Las Vampiras (1969)

aka The Vampires
Article 3328 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-8-2010
Posting Date: 9-24-2010
Directed by Federico Curiel
Featuring John Carradine, Mil Mascaras, Maria Duval
Country: Mexico
What it is: Mexican masked wrestler movie

Vampires are on the loose, and it’s up to Mil Mascaras to defeat them.

A name horror actor in a Mexican wrestler movie? The idea boggles the mind somewhat, but now that I know one exists, I’m not surprised the actor in question is John Carradine. He appears to be having the time of his life as well; his performance is gleefully over the top, so much so that you’ll wonder if his aged vampire character is caged up throughout most of the movie because he’s suffering from senility. The aptly named Mil Mascaras dons quite a few different masks during the length of the movie, though he eventually settles on a red one during the last half of the movie; my favorite mask has a spiral on it that I’m sure would have made his opponent in the ring dizzy. The female vampires in this movie are a hoot; not only do they flap their arms about even when they aren’t bats, but they’re the world’s worst drivers (they wreck two cars during the course of the movie). I just wish it was all subtitled in English; I have no idea what’s going on most of the time, though it is entertaining. It is rather jarring, though, to hear the voice they used to dub Carradine.


Hercules the Avenger (1965)

aka The Challenge of the Giant, La sfida dei giganti
Article 3327 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-7-2010
Posting Date: 9-23-2010
Directed by Maurizio Lucidi
Featuring Reg Park, Gia Sandri, Giovanni Cianfriglia
Country: Italy
What it is: Sword and Sandal

When his son’s soul is held in bondage after a lion attack, Hercules must go into the underworld and rescue him. Meanwhile, Anteaus, the son of an Earth Goddess, impersonates Hercules and becomes a tyrannical dictator over the kingdom of Syracuse.

You know, given the number of sword and sandal movies that emerged from Italy in the early sixties, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of them borrowed footage from earlier movies to pad out the proceedings. If they did so, however, they did so with restraint. That’s not the case here. My first hint was a sense of deja vu during a visit to a soothsayer. However, once Hercules does battle with an old man who turns into a lizard creature, I knew that this movie was pillaging footage from HERCULES AND THE CAPTIVE WOMEN, and shortly after that, it started pillaging from HERCULES IN THE HAUNTED WORLD as well. At any rate, that explains why this one is so bizarrely structured. What original footage exists seems to involve the home life of Hercules and the machinations of Antaeus, and the complicity of a misguided (as in opposition to evil) queen who agrees to his impersonation as a ruse to get rid of unwanted suitors. Though the final scene of the fight between Hercules and Antaeus is new footage, it’s not really all that novel, as I remember the character appearing in HERCULES UNCHAINED, which also used the gimmick that Antaeus could not be defeated while his feet were on the ground. At any rate, this is an unnecessary movie, as its footage is taken from much better sword and sandal movies.

To the Devil a Daughter (1976)

Article 3326 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-6-2010
Posting Date: 9-22-2010
Directed by Peter Sykes
Featuring Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Honor Blackmon
Country: UK / West Germany
What it is: Devil worship story

An occult writer takes over the care of the daughter of a repentant Satanist in the hopes that the information he learns will make for a great book. Unfortunately, he finds himself in over his head when the Satanists turn out to be very serious and very dangerous, and he must come up to speed very quickly if he hopes to save her life… and the world.

This was Hammer’s swan song, and based on its rating on IMDB, I’m guessing it isn’t a particular favorite. Nevertheless, for the most part I like it. The story is confusing for the first half of the movie, but it does come together at about the halfway point. Both Christopher Lee and Richard Widmark give excellent performances, though it takes some getting used to Widmark’s distinctly American accent in this context. Oddly enough, it doesn’t feel like a Hammer film, though it is interesting to speculate what the studio’s product would have been like if this had not been their last production. It’s biggest problem is a very weak ending, which apparently was not the original one in the script; the original ending was shot, but none of the footage survives. I find it rather hard to believe that Olivia Newton-John was also in consideration for the role played by Nastassja Kinski here. All in all, I found the movie quite interesting, and sometimes quite grotesque.

Theatre of Death (1967)

Article 3325 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-5-2010
Posting Date: 9-21-2010
Directed by Samuel Gallu
Featuring Christopher Lee, Julian Glover, Lelia Goldoni
Country: UK
What it is: Horror / Mystery

A series of vampire-style murders is plaguing Paris. The murders are somehow connected with a Grand Guignol-style theatre known as the Theatre of Death.

I watched the beginning of this movie many years ago when it popped up on late night TV, but lost interest very quickly. It was interesting to compare my memories of that attempted viewing with my observations on this viewing. Back then, I thought the movie looked cheap and chintzy, but I’m willing to bet that was more due to a poor print; this one looks very nice indeed, and I like the use in color particularly. The movie has several interesting moments, some of which are creatively photographed; there’s no doubt that some skill went into the direction, editing and cinematography here, and the acting is quite solid. The story also has some interesting twists and revelations. Yet, for some reason, the movie is mostly dull; it never really builds up much story momentum, and the events seem distant and uninvolving. As a result, my interest remained muted during the viewing. I wish I could pinpoint exactly where and how the movie loses my interest, but I didn’t sense one iota of real suspense during my viewing. It’s a pity; this one could have been much better.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Article 3324 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-4-2010
Posting Date: 9-20-2010
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Featuring Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalban
Country: USA
What it is: Fourth in the PLANET OF THE APES movie series

After having been raised secretly by a circus owner, the son of Cornelius and Zira is appalled to discover that during his life at the circus, apes have been enslaved by humans and forced to perform menial tasks. However, he becomes a fugitive when he is heard to speak in reaction to abuse given to a fellow ape, and when his owner dies trying to protect him, he vows to lead his ape brothers in revolution against their tyrannic masters.

