Film Review: Witchfinder General (1968)

Also known as: The Conqueror Worm (theatrical title), Matthew Hopkins: Witchfinder General (UK complete title), Matthew Hopkins: Conqueror Worm (US complete title), Edgar Allan Poe’s The Conqueror Worm (US promotional title)
Release Date: May 15th, 1968 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Michael Reeves
Written by: Tom Baker, Michael Reeves, Louis M. Heyward
Based on: Witchfinder General by Ronald Bassett
Music by: Paul Ferris
Cast: Vincent Price, Ian Ogilvy, Rupert Davies, Wilfrid Brambell, Patrick Wymark, Robert Russell, Nicky Henson, Hilary Dwyer

Tigon British Film Productions, American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“Men sometimes have strange motives for the things they do.” – Matthew Hopkins

I always get Witchfinder General a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm and Cry of the Banshee mixed up in my head. They both star Vincent Price in a very similar role, deal with the same subject matter and came out around the same time.

This is the superior of the two films and it boasts one of Price’s greatest performances. It’s also more grounded than 1970’s Cry of the Banshee, which honestly feels like it was made just to piggyback off of this film’s momentum.

The story, here, follows Matthew Hopkins, a famous (or infamous) witch-hunter. It shows his corruption, how he uses his power to rule over those who fear him and what lengths he’s willing to go to essentially prove that he is the ruler of his own domain.

For those who don’t know, Hopkins was a real historical figure and with that, this film had a bit more chutzpah to it than Cry of the Banshee. There was something really sinister about the fact that this was a real guy. Sure, this was glamorized and took some liberties, as it’s a film that had to up the ante and lean into the horror bits, but from what I’ve read about the guy, none of this really seems out of character and in fact, Price’s portrayal of the character may have been tame by comparison. I mean, in just the three years that Hopkins claimed to be the “Witchfinder General”, he killed more suspected witches than his contemporaries did in the previous 100 years.

This is a fairly compelling film, even if it is a bit slow. But even with its apparent faults, Price’s performance is damn convincing and truly elevates what would’ve been a mundane picture, otherwise.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Golden Eyes (1968)

Also known as: Hyappatsu hyakuchû: Ôgon no me (original Japanese title), Booted Babe, Busted Boss, Ironfinger Strikes Back (alternative titles)
Release Date: March 16th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Jun Fukuda
Written by: Jun Fukuda, Ei Ogawa, Michio Tsuzuki
Music by: Masaru Sato
Cast: Akira Takarada, Beverly Maeda, Tomomi Sawa, Andrew Hughes, Makoto Sato, Yoshio Tsuchiya

Toho Co. Ltd., 80 Minutes

Review:

Since I thought Jun Fukuda’s Ironfinger was a pretty solid spy comedy, I wanted to give its sequel a watch, as well.

Fukuda is mostly known, at least in the States, for being one of the two most prominent directors of classic Godzilla pictures. While he doesn’t seem to be held in the same regard as Ishiro Honda, I always saw the two directors as fairly equal. Honda, however, did more of the earlier Godzilla films, where Fukuda did more of the later ones, which some fans like less due to them becoming more and more kid friendly as the franchise rolled on.

Fukuda did lots of other pictures over his career, though, especially for Toho, who loved pumping out quick sci-fi/tokusatsu fare. But between those movies, Toho also had Fukuda do these cool, ’60s spy flicks.

It’s obvious that these films are inspired by the James Bond movies of the era, as well as other spy flicks. At the time, there were many spy comedies like this, which sort of parody the genre but don’t completely deconstruct it like the Austin Powers movies would do later on.

This one pretty much follows the beats and tone of its predecessor but I didn’t enjoy it as much. There are some insanely goofy moments and some of the more over-the-top antics felt like they were too hammy.

For instance, there’s a gunfight scene where the heroes throw two assault rifles closer to the baddies and then shoot the rifles with their own guns, lifting them into the air from bullet ricochets where they fire and kill the villains. It’s f’n ridiculous and while it’s funny, it’s a “jump the shark” moment that happens pretty early into the film.

Still, I did enjoy Akira Takarada in this, as the spy hero. He’s just a good, fun actor and he was in dozens of Toho pictures and also worked with Jun Fukuda quite a bit.

Now I did miss Mie Hama in this one but since these movies are essentially ripping off James Bond, we can’t have the same chick in both films.

In the end, this isn’t as good as Ironfinger but it’s still cool and enjoyable if you like ’60s spy comedies.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, Ironfinger, as well as other ’60s spy comedies.

*No trailer available online.

