Film Review: Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

Also known as: Frankenstein Made Woman (Portugal)
Release Date: March 15th, 1967 (US)
Directed by: Terence Fisher
Written by: Anthony Hinds (as John Elder)
Based on: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Music by: James Bernard
Cast: Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Hammer Film Productions, 86 Minutes (UK), 92 Minutes (US)

Review:

“Bodies are easy to come by, souls are not.” – Baron Frankenstein

I was working my way through the Hammer Films Frankenstein series but I had to jump ahead to this, the fourth installment, as it’s the only one I don’t own on DVD and I can only see it on FilmStruck, which is sadly closing up shop November 29th.

This one is a bit different than the three before it, as Baron Frankenstein actually seems pretty level headed and exhibits some empathy. While I prefer the mad scientist role for Cushing, he was never quite as mad as Colin Clive’s Frankenstein and he actually seemed fairly rational at times. I guess, he was less cartoony but at the same time, his evil nature felt more pure and less like a caricature.

I do enjoy seeing Cushing’s Frankenstein seeming to have learned from his past mistakes and shitty behavior. That doesn’t mean he’s stopped his work but he is more responsible and less reckless with it.

Also, his work has strangely evolved, as now he’s found a way to trap the souls of the recently deceased in an effort to put them in a new body and give them life again. It’s a really bizarre turn but I’ll accept it, as this is the fourth of these films and it allows for some creative freedom and not just a rehash of the standard Frankenstein plot.

The monster in this chapter is a young girl with a disfigured face. But before she becomes a monster, we see her and her father constantly bullied by three rich assholes from the village. The girl’s boyfriend is one of Frankenstein’s assistants but he is blamed for the murder of the girl’s father, which was actually committed by the rich assholes when they were trying to steal wine. The assistant is executed but Frankenstein is able to trap his soul and return it to his deceased body.

The girl is severely upset over the death of her boyfriend so she drowns herself. The body is eventually brought to Frankenstein, who is able to not only revive her but to cure her of her disfigurement and physical handicaps. But she loses her memory while Frankenstein and his assistant Hertz try to slowly bring her back towards a normal life.

As she starts to remember things, she is taken over by the vengeful spirit of her dead boyfriend. Possessed, she exacts revenge on the three assholes who killed her father, allowed her boyfriend to be executed and eventually drove her to suicide.

There are a lot of twists and turns and the plot is absolutely bonkers but it’s pretty exciting if you are a fan of Hammer.

Cushing gives a solid performance and I really liked Susan Denberg, as she had a lot of different angles and personalities she had to convey within the 92 minute run time.

This is not a great Hammer movie or anywhere near Terence Fisher’s best but it reinvented the wheel a little bit and for some, that might not work, but for me, I welcomed it, suspended disbelief and just accepted the insanity of the plot.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: You Only Live Twice (1967)

Release Date: June 12th, 1967 (London premiere)
Directed by: Lewis GIlbert
Written by: Roald Dahl, Harold Jack Bloom
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Sean Connery, Akiko Wakabayashi, Tetsuro Tamba, Mie Hama, Teru Shimada, Karin Dor, Bernard Lee, Lois Maxwell, Desmond Llewelyn, Charles Gray, Donald Pleasence

Toho Co Ltd. (assisted on production in Japan), Eon Productions, United Artists, 117 Minutes

Review:

“I shall look forward personally to exterminating you, Mr. Bond.” – Ernst Stavro Blofeld

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people consider this film the one where James Bond movies dipped in quality. I disagree with that, as I love this film and it is one of my favorites in the whole series.

I also connect to this chapter in the series pretty deeply on a nostalgic level, so I may have a bias towards it in that regard.

The thing is, this is where Bond and Blofeld come face to face. I am a huge fan of SPECTRE and their long story arc in the Connery and Lazenby films. I am also a huge fan of Donald Pleasence and he’s f’n great as Blofeld and is my favorite version of the character. This is also the version that would inspire Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies.

Additionally, I love the Japan elements, especially the ninja army. The scene where the ninjas storm Blofeld’s volcano lair and are dropping from the ceiling with machine guns and swords still looks absolutely incredible. It’s one of my favorite sequences from any James Bond movie.

