Film Review: Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Release Date: March 8th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: Tales From the Crypt & The Vault of Horror by EC Comics, Johnny Craig, Al Feldstein, William M. Gaines
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice, Richard Greene, Ian Hendry, Patrick Magee, Barbara Murray, Nigel Patrick, Robin Phillips, Ralph Richardson

Amicus Productions, Cinema Releasing Corporation, Metromedia Producers Corporation, Twentieth Century Fox, 92 Minutes

Review:

“[reading Arthur Grimsdyke’s revenge letter written in the dead James Elliot’s blood] “You were cruel and mean right from the start, now you can truly say you have no… heart”.” – Father

As a fan of Amicus Productions and Tales From the Crypt, I don’t know how I didn’t discover this film sooner. I just assumed that the ’80s television series and the few films that followed were the only live-action versions of the franchise, which started in the ’50s as a comic series put out by publisher EC.

Furthermore, this has Peter Cushing and Patrick Magee in it. It also has Joan Collins, who would go on to have great fame a decade later.

This is an anthology movie like many of the films that Amicus put out. It’s not their best effort but it is still cool seeing them recreate EC Comics stories from Tales From the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

Like most anthologies, the stories are a mixed bag. What’s interesting about this one, however, is that it crams five stories and several bookend/bridge scenes within its 92 minutes. Most of these movies would give you three tales.

That being said, some of the segments feel rushed and too quick. However, the ones that are good are pretty fun and cool.

As a film on its own, without the Tales From the Crypt branding, this just feels like another Amicus anthology lost in the shuffle with most of the others.

In the end, it’s just okay but the high points saved it from being a dud.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other horror anthologies of the ’70s and ’80s.

Film Review: And Now the Screaming Starts! (1973)

Also known as: I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream (alternative title)
Release Date: April 27th, 1973 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Roy Ward Baker
Written by: Roger Marshall
Based on: Fengriffen by David Case
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Ian Ogilvy, Stephanie Beacham

Amicus Productions, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Ghosts galore. Headless horsemen, horseless headsmen, everything.” – Charles Fengriffen

An Amicus horror film that isn’t an anthology? Oh, yes!

I’ve never seen this one, which is surprising, as it features Peter Cushing and Patrick Magee in it. It also stars a young Stephanie Beacham, who I loved in a TV show no one but me remembers anymore called Sister Kate.

This is the story of a newlywed couple who move into the groom’s mansion which is haunted due to a curse placed on it, following a terrible thing that happened on the property years earlier.

It’s fairly predictable but the story is solid with good layers to it. The film also benefits from better acting than pictures like this tend to have.

More than anything, I liked the creepiness of this and in that regard, it felt like it was on a different level than your standard Amicus fair.

loved the effects, especially how they pulled of the severed hand that crawled across the floor. It looked real, effective and for the time, was damn impressive.

In the end, I can hardly call this a horror classic but I do like it better than most Amicus movies. And since that’s a studio whose output I really enjoy, I guess I was somewhat impressed by this.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other non-anthology gothic horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

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 Skull (1965)

Release Date: August 25th, 1965
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Milton Subotsky, Robert Bloch
Based on: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade by Robert Bloch
Music by: Elisabeth Lutyens
Cast: Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Jill Bennett, Patrick Wymark, Nigel Green, Patrick Magee, Michael Gough

Amicus Productions, 83 Minutes

Review:

“All I can say to you is keep away from the skull of the Marquis de Sade!” – Sir Matthew Phillips

I felt like I was going through Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee withdrawals, as it’s actually been awhile since I got to kick back and watch one of their many collaborations. I mean, there were 22 of them and I’ve already reviewed several but I just felt the need to spend some time with two of my three favorite horror legends, especially during this trying COVID-19 self-imposed social exile.

Anyway, I really love The Skull. It’s not the best film with these guys in it and frankly, they don’t share enough scenes but this picture is full of so many great actors from the era, that it is hard not to love. I especially liked seeing Patrick Magee, Nigel Green and Michael Gough pop up in this.

The plot is an interesting one, as it sees Cushing come into possession of the skull of Marquis de Sade. The skull itself is possessed by an evil force, presumably de Sade, and it makes those around it do evil acts. Cushing is driven mad and we even get a moment that shows him murder his best friend, Christopher Lee.

What’s really fun about this movie is how some scenes are shot in regards to the skull. While this is a low budget production and a product of its time, where effects were still fairly primitive, the skull truly becomes its own character because of the simple tricks the filmmakers did.