Film Review: Gamera vs. Viras (1968)

Also known as: Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu (original Japanese title), Gamera vs. Bairus (alternative spelling), Destroy All Planets, Gamera vs. Outer Space Monster Viras (US alternative titles)
Release Date: March 20th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Written by: Niisan Takahashi
Music by: Kenjiro Hirose
Cast: Kojiro Hongo, Toru Takatsuka, Carl Craig

Daiei Studios, 90 Minutes (TV cut), 81 Minutes (theatrical cut)

Review:

“Attention all spaceship crew members. Attention all spaceship crew members. Gamera has been located. He’s at the bottom of the ocean. Prepare to attack at once. Activate the super catch ray.” – Doctor A

This Gamera film is really a mixed bag but due to the behind the scenes troubles that Toei was dealing with at the time, their shortcuts in this film are somewhat excusable and the new stuff is pretty enjoyable for a Gamera picture.

What I’m referring to is that the studio was in financial trouble and they needed to make some money to stay afloat. The biggest money maker for them was the Gamera film series but since money was tight, this picture reuses footage from previous ones.

So on one hand, this plays like a Gamera’s Greatest Battles compilation while also providing a new, cool alien threat and an awesome kaiju creature for Gamera to fight in the final act.

From my youth, this was the Gamera movie that always stuck out in my memories, as the set design of the alien ship was just f’n cool. It’s pretty simplistic and just uses triangular screens and flashing light panels but it’s surrealness just burned into my brain. Plus, the outside design of the alien ship is cool and I always wanted a toy of it.

I also liked the monster Viras, who was essentially just a space squid with a sharp, pointed head and the ability to fly.

The plot is wonky as shit and the overall production is cheap and noticeable, even for a Gamera picture.

Still, this isn’t a bad way to waste some time, especially if you’re a kaiju fan and haven’t seen this one.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other classic era Gamera films.

Film Review: The Wrecking Crew (1968)

Release Date: December 25th, 1968 (Canada)
Directed by: Phil Karlson
Written by: William McGivern
Based on: The Wrecking Crew by Donald Hamilton
Music by: Hugo Montenegro
Cast: Dean Martin, Elke Sommer, Sharon Tate, Nancy Kwan, Nigel Green, Tina Louise, Wilhelm von Homburg (uncredited), Chuck Norris (uncredited)

Meadway-Claude Productions, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“So this is the place I was gonna get shot in the back. Kind of a stylish pad to take off from.” – Matt Helm

I’ve arrived at the fourth and final Matt Helm film and while the Dean Martin spy comedies have been enjoyable, this one showed me that maybe they had already run out of steam.

That’s not to say that this one wasn’t enjoyable, it was, but it was the weakest in the series and just felt like everyone involved was simply running through the motions and the entire production had become a paint-by-numbers affair.

Sure, Martin is still charming and suave and the women are beautiful. But this really felt like they were dialing it in, trying to get one last glass of milk out of the cow.

However, if they did make a fifth film, I’d still watch it. It’s hard not to like Dean Martin in this role, as it’s tailor made for him and who the hell doesn’t like Dean Martin?

One of the strong points in this film was the villain, who was played by Nigel Green, who is most known for his roles in classic horror films.

This is also sort of bittersweet in that it was Sharon Tate’s last movie before she was murdered by the Manson Family in 1969. I enjoyed her in this but I think that she hadn’t reached her full potential and it’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve grown into a real film star that could’ve carried a production on her own.

The film also featured a bunch of boxers, wrestlers and martial artists, all of whom were uncredited for their small roles. However, it’s worth mentioning that Bruce Lee worked on the film, behind the scenes, and this was also Chuck Norris’ first film, even though he’s so far under the radar that I didn’t even notice him.

Another interesting thing about this movie is that it was directed by the same guy who did the first Matt Helm picture, Phil Karlson. He’s a director mostly known for his fine noir movies and while I enjoy his work in the Matt Helm series, it doesn’t quite live up to the movies he did before them.

The Wrecking Crew was an okay finale to the Matt Helm film series. It could’ve tried a little bit harder and gave fans something better but in the end, it did get this far and that’s something.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: The SilencersMurderers’ Row and The Ambushers: the other Matt Helm films.

Film Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Also known as: Two Thousand and One: A Space Odyssey (alternative title), Journey Beyond the Stars, How the Solar System Was Won (working titles)
Release Date: April 2nd, 1968 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Written by: Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke
Based on: 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Sentinel by Arthur C. Clarke
Music by: various
Cast: Keir Dullea, Gary Lockwood, William Sylvester, Douglas Rain (voice), Vivian Kubrick (uncredited)

Stanley Kubrick Productions, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 149 Minutes, 142 Minutes (theatrical release), 161 Minutes (initial release)

Review:

“I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.” – HAL-9000

This is my 2001st film review here on Talking Pulp (formerly Cinespiria) and I held off on reviewing this a few months back because I figured I’d save it for this special occasion. I’m also planning on reviewing its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, for my 2010th. So look for that one in a little less than a week.

