TV Review: 100 Years of Horror (1996-1997)

Original Run: 1996 – 1997
Created by: Ted Newsom, Dante J. Pugliese
Directed by: Ted Newsom
Written by: Ted Newson, Jeff Forrester (uncredited)
Cast: Christopher Lee (presenter), Roger Corman, Hugh Hefner, Fred Olen Ray, Richard Denning, Bela Lugosi Jr., Hazel Court, Robert Wise, Beverly Garland, Gloria Talbott, Sara Karloff, Dick Miller, Caroline Munro, John Agar, Ralph Bellamy, John Carpenter, Richard Matheson, Linnea Quigley, various

Multicom Entertainment Group, 26 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’m glad that this documentary television series was made when it was, in the mid-’90s, as it allowed for the children of multiple horror icons to be involved and to tell stories about their fathers, their careers and their personal lives outside of the public eye.

Additionally, I love that this was able to include a lot of the filmmakers, writers and actors that were involved in a lot of classic horror films. Had this been made today, a lot of these people wouldn’t have been able to tell their stories in their own words, as they’re no longer with us.

Also, I love that Christopher Lee was the presenter of this series, as there wasn’t a more perfect choice available.

This series features 26 episodes, roughly 22 minutes apiece. Each episode tackles a different subject, be it a type of monster or a legendary horror actor. Plus, each episode covers a lot of ground for its running time, jumping through history and trying to show the audience everything it possibly can on the subject.

There really isn’t a dull episode, as there are so many different things that can be covered. There could’ve been more episodes and there still would’ve more topics to explore.

I like that this just dives right in and delivers so much. In fact, every episode showed me something I wasn’t aware of and helped me expand my list of old school horror movies that I still have left to watch and review.

All in all, this was pretty great and classic horror fans will probably find themselves lost in each episode, traveling through time and seeing things they still haven’t seen before.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Planet of the Vampires (1965)

Also known as: The Demon Planet (US TV title), Planet of Blood, Space Mutants, Terror In Space, The Haunted Planet, The Haunted World, The Outlawed Planet, The Planet of Terror, The Planet of the Damned (alternative titles) 
Release Date: September 15th, 1965 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Ib Melchior
Based on: One Night of 21 Hours by Renato Pestriniero
Music by: Gino Marinuzzi Jr.
Cast: Barry Sullivan, Norma Bengell, Angel Aranda, Evi Marandi

Italian International Film, Castilla Cooperativa Cinematográfica, American International Pictures, 88 Minutes

Review:

“I’ll tell you this, if there are any intelligent creatures on this planet… they’re our enemies.” – Capt. Mark Markary

While Mario Bava is mostly known for his horror and giallo pictures, I really liked when he did more ambitious, larger scale things like this and Danger: Diabolik.

Bava was really good at making Italian blockbusters that looked more epic in scale and production cost than a typical ghost story or murder mystery. But I guess he was just a superb director all around because even his misses are still enjoyable and have enough positives to make them worthwhile.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this specific Bava film. So long in fact, that when I had seen it previously, I didn’t really know who Bava was and I certainly wasn’t as acclimated to his work, as I am now.

This was a favorite late night film of mine, as a kid, though. I remember it being on late night cable quite a bit when late night cable was still really fucking cool when you weren’t going down the rabbit hole of infomercials.

I always loved the look and style of this film and I didn’t even realize it was Italian/Spanish back then. While it looked like your typical ’50s and early ’60s sci-fi epic, it was a lot more colorful and vibrant. I think it’s visual allure is what drew me to it and it’s that visual allure that would eventually become the visual style of giallo.

Beyond that, though, I loved the costumes of the crew, I loved the design of the ships, the simple but unique and stylized sets, as well as the look of the planet and all its weirdness.

The scene where we see a giant alien skeleton was so ominous and cool that it asked more questions than it answered and I’ve always kind of felt like it might have inspired the “Space Jockey” from Alien.