I love how you see through the skull’s eye sockets in many shots, giving you a first-person perspective of the evil force, as it enchants and takes control of its human vessels. The use of colored light within the skull added a certain mystique to these shots. Also, the way that they made the skull physically float through the air was done to great effect. Even though modern HD televisions make the strings more visible, it still works and most of these effects look really smooth, especially for the mid-’60s.

The tone and atmosphere of the film are also well crafted. The cinematography is effective, especially in regards to the lighting and shot framing. And even though most of the story takes place in what was modern times, it still has a very Victorian feel to it.

Most importantly, this is well acted from all the key players, as they gave this film their all and made it better than it needed to be.

Like most old horror, this relies on the imagination of the viewer. It’s a “less is more” suspenseful thriller that uses your own imagination as its real monster.

While Amicus wasn’t quite at the level of Hammer, the best of their pictures, this being one of them, definitely stood proudly alongside their closest competition.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films. Specifically, those starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee.

Film Review: The Deadly Bees (1966)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1966 (Deming, New Mexico)
Directed by: Freddie Francis
Written by: Robert Bloch, Anthony Marriott
Based on: A Taste for Honey by Gerald Heard
Music by: Wilfred Josephs
Cast: Suzanne Leigh, Guy Doleman, Frank Finlay, Michael Ripper, Katy Wild, Michael Gwynn

Amicus Productions, Paramount Pictures, 83 Minutes

Review:

“[Referring to a liquid he has] I’ve made this especially for you, Vicki.” – H.W. Manfred

The Deadly Bees has a really low rating on IMDb and pretty much everywhere else you might look. Despite what seems to be most people’s disdain for the film, I actually like it.

I think this may be due to my love of British horror from this era but I’ll always have a pretty big soft spot for Amicus Productions, along with Hammer Films: the two studios that really made their mark in the ’60s and ’70s and epitomize the second wave of classic horror.

The Deadly Bees was also lampooned by Mystery Science Theater 3000 in one of the later seasons. I understand why it was rife with material to riff but there is still something truly eerie and effective about the film.

The biggest factor working against the movie is the special effects where the bee attacks are concerned. I mean, even for the ’60s, it’s kind of horrible. All of these scenes are comprised of victims flailing around, simulating a bee attack with yellowish bee blobs superimposed over the screen. It’s really bizarre looking and I know that funds on these sort of pictures were very limited but it bogs the rest of the film down in its cheap hokiness.

The plot is actually decent, most of the characters are good and there is a predictable twist at the end but I think it still works and it doesn’t diminish the feeling of dread when the damsel is in mortal danger.

The film also features Michael Ripper and Michael Gwynn, two actors that you’d see pop up in several Amicus and Hammer films.

I thought that Suzanne Leigh was pretty good in this and put in a convincing performance. She truly is an old school beauty and with that, has an enchanting presence.

Guy Doleman did a good job too, as you never really knew where he stood in the story. Was he an evil bastard or was he just kind of a jerk?

The Deadly Bees does have some issues but I don’t think any of them outweigh the positives to the point that this deserves a 3.6 out of 10 on IMDb. I think that its inclusion on MST3K has negatively effected the public’s view of the film. It’s far from the worst movie that you’ll see on MST3K.

Rating: 5.25/10
Pairs well with: other Amicus and Hammer horror films of the ’60s and ’70s.

Film Review: The House That Dripped Blood (1971)

Also known as: Blood Zone (Japan English title), Method for Murder, Waxworks, Sweets to the Sweet, The Cloak (segment titles)
Release Date: February 21st, 1971 (UK)
Directed by: Peter Duffell
Written by: Robert Bloch, Russ Jones
Music by: Michael Dress
Cast: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Denholm Elliot, Ingrid Pitt, Jon Pertwee, Joss Ackland, Nyree Dawn Porter

Amicus Productions, Cinerama Releasing Corporation, 102 Minutes

Review:

“That’s what’s wrong with the present day horrorfilms. There’s no realism. Not like the old ones, the great ones. Frankenstein. Phantom of the Opera. Dracula – the one with Bela Lugosi of course, not this new fellow.” – Paul Henderson

I know that I’ve stated a few times before that I’m not a big fan of anthologies but sometimes there are those rare exceptions like Creepshow. Well, this is one of those rare exceptions.

Amicus is often times confused with Hammer Films, as they were another British studio that made horror pictures in the same era and used a lot of the same stars. They did have a tendency to make a lot of anthology pictures though, where Hammer focused more on classic monsters in the same vein as the Universal Pictures horror films of the ’30s and ’40s.

This one might be the best of Amicus’ horror anthologies, which are really hit or miss for me.

love that we get to see Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing in another film, which happened over twenty times in their careers. They don’t share screen time here, unfortunately, as both men star in different stories within this anthology framework. But each is the star of their own segment.