Well, I guess I should start this review by saying that it is one of the three films in my Holy Trinity of Motion Pictures alongside The Good, The Bad & The Ugly and The Dark Knight. So I do have a bias and a bit of favoritism towards this picture but that’s also because it’s a fucking masterpiece of cinematic perfection.

And really, that actually makes this harder to review, as I don’t want to just come across as someone who can’t find flaws in the picture and only sees it through rose colored glasses.

This is cinematic art, however, and it redefined what motion pictures could be forever.

Stanley Kubrick was one of the greatest directors that ever existed and even though I think he’s made multiple masterpieces, one of them has to be the best and in my opinion, it is this film.

The story has multiple parts to it and this is a fairly long movie. Despite that, it plays well and moves at a perfect pace, even if some sequences move slowly. While this isn’t really considered a thriller, one specific part of the film very much is and everything surrounding that is done so well that even if I’ve seen this well over a dozen times, it still works for me, every time I watch this.

The acting is understated but in that, it generates a lot of emotion, dread and this is almost a thinking man’s movie. It explores interesting concepts, presents them in a unique way and it doesn’t insult the intelligence of the viewer.

In fact, it does the stark opposite of that and it relies on the audience to pay attention, follow along and figure out things on their own. While I think that the messages and the story are pretty clear, it does leave the film open for some interpretation and the debates people have had for decades over the “meaning” of this film are just as entertaining as the picture itself.

I’ve debated parts of this movie with other film lovers for years and almost every time, I’m left with something new to think about or a detail that eluded me and makes me want to go back and watch the film again.

I don’t want to spoil the plot for the few who might not have seen this film. And frankly, it’s not all that easy to summarize. Maybe, at some point, I’ll write a multi-part essay series on it. Or I’ll bring people in to talk about it if I ever do something with the YouTube channel again.

2001 is perfect in every way, though. Sure, some may disagree and that’s fine but for me, it’s the greatest thing Kubrick, a true master, has directed. It also features some of the best cinematography and sound in motion picture history. And for the time, this, hands down, had the best special effects ever seen on the big screen. Over fifty years later, this looks so much better than the CGI effects of today.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, as well as other Stanley Kubrick pictures.

Film Review: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Release Date: February 8th, 1968 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner
Written by: Michael Wilson, Rod Sterling
Based on: Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith
Cast: Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Kim Hunter, James Whitmore, James Daly, Linda Harrison, Norman Burton

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty ape!” – George Taylor

I’ve been meaning to review the original Planet of the Apes film series for quite awhile but I’ve also been meaning to review a lot of other films too and I can only do so much at a time.

Anyway, I’m here now and I’m glad that I revisited this, as it’s actually been a really long time since I’ve watched the original five films. In fact, it would’ve been before the 2011 reboot series started.

While I’ve always loved the Planet of the Apes concept and I’ve enjoyed all the films in their own way, I never found myself being super nostalgic for them. That’s probably a generational thing, as the first film came out more than ten years before I was born. However, these movies were on television a lot and I grew to really love them but nowhere near as much as the other franchises I loved before I was born like Godzilla, Star Trek, Doctor Who and James Bond.

This first movie is, hands down, the best of the lot. I like the story of the fourth film best overall and it’s the one I would watch the most but this film is on a different level, as far as being cinematic art.

Also, a lot of this film’s greatness is due to Charlton Heston. While he also appears in the first sequel, from memory, that film was an extreme misfire and surprisingly didn’t wreck the franchise. Granted, I’ll have a clearer view on it after I revisit it and review it in about a week.

This film follows a group of astronauts after an accident, they wind up on a planet ruled by intelligent apes. Heston is the only one to really survive through the whole ordeal and the movie focuses on his captivity and his being immersed in ape culture. Mostly, the film serves as a sort of metaphor for xenophobia and bigotry. I think it was Hollywood’s way of making that message more palatable than trying to be heavy-handed about it. Plus, this was supposed to be entertainment. Maybe modern Hollywood should’ve taken notes from older Hollywood. But the message here isn’t too dissimilar from what Stan Lee tried to convey in his ’60s X-Men comics.

The point is, art doesn’t need to be extremely literal. The message, if presented well, can come across and seep into the minds of the art consuming masses. Planet of the Apes succeeded in that regard and that’s probably why it became such an iconic picture in the science fiction genre, which still was a long way off from reaching full acceptance by the general public.

