Torture Garden (1967)

TORTURE GARDEN (1967)
Article #1291 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-26-2004
Posting Date: 2-23-2005
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Jack Palance, Burgess Meredith, Beverly Adams

Five people take in a special exhibit at the Dr. Diabolo’s Torture Garden, where they confront their own personal horrors.

Amicus was the king of horror anthologies, but this is one of their more obscure entries in the field. Unfortunately, it is one of their weaker entries, due to the uneven quality of the stories. The first one (about a witch’s familiar who eats human heads) is all right, though it raises more questions than it answers and it flirts with silliness. The second one (about a woman trying to make it in Hollywood who discovers how actors stay so young) is just blah; neither the story nor the final twist is remarkable. The third one is the weakest; like TALES FROM THE CRYPT, I saw this one years ago, and also like TFTC, one memory stuck in my mind. Unfortunately, my memory is from this one, and it’s about a killer piano. Quite frankly, this one should have been done as a comedy.

Still that leaves us the fourth tale (about two men who collect Edgar Allan Poe memorabilia, one of whom has taken the hobby a step farther), which is easily the high point. It features a fine performance by Peter Cushing as well as a revelatory one by Jack Palance. In fact, I highly recommend this sequence to anyone who wants an example of Palance’s range; his character here is such a far cry from his usual type of role that it’s a shame he ended up somewhat typecast. Furthermore, the framing sequence of the movie is quite fun; Burgess Meredith is having a fun time, even if he does seem to be doing a repeat of his role as The Penguin at times. Overall, it’s a bit of a disappointment, but not without its high points.

Terror Creatures from the Grave (1965)

TERROR CREATURES FROM THE GRAVE (1965)
(a.k.a. 5 TOMBE PER UN MEDIUM)
Article #1290 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-25-2004
Posting Date: 2-22-2005
Directed by Massimo Pupillo
Featuring Barbara Steele, Walter Brandi, Mirella Maravidi

A lawyer visits an old castle to help make out the will of a man whom he discovers has been dead for a year. He then discovers that all the witnesses at the man’s death have been dying one by one over the last year.

This movie claims that it was “inspired by Edgar Allan Poe”, which seems like a way of saying that it’s not based on any specific work of his. I could cynically point out that the any horror movie could be described as having been “inspired by Poe”, as I think the whole horror genre was inspired by him. Nevertheless, I think they mean something specific; I suspect that certain plot elements in the story were indeed inspired by a reading of “The Masque of the Red Death”. Certainly, the basic storyline (revenge from beyond the grave) isn’t very original, but the fact that the story ties itself to the execution of ancient “plague spreaders” gives it an unusual twist. This movie has some nice moments; in particular, a bizarre shot of plants moving in a tank of water, and a shot of a row of severed hands coming to life stay in the memory. The ending itself is pretty good as well, and some of the murders are memorable. Unfortunately, the middle section of the movie feels protracted and tedious, and the movie becomes quite dull on occasion. I also believe the ending makes a major mistake by refusing to let us catch a glimpse of zombie plague spreaders. Though I suspect this was done to allow our imaginations to run wild, it fails because it never really gives a sense of a real “presence” of the creatures; instead, we get the sense that the actors are reacting in horror to nothing at all. I also find it hard to believe that the zombies would have been too grotesque to show; given the number of disturbing visuals used in the movie (mutilated faces of men after having been stomped on by horses, infected with plague, and burned with acid), to not show the zombies because they would have been too grotesque would have been an act of hypocritical coyness.

Tales of Terror (1962)

TALES OF TERROR (1962)
Article #1289 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-24-2004
Posting Date: 2-21-2005
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone

Three tales from Edgar Allan Poe are presented.

There are some definite benefits to presenting Poe in this sort of anthology. For one thing, when you have an actor playing major roles in all the tales (as Vincent Price does here), it gives him a chance to show his range, which would otherwise require the viewing of several movies to appreciate. Another is that it avoids the problem of padding out the stories to fill a feature-length movie. The four stories (two of which are combined into a single entity) are well selected, giving us a good range of Poe’s work. The first, MORELLA, is probably the weakest, but it does cleanse the palate somewhat by allowing Corman to get his conflagration out of the way. The second is truly wonderful; Price, Peter Lorre, and Joyce Jameson all give excellent performances in a story that successfully merges THE BLACK CAT and THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO while giving it a strong comic twist (kudos to Richard Matheson). The third one is the most straightforward horror story of the bunch, and it is also quite good, with Price joined by Debra Paget and Basil Rathbone. In many ways, this movie paved the way for both THE RAVEN and THE COMEDY OF TERRORS. My favorite moments are from the middle story; the great wine-tasting sequence is a classic, and I also like the scene where Price and Jameson play “head games” with Lorre.

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972)
Article #1288 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-23-2004
Posting Date: 2-20-2005
Directed by Freddie Francis
Featuring Joan Collins, Peter Cushing, Roy Dotrice

Five people taking a tour of underground catacombs get lost and stumble into a hidden chamber, where a hooded man reveals to them secrets of their lives (and deaths).

