Film Review: Attack of the Eye Creatures (1965)

Also known as: The Eye Creatures (original TV title), Terrors of the Dark (working title)
Release Date: 1965 (TV)
Directed by: Larry Buchanan
Written by: Paul W. Fairman, Robert J. Gurney Jr., Al Martin
Music by: Les Baxter, Ronald Stein
Cast: John Ashley, Cynthia Hull, Warren Hammack, Chet Davis, Bill Peck, Ethan Allen, Charles McLine

Aztec Pictures, American International Television, 80 Minutes

Review:

“[two radar men spy kids necking in the woods] Ain’t science wonderful?” – Culver

Attack of the Eye Creatures is the type of schlock that makes respectable schlock run for the hills. It’s basically a wet turd on celluloid, which is probably why it is only slightly remembered in modern times because it was the focal point of a fourth season episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Had it not been for that great show dusting it off, this movie would have been lost to the sands of time. Granted, that might be for the best because even with it getting the MST3K treatment, it’s still a tough one to get through.

This was distributed by American International, who are synonymous with schlock even though they sometimes pushed out good pictures like those Vincent Price and Roger Corman collaborations that adapted the works of Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.

However, this was so bad that it was distributed by the TV arm of the company. For American International to not have much faith in putting something in theaters, you know it’s bad.

I’m not even sure what the hell was going on in this movie, as it was hard to stay awake.

Although, the creatures are just so terrible looking that they’re at least endearing and the only salvageable thing from the film. I mean, their design and the execution of that design is pretty deplorable. Essentially, they are supposed to be humanoid creatures made up of naked eyeballs. They looks more like The Stuff from The Stuff trying to fully devour a mannequin. They should’ve titled this movie Attack of the Lumpy Marshmallow Men or Revenge of the Spooge Goblins.

As with all films like this, it is best viewed by watching the MST3K version. At least the riffing is good on this one.

Rating: 1.5/10
Pairs well with: the worst of the worst when it comes to films shown on MST3K.

Film Review: The Raven (1963)

Release Date: January 25th, 1963
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Hazel Court, Olive Sturgess, Jack Nicholson

American International Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll need something to protect you from the cold. [Dr. Bedlo reaches for a glass of wine] No, I meant clothes!” – Dr. Craven

Following the success of a couple Edgar Allan Poe adaptations between producer/director Roger Corman and his star Vincent Price, the men re-teamed again but this time, they made a comedy.

They also added more star power to this film with legends Peter Lorre and Boris Karloff. Add in future legend Jack Nicholson and Hammer Horror scream queen Hazel Court and you’ve got one hell of a cast.

I’m not sure what audiences in the ’60s felt about this film going into it, as the other Poe films by this team were very dark and brooding. This one certainly has the same sort of visual tone but the lighthearted camp of the material definitely tones down the dread.

To be frank, I love this movie but I love all of these Poe films made by Corman and Price. But this one is in the upper echelon for me.

The Raven hits the right notes and the chemistry between Price and Lorre was absolute perfection. They would also bring their solid camaraderie to the film The Comedy of Terrors, a year later. But this also wasn’t their first outing together, as they stared in “The Black Cat” segment of Tales of Terror. That short tale in the larger anthology was also pretty funny.

The film also benefits from having great chemistry between Lorre and Nicholson, who played his son. Karloff also meshed well with the cast.

The highlight of this film is the wizard battle at the end. It is over the top and hokey but it’s the sort of fun cheese that I love. Limited by a scant budget and the special effects of the era, the battle between the two powerful magicians has a sort of charm to it. It’s hard not to smile and enjoy the proceedings. Vincent Price also looked like he was enjoying himself immensely in this scene.

Unlike other Poe films by Corman, this one ends on a happy note and surprisingly, none of the key players die.

This is a really unique film that works for both the horror and comedy genres of its time. It looks good when seen alongside the other Poe films and it also pairs greatly with The Comedy of Terrors, which shares a lot of the same actors and adds in Basil Rathbone.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Roger Corman directed Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures, as well as The Comedy of Terrors for its tone and cast.

