Film Review: The Wizard of Gore (1970)

Also known as: House of Torture (reissue title)
Release Date: October 23rd, 1970
Directed by: Herschell Gordon Lewis
Written by: Allen Kahn
Music by: Larry Wellington
Cast: Ray Sager, Judy Cler, Wayne Ratay

Mayflower Pictures, 95 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll be all right. Listen, as soon as I get you to your apartment, I’ll give you the Emergency Special: Half gin and half vermouth. We’ll sprinkle the vermouth over a female toad and we’ll drink the gin.” – Jack

I thought I had seen this movie long ago but I guess my memory played tricks on me. I’ve seen several clips over the years and honestly, a lot of the splatter porn stuff from this era, especially Herschell Gordon Lewis’, kind of blends together in my brain.

That being said, this is more of the same while also being somewhat original in how this is all presented and the bonkers, clunky story used to string the violent bits together.

Honestly, this plays more like a porno flick that pretends like it has a plot, pretends it has some “acting” and pretends it has some narrative elements that “proves” it’s not just gratuitous shock value shit.

It’s hard to tell if this film thinks it’s smart or if it’s actually just parodying the smarty pants art-house cinema that was becoming a thing. The plot feels like it was crafted by a meth addict that was influenced by David Lynch without understanding any of the guy’s nuance or style. Granted, this exists seven years before Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead.

Anyway, the story does that “is it real?” or “is it all in your head?” gimmick. I think it’s trying to take itself somewhat seriously and Lewis is trying to show that in spite of his shocking imagery, he’s a legitimate filmmaker and this is higher brow art than anyone is willing to accept. I’ve had Lewis fans try to convince me that the guy was a cinematic mastermind for years but nothing they have said has made me see their “light”.

The thing is, I do like Lewis, I’m okay with his work but if I’m being honest, it’s all just schlock-y, gratuitously gory shit. This film is no different and the plot is so batshit insane that it actually makes it even harder to suspend disbelief, making it more difficult to just open yourself up to the spectacle of it all.

I’m also not a gore hound, as a movie needs more than discount meat from the butcher being brutalized for it to mean something.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other Herschell Gordon Lewis films.

Film Review: Cry of the Banshee (1970)

Release Date: July 22nd, 1970
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Tim Kelly, Christopher Wicking
Based on: a story by Tim Kelly
Music by: Les Baxter (US theatrical), Wilfred Josephs (uncut version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Elizabeth Bergner, Essy Persson, Hugh Griffith, Patrick Mower, Hilary Dwyer, Sally Geeson

American International Pictures, 91 Minutes, 87 Minutes (edited cut)

Review:

“Oona. Of course. Once I showed her mercy. I should have killed her…. Burke. I don’t care how you do it – bring Oona to me.” – Lord Edward Whitman

It’s hard not to like a Vincent Price movie but this one is really low on the totem pole of quality for me.

We already saw Vincent Price hunt down witches in Witchfinder General a.k.a The Conqueror Worm and because of that, these films sort of blend together in my head. But I do remember liking Witchfinder General quite a bit more. I’ll have to revisit and review it soon.

Regardless, this film is incredibly derivative of its similar predecessor and I feel like it was only made to try and piggyback off of that better movie. Granted, Price’s role here is a bit different but the subject matter is the same, as is the picture’s tone and style. This one just comes across as a cheap imitation, though, and I say that as someone that’s actually a fan of Gordon Hessler, this flick’s director.

The film moves along at a drunken snail’s pace and even though stuff happens, most of it isn’t all that exciting and everything in this movie has been done better in other pictures.

Cry of the Banshee isn’t terrible, it just sort of exists in this weird state of limbo. It’s certainly not the worst film featuring Price but there are two dozen or more that I’d rank ahead of it.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: Witchfinder General a.k.a. The Conqueror Worm, also with Vincent Price and dealing with similar subject matter.

Film Review: The Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

Release Date: November 8th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Jimmy Sangster
Written by: Jeremy Burnham, Jimmy Sangster
Based on: characters by Mary Shelley
Music by: Malcolm Williamson
Cast: Ralph Bates, Kate O’Mara, Veronica Carlson, David Prowse

EMI Films, Hammer Films, 95 Minutes

Review:

“I’m going to make a person!” – Victor Frankenstein

It seems like Hammer fans are split on this movie. Many seem to dig it’s somewhat fresh and slightly more tongue and cheek take on Frankenstein while others outright hate it and think it was a failure that missed its mark.

I’m on the side of liking it but I also just find it entertaining and amusing and I’m not wholly in love with it.

What works for me is Ralph Bates. He’s good in this and it’s cool seeing him get his chance to actually star in a Hammer horror film, as opposed to just being a supporting player or low tier villain. I think that his humor comes through and even with how subtle he is about it, his timing and facial expressions are impeccable.

