the town is saved by a hungry cat. I would’ve said “spoiler alert” but c’mon, I watch these things so you don’t have to.

The only real reason why this film even sees the light of day, five decades later, is that it was featured in the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in 1989.

The lighting in this movie is horrible, the acting is worse and the sound is pretty bad too. It is a visibly dark film but that was probably to obscure the monster in an effort to hide the effects, as it was obviously still attached to a human being for most scenes. They couldn’t pull this off with animatronics, as they didn’t quite exist in a really effective way in 1963. And whatever did exist would have cost money, which is something that this film didn’t have behind it.

This is a bad film but it isn’t so bad that watching it get riffed on MST3K isn’t a fun time. It certainly isn’t one of the worst films that was featured on that show. I rather enjoy that episode and this film being the focal point of it.

However, The Crawling Hand is most assuredly shit. And here at Cinespiria, we run these films through the trusty Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 1 Stool: Separate hard lumps, like nuts (hard to pass).”

Film Review: The Haunted Palace (1963)

Release Date: August 28th, 1963 (Cincinnati)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont
Based on: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft, The Haunted Palace poem by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Ronald Stein
Cast: Vincent Price, Debra Paget, Lon Chaney Jr., Elisha Cook Jr., Leo Gordon

American International Pictures, 87 Minutes 

Review:

“You do not know the extent of my appetite, Simon. I’ll not have my fill of revenge until this village is a graveyard. Until they have felt, as I did, the kiss of fire on their soft bare flesh. All of them. Have patience my friends. Surely, after all these years, I’m entitled to a few small amusements.” – Charles Dexter Ward

Out of all the Roger Corman and Vincent Price collaborations based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, my favorite is this film, The Haunted Palace. There are several reasons for this, as it may seem like an unorthodox choice. For one, despite the title being taken from an Edgar Allan Poe work, the story is actually based off of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Also, this was the first Vincent Price film I ever saw. Additionally, as much as I love the work of Poe, I am a bigger fan of H.P. Lovecraft, who gave us a rich and exciting mythos all his own along with a touch of insanity.

Roger Corman wanted to try something different after the success of his Poe films and he chose this H.P. Lovecraft tale. Against his wishes however, American International branded it with the name of a Poe poem in order to capitalize off of the success of the earlier films. They also ended the movie with Price narrating an excerpt from Poe.

The Lovecraft story gives this film a slightly different vibe than the other films in the massive Corman-Price-Poe series. Frankly, I think that the cinematography is the best in the series and the music is absolutely stellar. It relies less on some of Corman’s trippy effects, except for when a monster shows up in a pit, and it actually showcases Corman and his team’s talent in making the most out of their limited resources.

For one, the sets of the film, especially the village, were quite small. Corman shot a lot of these scenes using the trick of forced perspective but it comes across pretty flawlessly. Also, the matte paintings were fabulous and set the tone of the film. The haunted palace on the cliff in the background of the village was absolutely spectacular and emitted a feeling of cold dread.

The palace set seemed pretty grandiose. The scene where Debra Pagent and Frank Maxwell walk from the front door, through the hall and into the great living space of the old castle was a brilliantly done tracking shot that also used force perspective to make the set feel massive.

The painting of the sinister necromancer Joseph Curwen, which loomed above the large fireplace, was a beautiful and effective piece of artwork that was mesmerizing and helped to foreshadow his hold on the palace.

Vincent Price was at his very best. He played the evil Curwen and also his decedent, the nice and logical Charles Dexter Ward, a man who would become possessed by his ancestor. The speech that Price gives as Curwen, in the beginning before his first demise, was one of the greatest moments in Price’s storied career. The words, the execution, all of it was chilling and set the stage for what was to come.

Lon Chaney Jr. also appears in this and it is the only time he ever worked with Roger Corman. He had worked on a film with Price once before but the two did not share any scenes and Price only provided voiceover work. That film was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This film is the first and only time that horror legends Vincent Price and Lon Chaney Jr. got to share the screen. However, Chaney’s role was originally intended to be for Boris Karloff but he got sick while filming Black Sabbath for Mario Bava in Italy.

The Haunted Palace is perfectly paced and more interesting than the other Corman-Price-Poe films, in my opinion. It builds suspense and is well acted, even by the lesser-known actors who make up the villagers.

The only real weakness in the film is the Lovecraftian monster in the pit. It is literally a slimy looking statue of a beast under vibrant lighting and trippy LSD-like effects. Thankfully, the creature only appears very briefly and the real monster of the picture is Price’s Joseph Curwen.

The film is also full of several villagers with odd mutations. Only one of them is actually dangerous but they are used pretty effectively to frighten Price and Pagent as they walk through the quiet village at night.

The opening credits sequence features a spider spinning a web and catching a butterfly, only to eat it. It is scored by Ronald Stein and paints the perfect tone, as this film starts. The Haunted Palace features the best score of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures.

To me, The Haunted Palace is the perfect Vincent Price film. It employs some of his best acting moments, it showcases his great work with Roger Corman and it has a strong Victorian horror vibe that reflects the horror trends of its era.

While I know that this isn’t most people’s favorite of the Corman-Price-Poe film series but, for me, it just resonates in a way that the others don’t. I love all these pictures but it is The Haunted Palace that takes the cake for me. I only wish we could’ve gotten more Lovecraft movies with Price on screen and Corman behind the camera.