This is one of the better anthology horror films out there. The tales are based on comic book stories from E.C. Comics. Generally, the format of each story is pretty standard; a man or woman who has just committed a dastardly act is treated to a horrific comeuppance; only the fourth story here (a variation on “The Monkey’s Paw”) doesn’t quite fit the pattern. The first story (about a woman who kills her husband only to find herself terrorized by a homicidal maniac disguised as Santa) is fairly ordinary, but it does make good use of music (the easy-listening Christmas music adds a lot to the atmosphere), it does have a decent amount of suspense, and it does a good job of telling a great deal of its story visually. The second story (about a married man who has a nightmare while running off with another woman) is the weakest of the bunch. The fourth story does indeed come up with a satisfyingly gruesome variant of its source inspiration. However, it’s the third and fifth stories that are the classics here. The third (about a poor old man who becomes the target of harassment by a rich neighbor) is anchored by a moving and powerful performance by Peter Cushing, and the ending is a great shock moment. Still, the best story is that last one, in which Nigel Patrick plays the neglectful superintendent of an institute for the blind whose cruel policies inspires a truly memorable act of vengeance from the residents (led by Patrick Magee); I saw this movie years ago, but I never forgot this sequence. Ralph Richardson is also on hand and having fun as the Cryptkeeper.

Jack Armstrong (1947)

JACK ARMSTRONG (1947)
(Serial)
Article #1287 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-22-2004
Posting Date: 2-19-2005
Directed by Wallace Fox
Featuring John Hart, Rosemary La Planche, Joe Brown Jr.

Jack Armstrong and the members of the Fairfield clan attempt to rescue Vic Hardy, who has been kidnapped by thugs. Their search takes them to a distant island, where they deal with suspicious natives and scheming criminals.

It’s nice to take a break from the Republic serials every once in a while and watch one from Columbia; though I don’t think near as much of Columbia’s fight choreography, they do on occasion give their serials more interesting storylines. This one is pretty good, and it has a lot of science fiction elements, including a couple of trips into outer space, and an annihilator ray gun. Granted, it does leave me with a few questions. Here they are.

1) How heavy is a rock about four feet long, three feet high, and three feet wide? I’m guessing that a rock that size would be too heavy for almost any man to shift easily; however, to judge the ease by which one of our heros casually pushes it on the head of one of the villains as a distracting tactic, I’d say this one weighs about two ounces. The villain wasn’t hurt, either.

2) Why are Charles Middleton and John Merton not listed in the credits? They only play the primary villains. Still, it’s nice to see familiar face Wheeler Oakman and Gene Roth, even if I have trouble recognizing the latter through his beard.

3) Who designed the outfits of the natives? The men wear patterned shirts AND patterned skirts. Not only that, they skirts and shirts don’t match. I’m guessing it must have been the villains who provided their clothing; no hero would be so unkind as to dress natives that way. And I certainly hope it wasn’t the intention of the villains to make us all dress that way if they took over the universe.

Squirm (1976)

SQUIRM (1976)
Article #1286 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-21-2004
Posting Date: 2-18-2005
Directed by Jeff Lieberman
Featuring Don Scardino, Patricia Pearcy, R.A. Dow

A furious thunderstorm causes the destruction of several power lines, sending thousands of volts of electricity into the ground. As a result, carnivorous worms are drawn out of the ground and began attacking the local populace.

I’ve heard good things about the small handful of films directed by Jeff Lieberman, but to date, this variation on the nature-gone-wild theme is the only one I’ve seen. It does make me look forward to his other movies, though. It has some faults; the special effects are somewhat variable and the movie really strains credibility at times (there are two characters who seem incredibly lucky, and a third whose resilience seems downright supernatural). But what the movie does right, it does superbly. The characters are given an infectious (and sometimes eccentric) charm that really draws you into their stories; even the human villain has his likable points. The movie also knows how to get under your skin in subtle ways; you get put on edge just watching characters eat at certain points (string licorice and spaghetti, to be precise). The movie also has a real sense of wit to it. Ultimately, the movie remains enjoyable and unique. And I love the final twist, as it deals with the unexpected fate of my favorite character; to say more would be to say too much.

Sound of Horror (1964)

SOUND OF HORROR (1964)
(a.k.a. EL SONIDO PREHISTORICO)
Article #1285 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-20-2004
Posting Date: 2-17-2005
Directed by Jose Antonio Nieves Conde
Featuring James Philbrook, Arturo Fernandez, Soledad Miranda

In the quest for treasures from ancient Greece, fortune seekers accidentally revive an invisible prehistoric creature.

I feel somewhat ambivalent about this movie. I admire that it works as well as it does, given what appears to have been a very small budget indeed. It does manage to raise a chill from time to time, the ‘sound of horror’ made by the monster is scary enough, and I actually find the characters somewhat likable. Unfortunately, the script is very uneven; once the monster manifests itself, there are way too many conversations about the treasure, an aspect of the movie that only really serves as a McGuffin; in fact, a whole conversation about the nature of the treasure should have gone at the beginning of the movie rather than half-way through. Also, the movie constantly reminds me of FIEND WITHOUT A FACE, and it suffers by comparison; both movies feature people trapped in a house threatened by an invisible monster (or monsters), but in that movie, when the monsters appeared, they were even more grotesque than expected (here the monster merely looks cheap), and the sound they made was much scarier than the sound of this monster. Still, I think it’s better to compare this one to another low-budget movie; namely, THE KILLER SHREWS, because, like that one, I think this movie manages to be quite scary despite the obvious flaws. And I don’t doubt that the presence of Ingrid Pitt also serves as a plus in the movie’s favor.

