Face of Fire (1959)

FACE OF FIRE (1959)
Article #1771 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 1-19-2006
Posting Date: 6-18-2006
Directed by Albert Band
Featuring Cameron Mitchell, James Whitmore, Bettye Ackerman

When a handyman attempts to save a child from a burning building, he ends up horribly disfigured and mentally handicapped. As a result of his injuries, he and anyone who harbors him become pariahs in the town in which he lives.

If it weren’t for its poor ending, I BURY THE LIVING would rank with my favorite horror movies from its era. Much of what I do like about the movie is Albert Band’s taught direction, and I’m really glad to catch another one of his movies. This one is not a horror movie, but its subject matter and central themes (deformity and fear) are cut from the same materials as many horror films; in fact, it was based on a story by Stephen Crane called “The Monster”. No, this is at heart a drama, and a painful and devastating one at that. It takes a long, hard look at how people would react to a man suffering such extreme deformities, and often their reactions are just as ugly as his visage. It is quite harrowing to see their reactions, especially when they think he is dead and begin hypocritically praising him for his bravery. What makes it most painful is its air of truth; it is quite easy to see people acting this way when you know that they (and we) are capable of it when we let fear take control of us. James Whitmore and Cameron Mitchell are both excellent as the deformed handyman and the doctor (whose son it was that was rescued from the fire) who cares for him, even when he himself becomes a pariah and has to watch his son cope with the situation. I found myself very grateful for the ending of the movie, since it generates a spark of hope from what has begun to look like a hopeless situation. This is a powerful film, and I highly recommend it.

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN (1967)
Article #1710 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 11-19-2005
Posting Date: 4-18-2006
Directed by Terence Fisher
Featuring Peter Cushing, Susan Denberg, Thorley Walters

Dr. Frankenstein takes the dead body of a deformed woman, cures the deformities and brings it back to life, instilling it with the soul of her former lover who had been wrongly executed for murder. She seeks vengeance on those who were really responsible for the murder.

I’m afraid that this entry in Hammer’s Frankenstein series doesn’t to a lot for me. Part of the problem is that the script seems obvious and weak. I find it hard to really enjoy a movie which tries this hard to push certain emotional buttons; the three drunk nobleman are such total rotters that they never emerge as real characters at all, and the attempts to gain sympathy for the deformed woman are so blatant and repetitive that they get truly annoying; if a movie is going to play on your emotions, it should do so subtly and convincingly. Still, the main problem is that the movie spends so much time concentrating on these one-dimensional characters rather than on Dr. Frankenstein himself, who, as played by Peter Cushing, is far and away the most interesting character in the movie. The more I see of Cushing, the more I marvel at his work; his ability to flesh out characters by using subtle quirks and interesting details is breathtaking, and he gives his characters an air of mystery that leaves you wondering what they’re thinking about at every moment. I like the movie when Cushing is on the screen, less so when he isn’t.

Still, I have to admit that I’ve developed a fondness for one other aspect of the Hammer Frankenstein series, and that is the lab equipment they use. There is something convincingly period about it all, and I like the fact that it all looks a little dingy and used rather than clean and spotless. In some ways, this style of lab equipment is as much a signature of these movies as the Strickfadden equipment was for the Universal series.

Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks (1974)

FRANKENSTEIN’S CASTLE OF FREAKS (1974)
(a.k.a. TERROR! IL CASTELLO DELLE DONNE MALEDETTE)
Article #1683 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-23-2005
Posting Date: 3-22-2006
Directed by Robert Oliver
Featuring Rossano Brazzi, Michael Dunn, Edmund Perdom

Frankenstein works on a monster while various assistants yell at each other and a voyeuristic dwarf plots revenge with the help of a caveman named Ook.

This compendium of Frankenstein movie cliches has:

– a rating of PG despite having scads of nudity.

– SOUTH PACIFIC star Rossano Brazzi walking through the role of Dr. Frankenstein

– one time Oscar-nominated dwarf actor Michael Dunn in the embarassing role of the voyeuristic dwarf. He doesn’t even dub his own voice here.