Low brow entertainment aside, this is a well-crafted film with good pacing and even better cinematography and shot framing. From top-to-bottom, it’s a competent picture. It is also well acted and has some of the best special effects of its time. The ape makeup still looks tremendous in spite of its limitations. I was glad that Tim Burton carried the practical, physical style of effects into his 2001 reboot.

Ultimately, the original Planet of the Apes is a true science fiction classic, deserving of its praise and longevity.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.

Film Review: The Green Slime (1968)

Also known as: Ganmā Daisan Gō: Uchū Daisakusen (original Japanese title), After the Destruction of Space Station Gamma: Big Military Operation, Battle Beyond the Stars, Death and the Green Slime, Gamma #3 Big Military Space Operation, The Battle of Space Station Gamma (alternative titles)
Release Date: July 6th, 1968 (Trieste Sci-Fi Film Festival – Italy)
Directed by: Kinji Fukasaku
Written by: William Finger, Tom Rowe, Charles Sinclair, Ivan Reiner
Music by: Toshiaki Tsushima
Cast: Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, Luciana Paluzzi

Lun Film, Ram Films Inc., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Toei, 90 Minutes, 77 Minutes (laserdisc edit)

Review:

“Jack, do you realize that this is the first time that anything living has been found in space? Do you know how terribly important that is?” – Lisa Benson

The Green Slime is a really interesting movie for a multitude of reasons.

To start, it was the first film ever featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before the show was on national cable television and it was just a little show from a local Minneapolis TV station. And, honestly, it is much better than the standard level of schlock that MST3K features.

Additionally, the movie is a co-production between America’s MGM studios and Japan’s Toei studios, a production company primarily known for tokusatsu (Japanese sci-fi). Around the same time, Toei gave us Yongary, Monster From the Deep, Invasion of the Neptune Men and The Magic Serpent. They would also go on to create Super Sentai (a.k.a. Power Rangers), Kamen Rider, VR Troopers, Beetleborgs, as well as developing a major animation studio: Toei Animation.

On top of that, the production was made in Japan and in the Japanese tokusatsu style but it featured a cast of western and Italian actors. The most notable star is probably Luciana Paluzzi, who some might recognize from her role as Fiona Volpe (a.k.a. Number Ten), a member of the villainous SPECTRE in the classic James Bond picture Thunderball.

Now this movie looks just like you would expect, if you’ve watched ’60s tokusatsu films. While Toei wasn’t quite on the level of Toho, the studio behind Godzilla, the miniatures in this film are pretty decent and the sets work really well for what this is. In fact, this is one of the best looking and impressive productions that Toei had done up to this point. MGM co-financing the project may have a lot to do with that though.

The alien creatures are also pretty cool and while they look like normal tokusatsu-type monsters, they seem a little more refined and built with a greater emphasis on detail. They’re not fantastic alien creatures but they’re still damn cool and were effective as the threat in this picture.

I’m not sure why this has a 4.8 on IMDb but most people don’t enjoy the finer things in life like the tokusatsu aesthetic.

Out of all the movies that have been riffed on MST3KThe Green Slime is one of the best and shouldn’t be viewed as a film that belongs to be in the same company as something like Red Zone Cuba.

In fact, I’d say that this was around the same level as This Island Earth.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other tokusatsu movies that featured western actors, as well as ’60s non-kaiju tokusatsu in general.

Documentary Review: Portrait: Orson Welles (1968)

Release Date: June, 1968
Directed by: François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Written by: Maurice Bessy, François Reichenbach, Frédéric Rossif
Cast: Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Pierre Vaneck (narrator)

41 Minutes

Review:

Orson Welles has always fascinated me. Well, at least since I learned about him extensively in my high school film studies course.

Luckily, there are a ton of biographies and documentaries about the man and his work.

This documentary is unique though, as it was made for French television in the ’60s. I guess it didn’t actually air and was sort of lost to time and only resurfaced after being included in a Criterion Collection featuring some of Welles’ work.

The short film doesn’t play like a standard biographical documentary, though. It really just follows Welles around a bit, talking about his struggles in getting his art made, while also editing in some clips of Welles interviews.

This is a pretty up close and personal peek into Welles’ life at the time that this was made and honestly, it feels kind of like a time capsule.

While I wouldn’t call this a spectacular piece or the best of the many Welles documentaries, it is still worth a look for those who feel like they may want to see the man, as himself, more intimately.

I also couldn’t find a trailer for this short ’60s documentary, probably because one doesn’t exist, so I instead posted one of my favorite Welles scenes of all-time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Orson Welles documentaries, which there are plenty of.