The Snake People (1971)

THE SNAKE PEOPLE (1971)
(a.k.a. ISLE OF THE SNAKE PEOPLE)
Article #1284 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-19-2004
Posting Date: 2-16-2005
Directed by Jack Hill and Juan Ibanez
Featuring Boris Karloff, Julissa, Carlos East

A new Captain of the Police arrives on an island and tries to put an end to the voodoo rituals of the natives.

This is one of the four Mexican movies that Boris Karloff did shortly before his death. They have a very poor reputation, but even though I wouldn’t say any of them were good, I don’t think they’re totally worthless. This one actually starts out quite well, with an intriguing opening sequence (though animal lovers may want to steer clear; I think they killed a real chicken for this) and a good exposition sequence to introduce the characters. However, the movie falls into a muddle after this; ideas are introduced and dropped, some scenes exist purely for exploitational purposes (neither the cannibalism subplot nor the lesbian dream sequence are necessary), and as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that a coherent script was never really crafted for this one. The most interesting thing I can find about this one is Karloff’s performance; it isn’t one of his best, but he does give it his all, and despite the fact that he was on his last legs healthwise, it doesn’t show in his performance. Still, this one is for Karloff completists only.

She Gods of Shark Reef (1958)

SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF (1958)
Article #1283 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-18-2004
Posting Date: 2-15-2005
Directed by Roger Corman
Featuring Bill Cord, Don Durant, Lisa Montell

Two brothers, one good, one evil, are stranded on a desert island inhabitied only by a tribe of pearl-hunting women who worship a shark god.

Some thoughts on SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF.

1) Roger Corman shot this one in color on location in Hawaii. He considers it one of his best-looking movies, and even given the faded copy of my print, I’m inclined to agree, if for no other reason than that Hawaii sure is pretty.

2) Let’s tackle the fantastic aspects of the movie. The island of pretty girls puts it into the realm of marginal fantasy. The sharks put it in the realm of marginal horror. That’s about it.

3) Now for the title. The natives don’t worship a “she”, they worship a shark. Still, SHARK GODS OF SHARK REEF is redundant and clumsy, and I suppose calling it GOOFUS AND GALLANT IN PARADISE was out. Then again, maybe the shark was a female. Never mind. Hawaii sure is pretty.

4) The story? Inconsequential. Hawaii sure is pretty.

5) I received a book of film flubs once as a gift, and after looking it over, I decided I really wasn’t a fan of enjoying a film on that level. Most of the flubs listed were ones you might only notice if you were looking for them, and the thought of watching a movie solely to see if you could spot a boom mike or jumping back and forth between scenes to spot continuity errors isn’t all that enlightenining (my weakness is logic errors). However, when a film flub jumps out at you as unexpectedly as the one in the scene where the brothers tie up the old lady, it bears mentioning. Therefore, I’ll mention it; there’s a film flub in that scene. Find it yourself. Hawaii sure is pretty.

6) Uhhh… Hawaii sure is pretty.

7) Other movies I’d like to see – SHEMP GODS OF STOOGE REEF and SHOE GODS FOR SHARP FEET.

8) I can’t help but notice that the architecture for this tribe of primitive women is singularly sophisticated. Maybe they were inspired by how pretty Hawaii is.

9). Hawaii sure is pretty.

10) Ever watch one of those movies where one aspect of the production completely overwhelms the others? And did you ever notice that in some of these productions, the other aspects really aren’t doing much fighting to get noticed on their own? In short – Hawaii sure is pretty.

She Demons (1958)

SHE DEMONS (1958)
Article #1282 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-17-2004
Posting Date: 2-14-2005
Directed by Richard Cunha
Featuring Irish McCalla, Tod Griffin, Victor Sen Yung

Three castaways find themselves stranded on a desert island inhabited by deformed women and Nazis.

By any ordinary set of standards, this movie is a stinker; the script is loaded with cliches and howlingly bad lines of dialogue, it has one of the worst scenes of native dancing I’ve ever seen, and the acting ranges from the somnambulant (Tod Griffin) to the overripe (Rudolph Anders overplays every syllable of dialogue he has) to the one-dimensional (Irish McCalla can play one emotion: disdain). Nonetheless, the reason that Richard Cunha does have a bit of a following is that he knew how to pepper his movies with exploitation elements, and between the ample feminine charms (the native girls), the hideous mutations (also the native girls), and the Nazi brutality (to, among others, the native girls), there’s probably enough here to catch your attention. Still, the scenes that make use of the exploitation elements are broken up by scenes which are just plain talky, and you’d best keep the fast forward button handy. And as for the science elements in the story, I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me how Osler’s experiments with lava qualify as “perpetual motion”.