– an actor billed as Boris Lugosi playing the part of Ook, the Neanderthal Man. His real name is Salvatore Baccaro, and he apparently made a career playing characters like this. He looks more Avery Schreiber than either Boris or Bela.

– a mad scientist, a monster, a dwarf, a hunchback, some women with bad clothes sense who like to take baths in front of the dwarf, some mean servants, and angry villagers.

– no sense of discernible style.

– body-builder and Sword-and-Sandal star Gordon Mitchell as Igor. I spot him in a few scenes, but he’s given precious little to do here.

– bad dubbing.

– a final message. Apparently, there’s a little bit of monster in all of us.

– a scene where the dwarf teaches the Neanderthal how to kidnap and rape a woman. Based on the rule that all the horrible people in the movie are to be killed by the monster at the end of the movie, I find it curious that the dwarf is allowed to live.

– nothing about it to recommend it, unless you find the moral profound, or just have to see Michael Dunn embarrass himself, or must see the naked women, or just like seeing Frankenstein cliches glumly trotted out without purpose or style. Though it’s not boring, it’s rather pointless and not particularly fun.

The Fly (1958)

THE FLY (1958)
Article #1682 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-22-2005
Posting Date: 3-21-2006
Directed by Kurt Neumann
Featuring David Hedison, Patricia Owens, Vincent Price

When a woman with a fly obsession admits to having crushed her husband to death in a steel press, her brother-in-law and the inspector on the case both try to get the full story of what happened. It turns out that the husband had been dabbling in experiments with matter transmission, and that something went horribly wrong….

Though this movie has a good reputation, it rarely makes lists of the best science fiction movies of the period for some reason. Actually, I can somewhat understand this; one of the odd things about this movie is that some of the most memorable scenes unintentionally walk a thin line between the horrific and the comic (the scene where Delambre tries to control his arm and the scene in the web come to mind), and how you react to them may be dependent on your mood at the time. I have a strong affection for this one myself; I love the mystery elements that play into the first thirty minutes of the film, I really like all the characters and care what happens to them, and some moments are incredibly powerful (the aforementioned scene with the arm and his last scrawled message on the blackboard are quite powerful). David Hedison does a wonderful job in a part that at certain times only allows him to communicate his feelings via one arm and body language, and Patricia Owens is solid throughout. Vincent Price and Herbert Marshall also do well, though Price is oddly cast here in a role that largely keeps him on the periphery of the plot. The weakest moment in the movie to these eyes is the one where Price and Marshall conjure up a false story to save Helene from being arrested and/or committed; it’s too contrived and even a touch too light-hearted for the movie.

The Flesh and the Fiends (1959)

THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959)
(a.k.a. MANIA / THE FIENDISH GHOULS)
Article #1681 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 10-21-2005
Posting Date: 3-20-2006
Directed by John Gilling
Featuring Peter Cushing, June Laverick, Donald Pleasence

When two criminals discover they can be well paid for procuring bodies for an eminent surgeon, they begin murdering people to get the money.

Like the tales of Rasputin and Richard the Third, the story of Burke, Hare and Dr. Knox is one of those historical stories that also qualifies as a fit subject for horror movies. It’s an ideal story for the cinema; it’s not only lurid and sensationalistic, it touches upon any number of subjects; it raises intriguing questions about morality, hypocrisy, class consciousness, and the conflict between religion and science. To its credit, this movie does touch upon all of those subjects at one time or another, and manages to be a horror movie and a compelling drama at the same time. The sturdiness of the script is one strength, and it’s also very well directed. However, the biggest strength here is an excellent and well-conceived performance by Peter Cushing. His Dr. Knox is a fascinating character; he’s fearless and dedicated to his cause, but he’s somewhat blind to his own moral culpability in the matter, and the deformity of one of his eyes is just the movie’s way of pointing out that he doesn’t see as well as he could. It’s fascinating how well certain characters match up; when the chips are down, Dr. Knox will throw Burke and Hare to the dogs, and Hare will do the same to Burke. The doctor who dislikes and suspects Burke and Hare refuses to give them up to the police, whereas Dr. Knox has no such qualms. The movie also features an excellent performance from Donald Pleasence as the decrepit, foppish cane-twirling Hare, and it’s fascinating to watch how in subtle ways he paves the way for his betrayal of Burke later on, though this does not save him. The best moment of the movie for me is near the end, where a child is able to make Dr. Knox understand something that his fellow doctors and the mob could not do; Cushing is simply exquisite in this scene. The rest of the cast also does quite will, and this perhaps the best movie I’ve seen to tell this tale (bearing in mind that the equally excellent THE BODY SNATCHER is not the Burke and Hare story per se).