Film Review: Untamed Youth (1957)

Release Date: May 10th, 1957 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Howard W. Koch
Written by: John C. Higgins, Stephen Longstreet
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Mamie Van Doren, Lori Nelson

Warner Bros., 80 Minutes

Review:

It is hard to believe that Warner Bros. made this awful movie. Teen dancing movies were all the rage back in the ’50s and ’60s but they usually took place on the beach, not in some podunk town stuck in a barn. This is like a proto-Footloose but without Jesus ruining the kids’ high school dance.

This was also featured on the first nationally televised season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and for good reason. It’s a stupid, shitty movie but at least it tries to be fun.

The story is about these juvenile delinquents that look thirty. The local law is sick and tired of all their partying, singing and dancing so they are forced into slavery, working on a cotton farm. For real, this is the plot.

Most of the movie just showcases these nitwits dancing like spastic jackasses to awful tunes. I don’t think that any of these “kids” were professional dancers. I mean, Mamie Van Doren is in the film, showing off her talents but it’s hardly exciting.

This is a really bad movie for a major studio, even for the time. Warner Bros. should still be embarrassed by this film, over six decades later. If this movie was any indication of their track record, this alone should have kept the DC Comics films (not controlled by Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton) out of their hands. This film left a blight so deep that even sixty years couldn’t cure it. But I’ll give Warner Bros. a pass, as I like the Police Academy movies.

Anyway, this sucks. Plain and simple.

Of course it must be ran through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results read, “Type 7 Stool: Water, no solid pieces. Entirely liquid.”

Rating: 3.25/10
Pairs well with: Dancing beach movies from the era but even then, this will bring that horrible genre down into deeper, shittier depths.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: The Beast Within (1982)

Release Date: February 12th, 1982
Directed by: Philippe Mora
Written by: Tom Holland, Danilo Bach (uncredited)
Based on: The Beast Within by Edward Levy
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Ronny Cox, Bibi Besch, Paul Clemens, Don Gordon, R.G. Armstrong, Meshach Taylor, Logan Ramsey

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, United Artists, 90 Minutes

Review:

“Oral sodomy?… Well, that’s why it’s a small town… Yeah, we’ll look into it. Thank you for calling.” – Sheriff Pool

The Beast Within is what happens when someone says, “You know what would be cool? A werewolf movie but instead of a wolf, the guy turns into a cicada!” I guess, just think about the Cronenberg remake of The Fly but nowhere near as good or as cool. And certainly not featuring an awesome level of Jeff Goldblum.

However, I do have to give the film props on one thing, the transformation scene at the end is absolutely friggin’ horrifying and a great use of practical effects. Also, it is really drawn out and doesn’t try to throw in quick cuts to hide its imperfections. It is a stellar sequence that was put together by the filmmakers and still holds up well.

Also, the film’s music was made by Les Baxter, who was a pioneer of exotica music and is mostly known for easy-listening tunes. His score here is a stark contrast to his norm. It is uneasy and chaotic but in a great way.

The film itself isn’t that bad, actually. The story is a bit slow and drawn out but at ninety minutes, I can’t really complain. At least I was entertained by R.G. Armstrong, a guy I’ve always liked, and Ronny Cox, most famous as the evil Dick Jones from Robocop.

The story starts with a woman being raped by a were-cicada. She gets pregnant, has a baby and her and Ronny Cox raise it as their own. When the kid grows to be a teenager, he starts to exhibit weird behavior. The kid is the son of the were-cicada and we discover a small town conspiracy to keep a wraps on this were-cicada stuff.

It’s a strange tale and incredibly dark and while it can actually get drab, at certain points in the film, the high points make up for it. It is just a movie suffering from multiple personality disorder. The pacing is bad, the narrative execution isn’t very good but most of the effects and scares are impressive.