Film Review: The Living Skeleton (1968)

Also known as: Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (original title)
Release Date: November 9th, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Hiroshi Matsuno
Written by: Kikuma Shimoiizaka, Kyūzō Kobayashi
Music by: Noboru Nishiyama
Cast: Kikko Matsuoka, Yasunori Irikawa, Masumi Okada, Nobuo Kaneko, Kō Nishimura

Shochiku, 80 Minutes

Review:

The Living Skeleton is two things: eerie and atmospheric. It also reminds me of the darker episodes of the Japanese TV show Ultra Q, which was like a Japanese X-Files, three decades before that show even existed.

But it is darker and more haunting than that show, as this isn’t geared towards a younger audience. And in fact, the opening scene is pretty violent stuff.

The film opens with modern pirates taking over a ship off the coast of Japan. The pirates murder the crew and passengers before getting away. As the film rolls on, we see that this incident has caused a lot of spiritual unrest in the afterlife and a balance must be restored.

The story is a mixture of a traditional ghost story and Japanese folklore tales. There are skeletons underwater, a girl possessed by her dead sister and a few other surprises throughout the film.

The effects are really good. Especially considering the time that this was made and for the fact that it was a Japanese picture with a modest budget. And while some moments look a bit hokey by today’s standards, it all still works and the chilling atmosphere wraps around you like a thick blanket on a wet, cold day.

I really enjoyed this and while a lot of the events in the film seem almost random, for those more clued in to Japanese folklore, it’s a really cool experience. The Japanese have always been extremely creative with the monsters that have cemented themselves in their culture. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject matter and they have so many ghosts, spirits and “yōkai” that are just really damn cool.

Japanese horror is a breed all its own. The classic stuff is really cool and very different than what America or Europe has pumped out for decades.

The Living Skeleton is a rather short motion picture but it does a great job of showcasing Japanese terror and fears in a variety of ways.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Japanese fantasy horror of the ’60s and ’70s: House, Kwaidan, Onibaba and Attack of the Mushroom People, to name a few.

Film Review: Girl In Gold Boots (1968)

Release Date: April 25th, 1968
Directed by: Ted V. Mikels
Written by: Art Names, Leighton J. Peatman, John T. Wilson
Music by: Nicholas Carras, Chris Howard
Cast: Jody Daniels, Leslie McRae, Tom Pace, Chris Howard

Geneni Film Distributors, 94 Minutes, 108 Minutes (original cut)

Review:

“I see you’ve been promoted from Yak Boy to Mop Boy.” – Buz Nichols

GIrl In Gold Boots is a film about the seedy side of the go-go dancing world, as told by the man behind The Corpse Grinders and The Black Klansman. And as should be expected, it is of poor quality with bad acting and an insane nonsensical plot full of unlikable characters.

But hey, it’s got hot dancers in it and there is a version you can watch that is riffed by Mike and the ‘Bots courtesy of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Watch that version, as it is actually one of my favorite Mike Nelson MST3K episodes.

In this film, we meet this waitress in some shithole diner in the middle of nowhere. Her father is the cook and he’s a drunk shithead that smacks her around. Some swindler from Hollywood named Buz with just one “z”, convinces her to go back to La La Land with him where he can help make her a go-go dancing sensation. Yes, this is a real plot.

Once things initially work out for this girl, she soon finds herself in a seedy world where everyone is a drug addicted maniac and go-go dancing isn’t the only sexy activity on the menu.

This film is full of terrible scenes but at least the actors got to film that segment on the beach, driving a cool plastic dune buggy thing through the sand. I would have signed up to be in this movie just to drive the dune buggy thing. Well, and to hangout with go-go dancers day and night.

Out of the three Ted V. Mikels films I have seen, this one was the least engaging and pretty damn boring.

You get some musical numbers with cute girls and their jiggly bits but then you get atrocious musical numbers like the proto-emo dude singing in the rain while the female lead’s face is superimposed in the background.

This movie is full of severe cringe. Sometimes I like that though. It’s just that the cringe never seems to lead anywhere worthwhile.

I’m not sure if there is an unrated version of this where you get to see some boobs but there should be. This film was like a big tease and no breasties saw the light of day. It’s like a nudie cutie picture with no nudie. I’d much rather watch Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead.

Leslie McRae, the female lead, didn’t have a great career but she did go on to play Cleopatra in Roger Corman and Paul Bartel’s Death Race 2000. She was also in Coffy.

This, like all films of a similar quality, must be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 4 Stool: Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.”

Rating: 2/10
Pairs well with: The Wild World of BatwomanOrgy of the Dead and Eegah.