Planet of the Vampires is just a really cool, great, old school sci-fi/horror thriller. It’s one of my favorite Mario Bava pictures and honestly, it’s something I should revisit more often.

Rating: 6.5/10

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: Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Also known as: The Passionate People Eater (working title)
Release Date: August 5th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles B. Griffith
Music by: Fred Katz, Ronald Stein (uncredited)
Cast: Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph, Mel Welles, Dick Miller, Myrtle Vail, Jack Nicholson

Santa Clara Productions, The Filmgroup, American International Pictures, 72 Minutes

Review:

“It’s a finger of speech!” – Mushnick

I often times come across people who don’t realize that there was an “original” version of The Little Shop of Horrors that existed before the ’80s movie and the stage interpretations. And since it was made by the great B-movie king, Roger Corman, it’s always something worth pointing out.

The origin of this movie is kind of cool, as Roger Corman was challenged to beat his previous record of filming a movie quickly and with that, set out to film this entire picture in two days. A big part of that two-day window was that he wanted to re-use sets from his movie Bucket of Blood before they were torn down. He succeeded.

The film features a few Corman regulars, most notably Jonathan Haze, as the film’s lead, as well as Dick Miller and Jack Nicholson, in what was his most bonkers role, early in his career. Nicholson actually plays a dental patient that loves pain, which was the same role that Bill Murray played in the ’80s musical remake.

Now this version isn’t a musical like the ’80s film and the stage productions. However, it features a cool musical score by Fred Katz and an uncredited Ronald Stein. I like the odd score so much that I actually own it on vinyl.

I think that the most impressive thing about the movie is the special effects. The fact that they were able to create Audrey, the giant, man-eating plant and utilize it so well for this quick shoot is pretty astounding. But then, Roger Corman continually astounded with how quickly he shot his films, the sheer volume of them and how he pinched his pennies while getting the most out of them.

The Little Shop of Horrors is really no different than Corman’s other horror and sci-fi productions of this era in his career. And the end result is an enjoyable, quirky picture that is fun to watch or revisit every couple of years.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: its ’80s musical remake, as well as other early Roger Corman pictures.

Film Review: Frogs (1972)

Release Date: March 10th, 1972
Directed by: George McCowan
Written by: Robert Hutchinson, Robert Blees
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ray Milland, Sam Elliott, Joan Van Ark, Adam Roarke, Judy Pace, Lynn Borden, Mae Mercer, David Gilliam

Thomas/Edwards Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“I still believe man is master of the world.” – Jason Crockett, “Does that mean he can’t live in harmony with the rest of it?” – Pickett Smith

After revisiting this for the first time in a few decades, I was surprised to see how many different animals this film featured. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been titled Frogs. They should’ve called it Swamp Critters or Florida On A Tuesday, as it reminded me of a regular afternoon hike in my home state.

This movie is weirdly drab, even though it’s pretty eventful and features a lot of zany deaths. I wouldn’t say it’s boring but it does feel like the filmmakers barely took this seriously and tried their best. It certainly feels like a rushed production where they had x-amount of hours to film in a Florida State Park, so everything had to be done in a few takes: perfect shots, good effects and attention to detail be damned!

Now I did enjoy a very young Sam Elliott in this and I actually forgot he was the hero of the story. His environmentalist banter with the evil capitalist played by Ray Milland was enjoyable and it was cool seeing these two legends ham it up and try to turn this shoddy production into a film with a meaningful message. There are just so many other films that tell the “science run amok on nature” story much better, though.

This had the makings of something that could’ve been much better in an era where animal horror was really popular. However, for every Jaws you get ten Night of the Lepus.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other animal horror films of the ’70s.