Bates’ performance is a bit understated and it works for me but I can see how it doesn’t resonate with many Hammer fans, who might not enjoy his sort of dry wit.

I also like that David Prowse got to play this film’s version of the Monster, as he’s a good physical actor that can convey a lot without seeming like he’s doing much at all. I wouldn’t call his performance as good as it was in Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell or the original Star Wars trilogy, where he was Darth Vader, but he actually creates a version of the monster that feels unpredictable and legitimately dangerous.

Additionally, we get the enchanting Veronica Carlson, who is sweet and looks like a million bucks. Add in Kate O’Mara and you’ve got a solid, well-rounded cast. Some people may know O’Mara as The Rani from the Tom Baker years on Doctor Who.

The plot sort of reboots 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein. It’s nowhere near as good as that movie but it’s still interesting seeing another team get to tackle the material while still having this visually fit within the Hammer style. But ultimately, this wasn’t as successful as Hammer had hoped, as it didn’t get a sequel and the studio went back to making more movies with Peter Cushing as Victor Frankenstein.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Hammer Frankenstein films, as well as the Hammer Dracula and Mummy series.

Film Review: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Also known as: Planet of the Man, Planet of the Apes Revisited (working titles)
Release Date: April 23rd, 1970 (Italy)
Directed by: Ted Post
Written by: Paul Dehn, Mort Abrahams
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Leonard Rosenman
Cast: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston, Paul Richards, Victor Buono, Gregory Sierra

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.” – Mendez

From memory, I always considered this to be the worst of the Planet of the Apes movies. I’m pretty sure I’ll still see it that way, once I get done revisiting the original five pictures.

This is just a really weird film and a major misfire, after its great predecessor and its mostly enjoyable sequels. Plus, this ends in a way that sort of kills the franchise. I’m not sure how they explain away this film’s ending in the next movie because I haven’t seen it in years, but this movie ends with the destruction of Earth.

Anyway, Charlton Heston returns but he’s only in the opening of the film and then in the third act. The lead role was given to James Franciscus, who looks an awfully lot like Heston, even though he’s a new character. However, he eventually meets Heston and works with him in trying to free themselves from the apes.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is so bizarre, though. And I don’t mean that in a good way.

Apart from the apes, we meet a new group of antagonists, which are humans with psychic powers due to their exposure to radioactivity from Earth being nuked by mankind, earlier in this timeline’s history. The people also wear masks to cover up their disfigured faces. However, their masks are realistic versions of what their faces would look like without being destroyed by radiation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s just a stupid plot device so that the studio could cheap out and only use makeup effects sparingly.

In the larger Apes mythos, it’s almost best to ignore this picture. It doesn’t really fit with what comes after it and it threw a curveball into the narrative and concept that was so bad, it was never revisited or re-adapted in future remakes.

Apart from that, this is still a good looking film for its time but it’s still pretty obvious that the studio was trying to do things on the cheap: recycling previous set pieces and props while using less makeup effects and diverting away from the apes as the biggest focal point.

Rating: 5.25/10
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: Count Dracula (1970)

Also known as: Dracula ’71 (alternative US title), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (complete title), Dracula (working title)
Release Date: April 3rd, 1970 (Germany)
Directed by: Jesus Franco
Written by: Augustino Finocchi, Peter Welbeck (English), Jesus Franco (Spanish), Carlo Fadda (Italian), Milo G. Cuccia (Italian), Dietmar Behnke (German)
Based on: Dracula by Bram Stoker
Music by: Bruno Nicolai
Cast: Christopher Lee, Herbert Lom, Klaus Kinski, Frederick Williams, Maria Rohm, Soledad Miranda, Jack Taylor, Paul Muller, Jesus Puente

Filmar Compagnia Cinematografica, Fénix Cooperativa Cinematográfica, Corona Filmproduktion, 98 Minutes

Review:

“One of my race crossed the Danube and destroyed the Turkish host. Though sometimes beaten back, he came again and again then at the end he came again for he alone could triumph. This was a Dracula indeed.” – Count Dracula

Even though Christopher Lee had already played Dracula a half dozen times by 1970, I think it was hard for him to turn down this alternative take on the role, as Spanish director Jesus Franco wanted to make a film that was the closest version of Bram Stoker’s original literary work.

That being said, this is a pretty spot on adaptation of the novel but that also works against it, as a lot of this is boring, drawn out and more focused on drama, as opposed to horror.

The first act of the film is wonderful, well paced, decently acted and it seems to come off without a hitch. However, after that, the story moves at a snail’s pace and the only things in it that are worthwhile are the few scenes with Klaus Kinski as Renfield and the absolutely stunning beauty of Soledad Miranda, who unfortunately died way too young in real life and just barely scratched the surface of her potential.

