Messiah of Evil (1973)

MESSIAH OF EVIL (1973)
aka DEAD PEOPLE
Article 2143 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-27-2007
Posting Date: 6-25-2007
Directed by William Huyck and Gloria Katz
Featuring Michael Greer, Marianna Hill, Joy Bang

A woman arrives at a small seaside town to visit her artist father, who is missing from his home. She searches the town for him, and hooks up with some tourists researching an old town legend about a blood moon. They begin to learn the awful secret of the town, a secret that has turned the town’s dead into flesh-eating zombies.

The plot of this low-budget zombie flick is a bit muddled; I’m not sure what the woman’s loss of the ability to feel sensations has to do with the plot (or the significance of her spitting up insects), or what role her father really plays in the proceedings. Nevertheless, this is an effective little horror movie despite those problems, with three memorable and well-staged attack sequences (in a filling station, a grocery store and a movie theater) and the occasional display of a wicked sense of humor (my favorites – a line about stamps, a line about Wagner, and the title on the marquee of the movie theater). Somehow, it all has to do with a stranger (who survived the Donner Party) who appeared in town one hundred years ago. All in all, a fairly decent horror movie which would be rereleased under several titles over the years; its distributors got into trouble at one point for copping the ad line from Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD. The movie also features Royal Dano (who would appear a few years later in another movie about the Donner party, DONNER PASS: THE ROAD TO SURVIVAL) and Elisha Cook Jr., who shows up just long enough to die a horrible death (wait a minute – there’s an echo in here). Writers and directors William Huyck and Gloria Katz were associates of George Lucas (they co-wrote AMERICAN GRAFFITI with him) and also worked on the sequel to that movie as well as INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM and the disastrous HOWARD THE DUCK.

 

The Curse of the Vampires (1966)

THE CURSE OF THE VAMPIRES (1966)
aka CREATURES OF EVIL, IBULONG MO SA HANGIN
Article 2142 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-26-2007
Posting Date: 6-24-2007
Directed by Gerardo de Leon
Featuring Eddie Garcia, Amalia Fuentes, Romeo Vasquez

The patriarch of a country estate is on his deathbed, and places a codicil in his will stating that upon his death the estate will be burned to the ground. His son, who was hoping to inherit the estate, objects to this, but then discovers that there is a curse of evil on his family, and that his mother has become a vampire and is kept chained in the basement.

Sometimes a movie catches you off guard. Given that this is an mid sixties Filipino horror film I fully expected it would be little more than dumb but campy fun. However, as I watched it, I started to notice a few things; for one thing, the characters act with a real emotional resonance to the events that happen; when the son discovers that his mother is now a vampire chained in the basement, his reaction is full of the right mixture of revulsion and grief, and we get a real sense of the tragedy of the situation. These kinds of touches abound, and this compensates somewhat for the fact that the movie wanders somewhat in the plot department and that some of the makeup is quite bad. I’m sure the dubbing hurts it a little, but it does seem as if they got decent actors to do the dubbing as well, and this also helps. I found myself caught up in this one in ways that were totally unexpected. No, it’s not a great movie, but I ended up caring about the characters and what happens to them, and this made the movie much more interesting than I though it would be. And I do have to take my hat off to any movie that manages to kill off practically every major character and still come up with a happy ending. Good show!

 

High Treason (1928)

HIGH TREASON (1928)
Article 2141 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-25-2007
Posting Date: 6-23-2007
Directed by Maurice Elvey
Featuring James Carew, Basil Gill, Alf Goddard

In the future (1950, to be exact) the world is split up into the European States and the Atlantic States. A conspiracy sets up an international incident at a border station in order to bring the two nations to war in the hopes of profiting by it. As the anger and tension spirals, a peace organization based in London sets its sights on preventing war, eventually taking drastic measures to do so.

This was one of the movies made on the cusp of the sound era, so both sound and silent versions were made. I’ve not seen the sound version, but this one is pretty interesting if flawed. The movie definitely has a point of view, especially at the end when a certain character is lit in such a way as to make him a Christ figure. If you set aside the propaganda aspect, it’s an interesting exploration as to how a war can start with a single incident and how fear, misunderstanding, and some nudging from a small conspiracy can bring things to a head. I like some of the moral issues the movie brings up, even if it takes a somewhat simplistic approach to it; in particular, I found myself wondering about whether any causes really do require extreme measures to support them. I do like the visions of the future, even if they’re a little dated from our vantage point in time, and even if much of the effects obviously look like models. And even if the movie definitely takes a pacifist viewpoint to the proceedings, it’s undercut by moments such as the woman (who has been drafted into the war effort) who decides that war is hell once she sees the ugly uniform she’ll have to wear.

 

Castle of the Living Dead (1964)

CASTLE OF THE LIVING DEAD (1964)
aka IL CASTELLO DEI MORTI VIVI
Article 2140 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-24-2006
Posting Date: 6-22-2007
Directed by Luciano Ricci, Lorenzo Sabatini and Michael Reeves
Featuring Christopher Lee, Gaia Germani, Philippe Leroy

In the chaos after the Napoleanic wars, several roving entertainers are invited to the castle of Count Drago, an eccentric who practices taxidermy. The count is planning on extending his hobby to other life forms, and pretty soon the entertainers begin to die one by one.