Being that I am a fan of kaiju movies, especially those put out by Toho Co. Ltd., I love that they were involved in the production of this picture and lent some of their acting talent to Eon. Mie Hama and Akiko Wakabayashi, the two Japanese Bond Girls in this film, have been in several Toho productions between Godzilla films and other sci-fi epics put out by Toho. Sadly, no cameo by Godzilla himself.

Another thing I love in this film is the big helicopter battle in the middle of the picture. For the 1960s, it was well shot, the special effects looked good and it was pretty exciting. It still plays well today.

Now the film does have some cheese and I think that’s what seems to be some people’s issue with it.

The whole sequence where Bond has to get a wig and prosthetics to look Japanese is laughably bad and so is the final result, as it just looks like Sean Connery with a bad haircut. I don’t really understand the point of the wig either, as most of the real Japanese men in the film have hairstyles closer to Connery’s natural look. This whole cringe fest is one of those things that would severely upset the overly sensitive audiences of today.

This is the last of the great Sean Connery James Bond films though. He would quit after this picture but come back later, two more times. One for Eon with the film Diamonds Are Forever and once more for another studio for Never Say Never Again, which isn’t an official Bond picture and is really just a shoddy remake of Thunderball.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: The other Sean Connery James Bond movies, as well as that George Lazenby one.

Film Review: The Producers (1967)

Also known as: Mel Brooks’ The Producers (complete title), Springtime for Hitler (alternate title)
Release Date: November 22nd, 1967 (Pittsburgh premiere)
Directed by: Mel Brooks
Written by: Mel Brooks
Music by: John Morris
Cast: Zero Mostel, Gene Wilder, Kenneth Mars, Dick Shawn, Lee Meredith, William Hickey, Mel Brooks (voice)

Embassy Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“How could this happen? I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?” – Max Bialystock

I have seen just about every Mel Brooks film, as well as the remake of The Producers, the stage show and the season of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry was starring in the play. But I have never seen the original.

Being a fan of early Mel Brooks movies and Gene Wilder, I’m surprised it took me this long to get to the film but I spend a lot of time watching complete dreck because I review a lot of obscure movies, some of which I discover should remain obscure and mostly unknown.

Anyway, I was glad to see this pop up on FilmStruck because I’ve always wanted to watch it and because I needed something funny and entertaining to get me out of the funk I was in after a half dozen horrible pictures.

Quite frankly, this is one of the funniest movies I have ever seen. It is in the upper echelon of all comedy for me and right up at the top of the list of Mel Brooks’ best. This and Young Frankenstein take the cake for me but it’s hard to decide between the two.

What makes this film unique in comparison to Brooks’ most famous work, is that it isn’t parody. This is an original story and it showed that Brooks can make comedy gold outside of just making fun of genre tropes.

Plus, the superb talent of Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel is on full display here, as both men play off of each other so well, they almost have a presence similar to other great duos like Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello and well… Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.

The cast is also rounded out by other hilarious performances. Kenneth Mars is hysterical, as is Dick Shawn. In fact, Shawn really steals the show in the few scenes he has.

This is a rather short film, at just shy of 90 minutes, but it packs a lot of laughs and energy into that time.

The Producers is absolutely one of the greatest things that Mel Brooks has ever done. It has held up exceptionally well and deserves its status as a true comedy classic.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: Other early Mel Brooks films: Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.

Film Review: Branded to Kill (1967)

Also known as: Koroshi no rakuin (Japanese)
Release Date: June 15th, 1967 (Japan)
Directed by: Seijun Suzuki
Written by: Hachiro Guryu
Music by: Naozumi Yamamoto
Cast: Joe Shishido, Koji Nanbara, Annu Mari, Mariko Ogawa, Hiroshi Minami

Nikkatsu, 98 Minutes

Review:

“This is how Number 1 works: first he exhausts you, and then he kills you.” – Number 1

While I have only seen a handful of Seijun Suzuki’s motion pictures, he has become one of my favorite directors of all-time. Between this and Tokyo Drifter alone, he has proven to me that he is a true auteur with an incredible eye, an enchanting style and impeccable craftsmanship.

I thought Tokyo Drifter was one of the coolest, if not the coolest, movies I have ever seen. Branded to Kill is nearly as cool and just as perfect as Tokyo Drifter.