Jesus Franco would go on to essentially make films that fit the porn category more than anything else but this one is very light on being sexually exploitative and maybe that’s due to Lee’s involvement.

The film is okay but mostly forgettable other than it existing as a Lee Dracula film that isn’t a part of the Hammer continuity.

It was shot and filmed in Spain and that kind of takes you out of the picture when it’s supposed to be set in Romania and England. Watching characters run through castles and streets full of desert sand is a bizarre thing to see in a Dracula film but I digress.

Ultimately, this was cool to see, as it allowed Lee to get more into the literary Dracula without the ham and cheese of the Hammer sequels. It felt closer to the original Hammer film than any of their sequels, as far as the Dracula character goes. However, it’s completely devoid of that Hammer charm, which made those films much more iconic and memorable.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: Christopher Lee’s Dracula films from Hammer, as well as Jesus Franco’s other vampire movies.

Film Review: Scream and Scream Again (1970)

Also known as: Doctor Diabolic (France – video title), Screamer (Germany – alternative title)
Release Date: January, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Disorientated Man by Peter Saxon
Music by: David Whitaker
Cast: Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Alfred Marks, Michael Gothard, Judy Huxtable, Yutte Stensgaard

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, Warner Pathe, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Fastest transition in the world: from human to corpse. It doesn’t do to get the two confused, or you’ll never be successful.” – Professor Kingsmill

While I’ve always seen Amicus as the poor man’s Hammer, I’ve still found most of their films to be really enjoyable, especially those starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee or Vincent Price. Now throw any two of those guys together and it’s usually going to make the picture much cooler. Throw all three of them into the mix, however, and you might break my classic horror-loving mind.

Sadly, this does not cut the mustard, whatever that even means. I don’t know, it’s an old adage people say.

Despite this having the Holy Trinity of Price, Lee and Cushing, it’s a really bad movie that just barely keeps its head above water simply because it has these three great actors in it, hamming it up and looking like they’re enjoying what they had to know was a terrible picture.

One problem with the film is that the three legends are barely in it. Cushing is in it the least while Price and Lee are sort of just there for the added star power. Their roles are really just glorified cameos. But you do get an interesting finale that features Lee and Price together.

This is a really weird film and the middle act is bogged down by an overly extensive car chase and manhunt sequence. While I kind of enjoyed that part of the film, I just don’t see how it will connect with people that don’t already love this sort of schlock.

For a film about a mad scientist and super soldiers, this is pretty boring. I still weirdly like it but when I think about popping on a film starring any of these legends, this one is usually pretty damn low on the list. In fact, I only watched it this time to review it and because I hadn’t seen it in about twenty years.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: other films featuring Vincent Price with either Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or both. Also, other Amicus horror movies.

Film Review: The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Release Date: October 4th, 1970 (UK)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Harry Fine, Tudor Gates, Michael Style
Based on: Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu
Music by: Harry Robertson
Cast: Ingrid Pitt, George Cole, Kate O’Mara, Peter Cushing, Dawn Addams, Madeline Smith, Pippa Steel

Fantale Films, Hammer Films, 91 Minutes

Review:

“They were all evil and remain evil after death.” – Baron Joachim von Hartog

While the most famous vampire films to come out of Hammer are the ones featuring Christopher Lee as Dracula, there was also The Karnstein Trilogy, which focused on lesbian vampires that didn’t have the weaknesses of sunlight and fire.

This was the first of those three movies, which sort of helped kick off a trend, as other studios in other parts of the world tried to also bank on the vampire lesbian craze, which was pretty racy stuff for 1970.

The story is loosely based off of the second most famous literary vampire story, Carmilla by Irish writer Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, which was originally published in 1872.

While that novel would serve to give a narrative tone and inspiration to The Karnstein Trilogy, the films really kind of just do their own thing beyond the initial setup.

I’d say that this is the weakest of the three movies within the trilogy but it is still entertaining and it goes to show just how good Ingrid Pitt was in her prime. The woman is stunning, seductive and she has the acting chops to convincingly stand beside some of the other Hammer legends. In this film, she has to share space with the legendary Peter Cushing but the two were able to play off of each other quite well.

The film also stars Madeline Smith, another Hammer regular, in a smaller role. But she always had a certain charisma that made the movies she was in better.

Ultimately, this is an interesting and overtly sexual motion picture. It’s all done as classy as a Hammer movie is capable of but it’s honestly pretty tame when compared to films that borrowed these themes later on. And without this picture, we wouldn’t have gotten the sequels, which I enjoy more, and the knockoffs which kind of became their own subgenre within the vampire subgenre of horror.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other parts of The Karnstein Trilogy and Countess Dracula, as well as Vampire Circus and Hammer’s Dracula films.