Film Review: The Dunwich Horror (1970)

Also known as: Scarlet Friday (working title), Voodoo Child (Germany)
Release Date: January 14th, 1970
Directed by: Daniel Haller
Written by: Curtis Hanson, Henry Rosenbaum, Ronald Silkosky
Based on: The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Sandra Dee, Dean Stockwell, Ed Begley, Talia Shire (as Talia Coppola)

Alta Vista Films, American International Pictures, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Come back, Old Ones… Princes of Darkness… and repossess the earth.” – Wilbur Whateley

Over Halloween weekend, I wanted to watch some Lovecraftian horror. So I figured, why not watch an actual adaptation of Lovecraft’s work. An adaptation that I both love and haven’t seen in a really long time.

So that thought brought me to The Dunwich Horror, a film put out by American International Pictures, which feels very close to their Edgar Allan Poe adaptations of the ’60s.

While this sadly doesn’t feature Vincent Price, I love Dean Stockwell and he made a great villain in this. Plus, he’s so damn young that it’s just cool seeing him this youthful.

The film also stars Sandra Dee, Ed Begley Sr. in one of his last roles, as well as a very young Talia Shire when she was still going by Talia Coppola.

The film has a tremendous atmosphere that feels like those Poe films but even more evolved and refined. I’m nowhere near as versed in director Daniel Haller’s work, as I am in Roger Corman’s, but he borrowed from Corman’s style while at AIP and gave us something that looked a little more pristine and as if he really took his time and didn’t rush through the production as quickly as Corman typically did.

The sets and the town in this look lived-in and genuine and even the stuff made on sets just fit well within the total presentation and came across as authentic locations.

I loved the lighting and how it almost has a giallo type feel in the more fantastical moments.

While this is far from perfect, it’s pretty well acted for a low budget horror movie and it tells an enthralling story that at least feels consistent with the tone of Lovecraft’s literary work.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations by Roger Corman for American International Pictures.

Film Review: Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)

Release Date: October 14th, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Seth Holt, Michael Carreras (uncredited)
Written by: Christopher Wicking
Based on: The Jewel of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker
Music by: Tristram Cary
Cast: Valerie Leon, Andrew Keir, Mark Edwards, James Villiers, Hugh Burden, Aubrey Morris

EMI Films, Hammer Films, American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“The meek shall not inherit the earth. They can’t be trusted with it.” – Corbeck

Out of the four Mummy movies made by Hammer Films, this one is the most original and least derivative of the two Mummy sequels before it.

While this was an adaptation of The Jewel of Seven Stars, a classic Bram Stoker novel, it was set in contemporary times, giving it a fresh, modern feel. Well, at least in 1971.

This was also probably done to make the film’s production cheaper and I’m sure that it succeeded, as Hammer would follow this up by making two modern Dracula films, as well as a few other flicks set in the 1970s.

Additionally, it differs from the other three films in that the mummy in this picture is a woman. A very, very beautiful and alluring woman, mind you. Valerie Leon, in fact, and if you’ve never seen her in Zeta One, you haven’t truly lived.

Anyway, I like this film simply because it isn’t just a copy of a copy of a copy. It tried something new and I feel like it succeeded in spite of its limitations and faults.

It’s definitely entertaining if you’re a fan of classic Hammer horror and beautiful babes. 

I also dig that they adapted a Bram Stoker story that wasn’t Dracula, which is really the only book that Stoker is known for by modern audiences. While The Jewel of Seven Stars isn’t as iconic as Dracula, it’s still a cool story and it helped pave the way for mummy horror before feature length movies were even made.

The acting is pretty average and I’d say it’s what you would expect from a Hammer picture. This one doesn’t have any of the iconic Hammer actors in it but the cast still holds their own.

I thought that this did pretty well with the flashback sequences, tying our female lead back to her previous life as an Egyptian queen. Also, the look of Egypt in this film was otherworldly and kind of cool. I know that the look of outdoor Egypt in this was a byproduct of a low budget but the director made the most out of it and I thought the look worked quite well.

In the end, the Hammer Mummy movies aren’t as beloved as the Dracula and Frankenstein ones but they’re still a lot of fun and still feel like genuine, stylish Hammer pictures.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Hammer Mummy pictures.