Futz! (1969)

FUTZ! (1969)
Article #1587 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-17-2005
Posting Date: 12-16-2000
Directed by Tom O’Horgan
Featuring John Bakos, Seth Allen, Peter Craig

This movie is about a man who is in love with a pig. I also found it to be well nigh unwatchable. The amazing thing is that these two facts aren’t really connected. As offensive as the bestiality story line is, the movie is so stylized and packed with audience distancing techniques that you never once really believe that you’re watching real people engaging in real acts; as a consequence, it never seems real enough to offend. No, the reason I found it nearly unwatchable is that stylization is so excessive the movie becomes actively annoying. It’s based on an avant-garde stage play that tried to combine stylized acting, music, poetry, dance and contortionism to create a thrilling new art form; in other words, it’s pretentious and self-indulgent. It may have worked better on stage than it does on the screen, but I certainly wouldn’t waste my time trying to mount a stage production of it to find out if that’s true; I can only see so many scenes of people delivering lines and making pig sounds while standing on their heads before my mind rejects the experience. I also suspect that the message of the movie may be a little too trite to merit this level of artiness, but I’m not even sure there is a message or whether I’m just reading something into it. The only reason I’m covering it for this series is that the ending has some horrific touches to it, but it’s by no means a horror movie. It’s not even good for campy laughs, for that matter. This one is only for fans of screen versions of avant-garde theatre.

The Fury of the Wolfman (1972)

THE FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1972)
(a.k.a. LA FURIA DEL HOMBRE LOBO)
Article #1520 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 5-13-2005
Posting Date: 10-10-2005
Directed by Jose Maria Zabalza
Featuring Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy), Perla Cristal, Veronica Lujan

A man carrying the curse of the werewolf comes under the control of a female scientist who uses mind control on him.

With this entry we reach another milestone in the MOTDs; this is the first movie I’ve covered to deal with cult actor Paul Naschy. There seems to be a lot of affection for this actor. I suspect this has to do with the fact that he chose a career as a horror actor at a time when this kind of thing was falling out of favor, and had a love of the classic monsters and would trot them out in his movies with glee. Still, I must say that I have yet to see a movie of his that I would actually describe as being good. Now I’ll give myself a couple of outs to that last statement; I’ve only seen a handful of his movies at this point, and those that I have seen have all been of the pan-and-scan dubbed variety, so I can’t say that I’ve seen him under the best of circumstances.

At any rate, this movie shares the same problems I’ve had with some of his other movies. I find the story incredibly muddled; though there is a fair amount of incident, the context for much of it remains a mystery to me. In short, I don’t know why what does happen happens. Furthermore, I’m not impressed with the acting. This is, of course, a questionable statement when dealing with a dubbed movie; I can’t really judge a man’s performance when he’s been dubbed. Still, there are aspects of acting that aren’t affected by dubbing, such as body language and facial expressions, and all too often in this movie I see people not reacting to significant events, looking bored, and failing to express any recognizable emotion. Even Naschy himself gives me that problem; even though he’s played Waldemar Daminsky many times, I still find the only interesting thing about the character is that he becomes a werewolf. Outside of that, he’s terribly uninteresting; the fact that he becomes a werewolf has virtually no effect on his personality. Still, he does work up the necessary energy in his wolfman scenes, even if he lacks the animal grace that Lon Chaney Jr. brought to the wolfman role; Naschy walks and acts like a human being when he’s a werewolf. The ending isn’t bad, but sometimes I think that’s the only part of the movie worth catching. Still, there’s always the chance that a better presentation may make his movies work better, and someday I hope to see some of his movies in proper widescreen and with subtitles. At heart, though, I doubt that I’ll find a significant improvement.