Suzuki has a way of taking something pretty standard like a Yakuza picture and making it much more interesting than it needs to be. But that is also why his films are so unique and incredible and not just forgettable chapters in a massive genre of Japanese cinema.

The bizarreness of this film can’t be understated. The main character is an assassin for hire and is ranked Number 3. He is in a battle with the other ranked assassins throughout the film but is specifically being targeted by Number 1. He also has a fetish that sees him obsessively inhaling the aromas of freshly boiled rice.

The movie is mostly a series of assassin battles playing out, as these killers try to outwit and survive one another. The story also has strong film-noir elements in its visual style, use of a femme fatale and constant twists and turns. It is one of the most artistically sound Japanese neo-noirs of all-time, right alongside Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter.

It is easy to see where some other noteworthy auteur directors were influenced and inspired by Suzuki’s work here. The film almost has some David Lynch qualities too it, decades before Lynch really emerged and crafted his own interesting oeuvre. It would also influence John Woo, Chan-wook Park, Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino.

Interestingly enough, this film made no money upon its release and Suzuki was fired for making films that “…make no sense and no money.” Suzuki successfully sued the studio and caused a major controversy within the Japanese film industry, which resulted in him being blacklisted. He didn’t make another film for ten years and became a sort of counterculture hero. Because of this, he became recognized as an artist with something more to say than just a standard director pumping out low budget gangster movies for a paycheck.

Nowadays, this film is heralded as an incredible body of work and even has its own Criterion Collection edition.

Over thirty years later, Suzuki filmed Pistol Opera for Nikkatsu, the studio he had the falling out with. That film was a loose sequel to this one.

Rating: 9.75/10
Pairs well with: Seijun Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, as well as some of his other films: Youth of the Beast, Pistol Opera and Gate of Flesh.

Film Review: The Wild Rebels (1967)

Also known as: The Angels of Satan (West Germany)
Release Date: September, 1967
Directed by: William Grefe
Written by: William Grefe
Music by: Al Jacobs
Cast: Steve Alaimo, Bobbie Byers, John Vella, Willie Pastrano, Jeff Gillen

Comet, Crown International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“He’s square baby. Really square. ” – Banjo, “Look, you just keep trying to put that square peg in a round hole and everything’ll be FINE!” – Rod

If a movie is featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, it is pretty much guaranteed to be a total shitfest. There are only a few movies MST3K featured that were probably better than you’d expect but they either featured Godzilla or had something really unique about them. The Wild Rebels isn’t quite at the bottom of the MST3K barrel but that doesn’t mean it isn’t bad.

It is a bad biker picture that came out in an era with a slew of bad biker pictures, many of which were also featured on MST3K. I do like this one, even if I have to be honest and give it a low rating. It is easier to watch than most of the others and maybe I feel a bit of favoritism because it was filmed in South Florida, where I’m from and still live.

But it goes beyond that. In fact, I actually like the big shootout finale in the lighthouse, which I’m pretty sure was filmed at the Cape Florida Lighthouse on Key Biscayne. I used to go there as a kid and never realized that a movie was shot there, albeit a shitty movie. Still that’s pretty cool but locale aside, the scenes that took place there were much better than the scenes in the majority of the other bad biker pictures of the ’60s. Also, the gun store robbery, while hokey as all hell, was still an amusing sequence.

Look, this is not a technical marvel or a film that is well directed, well acted or really boasts any other positives other than a few fun bits. However, even though it is bad, it is still better than it deserves to be, at least in my opinion and I’ve seen a ton of these crappy B-movie biker exploitation films.

Yes, the rating for this movie is low but it was one of only a few films featured on MST3K that I will liberate from the strong clutches of the Cinespiria Shitometer.

Rating: 3.75/10

Film Review: Le Samouraï (1967)

Also known as: The Samurai (worldwide English title), The Godson (US dubbed version and Australia)
Release Date: October 25th, 1967 (France)
Directed by: Jean-Pierre Melville
Written by: Jean-Pierre Melville, Georges Pellegrin
Music by: François de Roubaix
Cast: Alain Delon, François Périer, Nathalie Delon, Cathy Rosier

S.N. Prodis, 105 Minutes

kinopoisk.ru

Review:

“I don’t like forcing the pace to extract confessions or get information. I’m very liberal, a great believer in the liberty of the individual… in people’s right to live as they choose. Provided that the way of life they choose harms no one else… and is contrary to neither law and order nor public decency.” – Superintendent

What happens when the French and the Italians get together, take a bit of American film-noir and a bit of Japanese jidaigeki and meld them together into one solid thing? Well, you get this incredible film that gives us a character that is part noir-esque hitman and part drifter samurai.