Film Review: Dementia 13 (1963)

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

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film Review: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Also known as: Dr. Phibes (promotional title), The Curse of Dr. Phibes (Yugoslavia)
Release Date: May 18th, 1971
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Written by: William Goldstein, James Whiton, Robert Fuest
Music by: Basil Kirchin
Cast: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotton, Peter Jeffrey, Virginia North, Hugh Griffith, Caroline Munro

American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“A brass unicorn has been catapulted across a London street and impaled an eminent surgeon. Words fail me, gentlemen.” – Waverley

Being that I haven’t seen either Dr. Phibes movie in at least a dozen years, I forgot how funny this film is. It’s not overly comedic, “ha ha” funny, it’s just very cheeky and dry in a uniquely British way.

The film stars the legendary Vincent Price but instead of having him star alongside another horror legend or B-movie leading man, he actually stars alongside the great Joseph Cotton, who is a legend in his own way, especially due to his stupendous work with one of the greatest cinematic visionaries that ever lived, Orson Welles.

The film is also filled with some recognizable British character actors of the time but it is also worth mentioning that the mesmerizing and perfect Caroline Munro is in this. However, she plays Phibes’ deceased wife and is only really seen in photographs and as a corpse.

Phibes also has a female assistant, played by Virginia North, and she is pretty damn good in this up to her terrible, painful end.

The plot is about a madman who has been disfigured by acid. Beyond that, he wants revenge against the nine men he deems responsible for his wife’s death on the operating table. In order to exact revenge, Phibes murders the men in very elaborate ways that are inspired by The Ten Plagues of Egypt. Watching each of these play out is really cool.

The film itself is also visually stunning, as it employs an art deco style with vibrant colors that almost resemble an Italian giallo film. It’s an opulent and vivid looking picture and mixing that with the elaborate murders makes these come across as more high brow and artistic that Price’s typical movies made by American International.

On top of that, Price is superb in this film and it is one of his best and most iconic performances.

Ultimately, this is a damn fine horror picture for its day. It’s creative, alluring and strangely enchanting in spite of its dark subject matter.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’60s and ’70s Vincent Price movies.

Film Review: Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs (1966)

Release Date: July 29th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Mario Bava
Written by: Castellano & Pipolo (Italian version), Louis M. Heyward & Robert Kaufman (US version)
Music by: Les Baxter (US version), Lallo Gori (Italian version)
Cast: Vincent Price, Fabian, Franco Franchi, Ciccio Ingrassia, Laura Antonelli, Mario Bava (cameo – uncredited)

Italian International Film, American International Pictures, 82 Minutes

Review:

“That’s not Rosanna. That’s a jigsaw puzzle.” – Bill Dexter

I haven’t seen this film in a long time and the two Dr. Goldfoot movies blended together in my memory. I was a bit intrigued to check this one out, though, as I noticed that it was directed by giallo and horror maestro, Mario Bava. He’s a director that has a fantastic style.

Sadly, this was a bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the first movie was great by any stretch of the imagination but it was entertaining and full of charming whimsy. This picture is a big step down.

I think that this may just be a problem with the American version of the film, however, as the jokes and gags don’t seem to land. This could be due to this being an Italian production, unlike its predecessor, and some of the humor got lost in poor translation.

The film does seem more concerned with showcasing gags than any sort of interesting, coherent story though.

I still enjoyed Vincent Price in this but his performance is weaker, overall, because he didn’t have his assistant from the first movie, who was a good goof for Price to play off of. They had good banter and decent chemistry but in this film, the new henchman barely speaks and just sort of follows orders.

The film’s humor is also goofier, as it relies pretty heavily on slapstick and people falling all over the place like a Benny Hill sketch.

Still, this isn’t a complete waste of time if you like ’60s era spy parodies and Vincent Price. He’s surrounded by a weaker cast but at least he’s still fun to watch when he gets to ham it up.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor, as well as the Dean Martin starring Matt Helms films.