Additionally, we get to see a segment starring Denholm Elliot a.k.a. Marcus Brody of Indiana Jones fame, as well as Jon Pertwee, most famous for playing the third incarnation of the Doctor on Doctor Who. It doesn’t stop there though, as we also get to enjoy the wonderful Ingrid Pitt, a true British scream queen, and Joss Ackland, who I love in just about everything.

While this stacked cast does a lot to make this film work and to legitimize it in a sea of horror from the era, it is the stories and the actual connection that they have that makes this a really enjoyable feature.

This is a small and confined feeling film, as just about every scene takes place in the same house. Each segment focuses on a different owner of the house and how this haunted property finds a way to effect them and bring out their fear.

We have a story about a writer going insane, seeing his imagined killer coming to life. We then get a story that involves a wax recreation of a dead love. Then there is one about a young girl that is a witch who terrorizes her overbearing father. And finally, we get my favorite segment that sees a legendary horror actor come into possession of a mystical cloak that turns the wearer into an actual vampire. There is also a chopped up segment that strings all the tales together.

I wouldn’t say that this is the best horror film put out by Amicus but it is the best one I’ve seen in awhile. That being said, it is in the upper echelon of their pictures and pretty damn enjoyable all around.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other British horror films from Amicus and Hammer from the late ’60s/early ’70s.

Film Review: Madhouse (1974)

Release Date: May 22nd, 1974 (San Francisco)
Directed by: Jim Clark
Written by: Ken Levinson, Greg Morrison
Based on: Devilday by Angus Hall
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Robert Quarry, Adrienne Corri, Natasha Pyne, Michael Parkinson, Linda Hayden, Barry Dennen

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Miss Peters, as they say in horror movies, you will come to a bad end.” – Paul Toombes

American International Pictures and Amicus Productions, two great B-movie horror studios of their day, teamed up to bring us Madhouse. It also teams up two of their biggest horror stars, Vincent Price and Peter Cushing. It doesn’t end there though, as the film features Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry, and Hammer Horror ladies Adrienne Corri and Linda Hayden.

Coming out a year after the Vincent Price starring Theater of Blood, this film shares a lot of similarities with it. Both movies deal with an actor that is tied to the murders of several people around him. In Theater of Blood Price played a stage actor. In this, he is a horror movie icon most known as a character called Dr. Death. The people who die in this film are killed by someone dressed as Dr. Death. Is it Price committing the crimes or is it someone else trying to drive him mad?

While this isn’t the best work Price or Cushing did in their long careers, it is still a fun and entertaining ride for ninety minutes. Plus, seeing Price and Cushing share the screen is never a bad thing.

I really like the character of Dr. Death and it would have been cool seeing this spinoff into some Dr. Death movies but they never really thought like that back in the 1970s. The filmmakers created a character that could have been a cool brand, all to himself. Plus, at this point, Price didn’t have a permanent vehicle like he did in the 1960s with those Edgar Allan Poe pictures he cranked out annually with Roger Corman.

This is a violent whodunit mystery and it very much plays like an Italian giallo picture but without the vivid colorful flourishes. Still, it feels giallo in spirit, as it is a good prototype for the slasher formula and features a cool mysterious killer with an even cooler outfit. And like a giallo, it has hints of noir in its story, although it is lacking the noir visual style. Had this film been a bit more stylish, it could have actually been something exceptional.

Madhouse is still pretty good and I like it a bit more than the more popular Theater of Blood. But really, the two films are just good companion pieces to one another and also play well as a double feature.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: The Beast Must Die (1974)

Also known as: Black Werewolf (US video title)
Release Date: April 22nd, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Paul Annett
Written by: Michael Winder
Based on: a short story by James Blish
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Marlene Clark, Charles Gray, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon, Anton Diffring

Amicus Productions, British Lion Films, 92 Minutes

Review:

“One of our guests is a werewolf, I know it.” – Tom Newcliffe

While Amicus was never the great British horror studio that Hammer was, it often times utilized Hammer’s top stars and the company did a fine job of filling in the void that started to appear as Hammer cooled down in the 1970s.

Like many Amicus horror pictures, this one features Hammer legend Peter Cushing. He plays his typical role of scientist or doctor or just general boffin type who could be evil or could be the hero. The thing with this film, is it is a whodunit mystery in the same vein as The Orient Express or Clue. However, the killer here is a werewolf.

A group of people, all suspects, are gathered at the house of an eccentric big game hunter played by Calvin Lockhart. The suspects are an interesting cast of characters that features Michael Gambon, Anton Iffring, Charles Grey, Marlene Clark and a couple others. As can be expected, as the film roles on, people get picked off by the wolf.