The Beast Within is nowhere near as remembered as other horror films of its day but it should be respected and cherished for its practical effects, especially that awesome transformation scene that kicks off the big climax.

It also has a fantastic poster. And there is something truly unsettling about a woman getting knocked up by a bug.

Film Review: Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

Release Date: August 12th, 1961
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr, Luana Anders

American International Pictures, 85 Minutes 

pit_and_the_pendulumReview:

This is the second in the long series of films that teamed up director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price in their line of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations for American International Pictures. It also brings in horror icon Barbara Steele on the heels of her success in Mario Bava’s Black Sunday.

The cast is rounded out by John Kerr, who plays the other male lead opposite of Price, and Luana Anders, the female co-star who has significantly more screen time than the higher billed Steele.

Pit and the Pendulum is based off of the Poe story of the same name. It takes some creative liberties but does a good job of capturing the Poe feel. The film also borrows some elements from another Poe tale, The Cask of Amontillado.

Everything in the film eventually leads to the actual pit and the pendulum from the title. The pit itself isn’t all that exciting, it’s a pit. The pendulum, however, is the centerpiece of one of the best classic horror sequences ever produced. Even now, fifty-plus years later, it is still a chilling and dreadful sequence in the film.

Vincent Price was his typical self in Pit and the Pendulum and my only wish was that he shared more moments with Barbara Steele, who was as alluring as always.

John Kerr was fairly solid, if a bit boisterous at times. His character, like Mark Damon’s in House of Usher, was supposed to be a bit pushy and demanding, as he needed to know the truth behind the mystery that was the central plot.

Pit and the Pendulum is a really good looking picture but then, so were all of the Corman-Price-Poe collaborations. The sets were damn good for a picture with a small budget and short shooting schedule but that was always Roger Corman’s specialty.

This is one of the must-see films in Vincent Price’s long filmography. It has all of the best aspects of a classic 1960s Poe adaptation with very few flaws, other than things that were unavoidable in 1961 with limited resources.

Pit and the Pendulum is a horror classic that has done a fine job of surviving the test of time.

Film Review: House of Usher (1960)

Release Date: June 18th, 1960
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Mark Damon, Myrna Fahey, Harry Ellerbe

American International Pictures, 79 Minutes 

house_of_usher1960Review:

Roger Corman and Vincent Price teamed up for several films in the 1960s based on the stories of Edgar Allan Poe. House of Usher is the first of these films.

It is hard to say which of the Corman-Price-Poe pictures is the best. They are all very good for their own reasons. House of Usher could be the best though. It all takes place in one house and it only has four actors in the entire picture, except for some ghosts in a dream sequence, yet it is still captivating from the first frame to the last.

Vincent Price’s acting in House of Usher is some of his best, ever. He is a tragic figure that feels the need to do some truly evil stuff, in an effort to bring an end to his family’s curse and his sister’s suffering. Despite him seeming quite mad, the film shows you how he got that way and you can’t do anything but sympathize with him.

His sister, played by Myrna Fahey, is even more tragic than Price’s Roderick, as she must battle for her sanity while trying to find balance between her awful condition and embracing true love. Mark Damon plays the only sane character in the movie, as he arrives at the house in an effort to bring Fahey’s Madeline back to Boston with him. Harry Ellerbe plays the family butler and is more or less an accomplice to Roderick, even if he has reservations.

Vincent Price was just on point in this role. Damon was also really good and their scenes together were intense but fantastic. This almost plays like something more Shakespearean than the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Both actors were very capable and their ability to play off of each other was the main strength of the film.

The atmosphere of the picture was dark and dreary but even then, the sinister mansion of the Ushers felt oddly welcoming. It felt like a place that wanted to give you warmth and comfort and then slowly swallow you into its underlying darkness. Corman pulled off magic with next to nothing but this was his modus operandi throughout his entire career.

House of Usher, considering that it had no budget, one set, four actors and a very short shooting schedule, somehow turned out to be one of the best films based off of the works of Poe. It still holds up well today and is my favorite version of the Usher story.