Here we have another odd Eurohorror starring Christopher Lee as a Count. This one doesn’t quite work, largely due to bad pacing and poor dubbing (though Christopher Lee and a young Donald Sutherland are for the most part allowed to keep their own voices). Still, there are plenty of odd touches to this one. Mirko Valentin makes for a fairly scary henchman, and Antonio De Martino is quite memorable as the surprisingly heroic dwarf. The discovery of the preserved bird in the tree is fairly striking, and the presence of Donald Sutherland in at least two roles (he may be in a third role, but I can’t remember noticing him in a role as an old man). Sutherland does give a good performance, though his presence is a little jarring; his acting style seems out of place among all the dubbing in the Sgt. Paul role, but in his old witch role, he is dubbed as well. Still, it does give us a fun little moment in which he helps himself off of the floor. Christopher Lee does fine, but his makeup (with big black patches under his eyes) is ineffective. The script was cowritten by Michael Reeves, and he did some uncredited direction as well, but he would get better with his later movies.

 

The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967)

THE TORTURE CHAMBER OF DR. SADISM (1967)
aka BLOOD DEMON, DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DAS PENDEL
Article 2139 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-23-2007
Posting Date: 6-21-2007
Directed by Harold Reinl
Featuring Lex Barker, Christopher Lee, Karin Dor

A lawyer receives a mysterious message which promises to unveil the secret of his past. He visits the castle of Count Regula in the company of a baroness, her servant, and a priest, only to discover that Count Regula was a sorcerer who was drawn and quartered thirty-five years ago. However, this doesn’t mean that he’ll remain dead…

Despite the fact that a lot of the krimi have horror elements to them, the fact of the matter is that not a lot of horror movies came from Germany during the sixties. This is one of the exceptions, and it’s an odd one; the basic plot is very familiar indeed, but it has bizarre and decidedly eccentric touches to it. The music is pretty uneven, the American title is a lie (there is no Dr. Sadism in the movie) and the credits weren’t carefully researched (just for the record, “The Pit and the Pendulum” was not a novel). The German title is accurate enough; there is a snake pit, and there is a pendulum. Outside of the debt it owes to Poe, it also owes one to Mario Bava’s BLACK SUNDAY; in fact, heroine Karin Dor looks quite a bit like Barbara Steele. It’s not a particularly coherent movie, but the best scenes stick in the memory; my favorite moment is a carriage ride through a spooky forest littered with dead bodies, and the scene where Count Regula rises from the dead (which involves his body attaching itself back together) is great. The set design is excellent; Count Regula’s castle walls are decorated with paintings that look like they were done by Heironymous Bosch. I saw this one as a kid, and I never forgot it, and I think it still holds up pretty well today.

 

The Black Zoo (1963)

BLACK ZOO (1963)
Article 2138 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-22-2007
Posting Date: 6-20-2007
Directed by Robert Gordon
Featuring Michael Gough, Jeanne Cooper, Rod Lauren

A zoo owner uses his wild animals to dispense with his enemies.

The three movies made by Michael Gough for Herman Cohen in the late fifties and early sixties (HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, KONGA and this one) are something of a piece; Gough plays for all practical purposes the same character in all three: a man who has a smooth way of dealing with the authorities, but is brutal and abusive to those close to him and resorts to murder to do away with his enemies. This is the most obscure of the three movies; it’s nowhere near as good as HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, and even though I think it’s better than KONGA, it’s not as amusing as that one is in the final analysis. Still, I must confess that I’m not a big fan of Cohen’s work; I find it often lacking in subtlety, and there is a tendency toward shrillness (the characters scream at each other a lot). For me, the best things about this one are the presence of some familiar faces; Elisha Cook Jr. pops on the scene just long enough to die a horrible death, Rod Lauren was always interesting playing disturbed teens, and Edward Platt of “Get Smart” fame gets to play the chief of police, and I must admit to being tickled the moment one of the characters calls him “Chief”. My favorite moment is an unexpected one; Michael Gough attends a meeting of animal lovers known as the True Believers, and they give him a young tiger to replace his recently deceased one named Baron, and then they perform a ceremony to transfer Baron’s lost soul into the new beast.

 

Peril from the Planet Mongo (1966)

PERIL FROM THE PLANET MONGO (1966)
Article 2137 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-21-2007
Posting Date: 6-19-2007
Directed by Ford Beebe and Ray Taylor
Featuring Buster Crabbe, Carol Hughes, Charles Middleton

Flash Gordon returns to Mongo to do battle with evil emperor Ming the Merciless.

When feature versions of serials were being cobbled together in the mid sixties, it looks like FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE had the distinction of having two feature versions carved out of it. I’m thinking that the other version has the more interesting footage. As usual, I prefer the original serial because I find this sort of action movie easier to take in bite-size chunks. For the record, I still prefer the cast members playing Princess Aura and Prince Barin in the original FLASH GORDON, simply because they didn’t look like standard-issue leading men and women of the period as the ones here do. Buster Crabbe is still one of my favorite serial actors simply because he allows his characters to express a greater range of emotions than other serial heroes did. The best thing about this feature version is that, in comparison to most of the other ones put together in the mid sixties, this one is relatively short.