The Beast Must Die is pretty standard fare for Amicus. I like the premise more than a typical Amicus film but the execution isn’t spectacular. It’s good enough to enjoy on a rainy afternoon but even with an extra twist at the end, the movie is pretty predictable and doesn’t offer up anything too interesting.

It isn’t well shot and it is poorly lit but the acting is better than decent for this kind of picture. However, the music is distracting and overbearing. It is a jazzy almost funk score that was the trend in early to mid-70s British horror, which probably started with Dracula 1972 A.D. It tries to make the film come off as modern and hip but now, over 40 years later, it really dates the movie and does more harm than good. It doesn’t fit the tone or the visual style of the picture either.

The Beast Must Die is good enough to watch if you are into Amicus’ work. It’s not exceptional, it’s not horrible but it does have Peter Cushing, a werewolf and Calvin Lockhart is really entertaining as the rich hunter.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: At Earth’s Core (1976)

Release Date: July 1976 (US)
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Milton Subotsky
Based on: At Earth’s Core by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Mike Vickers
Cast: Doug McClure, Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, British Lion Films, 89 Minutes

Review:

Being that I have now watched At Earth’s Core means that I have now gotten through the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, which is kind of friggin’ depressing.

Truthfully, I had already seen this, as it is an Amicus film with Peter Cushing in it. It also has Caroline Munro, a huge childhood crush of mine, who always turned my heart into putty I would have freely given her to play with. I still would. I am weak in the presence of Ms. Munro even though she’s only been on my television set. Also, I’m calling her “Ms.” to ignore whether or not she ever married.

Anyway, Caroline Munro perv rant out of the way, on to the movie itself.

The film actually isn’t too bad. Considering that it is an Amicus production and that it has a tiny budget, I can live with the results.

It stars Doug McClure, who starred in Amicus’ other Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation The Land That Time Forgot. He’s a hammy and bulky “save the babe” sort of guy. The babe being Ms. Munro.

It also stars Peter Cushing, one of my all-time favorite actors. However, in this, he is really bizarre and overly goofy. His voice is weird and quite annoying and his mannerisms are like that of a regal British gentlemen drinking too many pints of ale and being dared by his mates to walk around like that asshole Jerry Lewis. I pretty much hate Cushing in this movie and I hate saying I hate Cushing in anything. I mean, it’s Peter F’n Cushing!

The film is colorful, I like the cinematography even if it feels really dated for 1976. The colors and sets look like something out of a 60s Roger Corman sci-fi picture. I love the colors, actually but the film feels like it has less production value than its predecessor The Land That Time Forgot, which predates this by two years.

Additionally, the effects, in general, are also a step down. While the creatures and monsters are cooler concepts than the standard dinosaurs in The Land That Time Forgot, their rubber suits and overall construction just look really shoddy.

Don’t even get me started on the atrocious ape men.

Despite its faults, At Earth’s Core is still a fun picture to check out if you love the classic Burroughs and Jules Verne adventure films from the 1950s through 1970s.

Rating: 5/10

Film Review: The Land That Time Forgot (1974)

Release Date: November 29th, 1974 (UK)
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn
Based on: The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Douglas Gamley
Cast: Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron

Amicus Productions, American International Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

The Land That Time Forgot is a better film than what is typically featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 but it was nice seeing it pop up in the new revival season. Also, it is made by Amicus and compared to the quality of most of their pictures, this is like a big budget epic for them. I’m not knocking Amicus but they were sort of a poor man’s Hammer Studios in the UK and typically made small gothic horror pictures.

This film features rubber dinosaurs, cavemen and a submarine. Those three things are an interesting enough mix. Unfortunately, the film spends more time on the submarine than the island it seems. Being that Amicus is not a big studio, they needed to distract from the island wildlife for budgetary reasons but there were probably better ways to do this.

The creatures aren’t horrible but they also aren’t great. What you have here is a typical rubber suit monster movie. It isn’t as cool and creative as a Toho kaiju flick but it is still well executed for what Amicus had to work with. The dinosaur battles were fairly decent despite the film’s limitations, technically and financially. The pterodactyls probably could have been a bit more convincing though.

The cast is pretty decent and the characters are an interesting mix. You have the military men from a German submarine, a few people from a ship that they sank and a caveman sidekick. Ultimately, the group has to work together, as they try to traverse and survive the dangerous island.

The Land That Time Forgot is not the best of the classic literary sci-fi adventure pictures that were big from the 1950s through 1970s but it is a really good effort from a studio that didn’t have Disney money. It is a good and fun film with a lot of flaws but it doesn’t get dull and it keeps your attention throughout. It is also a quicker paced film compared to others in its genre.

Rating: 5/10