Film Review: San Francisco International (1970)

Release Date: September 29th, 1970
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: William Read Woodfield, Allan Balter
Music by: Patrick Williams
Cast: Pernell Roberts, Clu Gulager, Beth Brickell, Van Johnson, David Hartman, Dana Elcar, Tab Hunter

Universal Television, 96 Minutes

Review:

“I said the wheel felt mushy!” – Ross Edwards

It’s been a really slow few weeks for me, as I’ve been on a sabbatical from work, life and all things that come with this site but I did squeeze in at least one movie over the last few weeks. But mainly because I was on a flight, the movie selection sucked and I felt like watching some Mystery Science Theater 3000 to make my overcrowded and testy flight more tolerable.

Granted, this is a terrible film and it has nothing to offer, apart for being bad enough to be riffing fodder.

Anyway, this isn’t really even a movie. It’s a two-hour pilot for a failed television show.

This stars a bunch of recognizable B-list actors from the era but they all look like they are dialing it in and care about this production as little as I do.

Ultimately, this is an ensemble piece with a bunch of subplots, none of which are interesting.

I wish I could actually say more about the film but it’s like nothing even happened in the slow and mind numbing 96 minutes that this took up. It certainly doesn’t build towards anything that anyone would care about and I guess that’s why this failed and a show never really developed beyond a few episodes that I don’t think even aired after this dud.

Rating: 2.75/10
Pairs well with: I guess other failed TV pilots of the ’70s and airplane disaster movies.

Documentary Review: A.K.A. Cassius Clay (1970)

Release Date: November 4th, 1970
Directed by: Jimmy Jacobs
Written by: Bernard Evslin
Music by: Teo Macero
Cast: Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Richard Kiley (narrator)

Sports of the Century, William Cayton Productions, United Artists, 79 Minutes

Review:

*Written in 2014.

I wish there were more vintage boxing documentaries floating around Netflix.

A.K.A. Cassius Clay is a damned good documentary. It was made in 1970 and it follows Muhammad Ali while he was banned from boxing due to his refusal of being inducted into the United States Army due to religious beliefs. For those who don’t know, Ali was a member of the Nation of Islam, which at the time, was considered to be highly controversial. Luckily we’ve evolved since then.

The film gave an honest and sincere glimpse into the life of Muhammad Ali as he toured colleges, speaking to the youth about civil rights and other issues that were important to him at the time. Due to his exile from the ring, he wasn’t able to work and his speaking engagements at least allowed him to make money and pay his bills.

The film also goes into his boxing career and gives a lot of insight into the man and what made him tick. There’s lots of good interviews and intimate footage of the great Ali and those who he let into his inner circle. This is a compelling documentary that gives the viewer a sort of backstage pass to Ali’s life at a very interesting time. If you’re a boxing fan and/or an Ali fan, I can’t recommend this film enough.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: When We Were KingsTysonChampsUnforgivable Blackness and The Trials of Muhammad Ali.

Film Review: Flesh Feast (1970)

Also known as: Time Is Terror
Release Date: May 20th, 1970 (Bridgeport, Connecticut)
Directed by: Brad F. Grinter
Written by: Thomas Casey, Brad F. Grinter
Cast: Veronica Lake

Viking International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“Creeping, crawling, flesh-eating maggots!” – film tagline

Veronica Lake was incredible in the era of film-noir. She was one of the top actresses in the genre and found good work in the 1940s, always being at the forefront of that time’s cinematic and stylistic shifts. So it is really tragic that this pile of absolute shit was her final film.

Lake was a producer on this and somehow I feel like she was aging, maybe a bit out of sorts and was taken advantage of by some young but talentless filmmakers needing a few bucks to get this shit sandwich served in grindhouses and drive-ins across America.

The plot sees Lake play a mad scientist who is developing maggots that prefer human flesh. During the process, she is used to male a clone of Hitler. She cooperates with this evil and goofy plan. However, her mother was executed as a Nazi political prisoner and Lake wants revenge. She convinces everyone privy to her research that the maggots are to be used for regeneration purposes. However, she just wants to resurrect Hitler so that she can throw the maggots on him and watch him be devoured alive. She succeeds in her plot and the audience succeeds in sitting through one of the worst and dumbest films ever made.

With the title and with the style of film you’d assume this is, one would expect more gore than what this picture actually offers. Had it been a senseless gore festival, it may have had some redeeming quality about it. It has a similar title to Blood Feast, which was synonymous with gore and was also filmed in and around Miami Beach, as this movie was. However, this would disappoint gore hounds just as it would disappoint decent normal people. This actually makes the awful Blood Feast look good by comparison.

Flesh Feast is really one of the worst things I have ever seen. It fails in what it sets out to do in every way. You’d have to try really hard to make something this terrible.

All that being said, this needs to be run through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 6 Stool: Fluffy pieces with ragged edges, a mushy stool.”

Rating: 0.25/10
Pairs well with: Nothing and you’d be better off not watching this.