When PLANET OF THE APES spawned a whole series of movies, this one seemed inevitable; eventually, a movie would have to made about the ape revolution, and here it is. It’s really a tribute to Roddy McDowall’s acting abilities, and once again he delivers despite having to emote through elaborate make-up. I’m less impressed with the story as a whole; it’s a little too one-dimensional and repetitive, and the ending features way too many speeches. It’s also a little short of humor, though it does have a few stray moments, especially when Caesar starts his revolution by having the apes start performing certain small but amusing acts of rebellion. In the end, the movie ends up being a little too ordinary. Granted, from the sound of it, the movie was compromised for its initial release; its original ending was considered too dark, and the final speech was amended to be less so. This is a shame; they could have come up with a better fifth movie if the ending of this one hadn’t been compromised.

A Cold Night’s Death (1973)

Article 3323 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-3-2010
Posting Date: 9-19-2010
Directed by Jerrold Freedman
Featuring Robert Culp, Eli Wallach, Michael C. Gwynne
Country: USA
What it is: Science fiction thriller

When a scientist performing experiments on apes at an isolated polar research statement becomes erratic, a relief team is sent out to relieve him for fear that he is neglecting the test subjects. They find the subjects freezing, and the scientist dead. They take over the research, but it soon becomes apparent that they aren’t alone there…

Thanks to a pair of very strong performances from Robert Culp and Eli Wallach, a perplexing mystery surrounding the circumstances of the scientist’s death, and the freezing isolation of the setting, this is one very effective TV-movie thriller. The constant howling of the winds, the shrieking of the apes, and the gradual deterioration of trust between the two men all work together to put you on edge, and it manages to keep the mystery elements a puzzle until the end. I can imagine someone figuring out what was going on if they picked up the clues, but I have to admit that the final revelation was both surprising and satisfying. The only problem I had with the movie has to do with the fact that it takes so long for one man who gets locked out of the research station to find his way back in; his final solution is the very first thing that popped up in my mind. Nevertheless, that is a minor problem, and this one is highly recommended.

Brides of Blood (1968)

aka Brides of the Beast
Article 3322 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-2-2010
Posting Date: 9-18-2010
Directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero
Featuring Kent Taylor, Beverly Powers, John Ashley
Country: Philippines / USA
What it is: Filipino-style horror

A scientist, his wife and a Peace Corps volunteer arrive at an island to do research and to help the natives. However, they soon discover that something is amiss; the plant and animal life undergoes strange mutations, and the natives have taken to sacrificing their maidens to a hideous monster who ravishes them and tears them to pieces.

With this I finish covering what could be loosely called the “Blood Island” trilogy of horror movies from the Philippines. Some people have grouped TERROR IS A MAN and BRAIN OF BLOOD into this group, though the inclusion of the former movie is a bit of a stretch, and the latter movie simply doesn’t belong in any way, shape or form to the series. Matter of fact, it isn’t even strictly a trilogy to begin with; the only two movies that have a plot relation are MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND and BEAST OF BLOOD. This movie at least shares certain crucial similarities in that it also features direction by Eddie Romero and acting by John Ashley.

I fully expected merely a lurid piece of exploitation horror like the other two movies of the trilogy, and for a while that’s what it seemed like, with its liberal doses of sex and gore. Then a certain key moment in the movie made me start pondering at a possible deeper meaning to the movie. That moment occurs when a young native couple is interrupted in their frolicking by the sight of a native child being attacked by a killer tree. The tribe rescues the child, and then proceed to undertake the ceremony leading to another set of sacrifices. The fact that the attack of the tree and the advent of the sacrifices were related, combined with the fact that the creatures and plants that mutate eventually return to their previous state, and that these mutations occur in sync with each other, led me not only to figuring out the nature of the monster but also that the whole movie can be seen as a metaphor for aberrant sexuality. When the monster manifests itself, nature itself takes on an unhealthy phallic atmosphere, and the mutations only retreat after the monster has raped and dismembered the sacrifice victims. As a result, the sex in the movie isn’t merely exploitative; it is inherent in the story. Because of this, I find it interesting that the natives can only have their mating dance ritual at the end of the movie after the monster has been finally destroyed; it is a metaphorical return to healthy sexuality, and, as such, is actual essential to the picture rather than a mere attempt to add some running time or protract the ending. The special effects are pretty problematic (the butterfly is pretty fake looking, and they should have avoided any close-ups of the monster), and some of the acting is weak (Beverly Powers is memorable for something other than her performance), but the presence of the very strong subtext gives the movie far more depth than I expected. This is easily the most interesting of the “Blood Island” trilogy.