To call Le Samouraï “unique” is a bit of an understatement.

The film starts by following Jef Costello (Alain Delon) into a jazz lounge. He murders a man there and is seen by a few witnesses, as he makes his escape. Suspects are rounded up by the police, Jef being one of them. The lounge’s resident piano player recognizes Jef but she doesn’t dime him out to the police. Jef then goes to get paid for the hit but he is double crossed and shot by his contact. Jef escapes but now he must uncover who it is that hired him and why his contact shot him, all while evading the Parisian police that are closing in on him and his girlfriend/alibi, Jane.

While this entire film is enhanced by rich and astounding cinematography, the film truly comes alive during the cat and mouse chase scene between Jef and undercover cops through the Paris Metro system. This is a superb sequence and one of the best cat and mouse games ever played out on celluloid. Jef is aware of his surroundings and the game being played and outwits and stays ahead of the law trying to get their hands on him.

This film has style and it has a great tone to match. The characters are cool, the places are cool and the film, itself, is really friggin’ cool. I put this up there with Tokyo Drifter as one of the coolest motion pictures I have ever seen. Strangely, they both came out around the same time, are both foreign films (from different countries) and both have a lot of narrative and atmospheric similarities. In fact, I’m going to have to watch these two movies as a double header one night.

Alain Delon is an attractive man but he plays the role cold and with a dead pan look on his face in every scene. He is too cool for emotion and he doesn’t need his looks and a sexy smile to generate charm and charisma. While he has a few women in his life, over the course of the film, like the jidaigeki samurai hero of Kurosawa films, he is a man of his own and drifts in and out, never getting too attached. However, in contrast to the cinematic samurai, Jef does succumb to his affections in the final moments of the film. But who can fault the French? They really are romantics.

Le Samouraï is damn close to being a masterpiece. It is fine in every aspect of filmmaking and is a great homage to its influences. While it taps into film-noir and jidaigeki, it also taps into a giallo style, which the Italians were yet to fully unleash on the world.

Rating: 9/10

Film Review: The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

Also known as: The Blood Demon, The Snake Pit and the Pendulum, Castle of the Walking Dead
Release Date: October 5th, 1967 (West Germany)
Directed by: Harald Reinl
Written by: Manfred R. Kohler
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Peter Thomas
Cast: Christopher Lee, Karin Dor, Lex Barker, Carl Lange

Constantin Film, Hemisphere Pictures, 80 Minutes

Review:

“The blood is the life.” – Count Frederic Regula

I love Christopher Lee, that is not a secret. However, he is only in the opening sequence of this film and then doesn’t appear again until the last twenty minutes. That being said, the film isn’t a complete waste.

All the main actors are pretty decent with their material, although the material isn’t great. The story is based off of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum and we have also had a few adaptations of that story by the time this came out. This version is German and it takes some big liberties, which do set it apart.

For one, the story has a snake pit instead of just some long drop into nothingness. Also, the madman is pretty much a resurrected ghost – played by Lee in chalky white makeup. Plus, there is a whole horse and carriage journey that takes up the bulk of the film, until the people arrive at the haunted castle.

The sets look cheap and resembles a low budget spook house from the 1960s more than a real scary horror filled fortress. But hey, it still looks pretty cool and the wall paintings are neat. Also, the lighting is striking and vibrant and the film has a subtle giallo presentation to it.

Christopher Lee overtakes the scenes that he is in but there aren’t many. The leading lady had a very strong Barbara Steele vibe but wasn’t quite Steele. The main fellow was okay but nothing exciting. The guy who plays the priest/bandit was really fun though.

This was one of the few Christopher Lee films of the 1960s that I had not seen. Being that it was available on Amazon Video for Prime members gave me the opportunity to finally check it out. While I’m glad I did, it really isn’t anything that people who aren’t die hard Lee fans will enjoy.