The Hunchback of the Morgue (1973)

THE HUNCHBACK OF THE MORGUE (1973)
aka El Jorobado de la Morgue
Article 2352 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 9-3-2007
Posting Date: 1-20-2008
Directed by Javier Aguirre
Featuring Paul Naschy, Rosanna Yanni, Victor Barrera

A hunchback who supplies cadavers for doctors finds himself grief-stricken at the death of a woman who was his only friend when he was young. He puts her body in hiding and approaches a doctor whom he thinks will bring her back to life. The doctor agrees, but he has plans of his own…

I’m really beginning to see the appeal of some of these Paul Naschy movies. He obviously has a real affection for the characters he plays, and he builds the scripts around making the character both the monster and the hero. As a result, the plots go through some fascinating mutations to bring about this theme. The plots are often unpredictable; once you reach a point where you think you have an idea of how the rest of the movie is going to go, he throws in new characters and new plot developments to push the movie in a different direction, and the only thing you know for sure is, at the end of the movie, the monster Naschy has been playing will turn out to be the hero, though one who, of course, must die. It does make the movies interesting, though it can often dissolve into mere silliness. I quite like this one myself; it manages to stop short of the silliness, and it gets Naschy away from the overfamiliar combination of vampires and werewolves. Which is not to say it doesn’t have problems; the dubbing is quite bad, and there are some real logic flaws. One of the latter is that so many characters make comments about the hunchback’s ugly face that it’s surprising that Naschy uses very little face makeup, and though he’s not the most handsome man in the world, he isn’t ugly. I suspect that he doesn’t use ugly makeup because that would put the kibbosh on his love scene with Rosanna Yanni; it’s a case of Naschy trying to have it both ways. Another problem is that it’s really hard to believe at any point in the proceedings that the hunchback “wouldn’t hurt a fly”, as one character claims, but there seem to be quite a few characters here who consider him harmless. Nevertheless, these are minor quibbles, and this is one of Naschy’s most entertaining movies.

 

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Hawk the Slayer (1980)

HAWK THE SLAYER (1980)
Article 2333 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-15-2007
Posting Date: 1-1-2008
Directed by Terry Marcel
Featuring Jack Palance, John Terry, Bernard Bresslaw

When an evil man kidnaps an abbess and holds her for ransom, his good brother reunites with a dwarf, a giant and an elf in an attempt to defeat him.

Most of the fantasy I’ve covered to date has been of the light variety; true epic fantasy was fairly rare in cinema until the eighties, when special effects technology began opening up the possibilities of what could be done. There was some epic fantasy in earlier years, but most of it based on mythology or fairy tales. I like epic fantasy enough that I feel the desire to cut this movie some slack; it was really one of the first of its kind. And every once in a while, it actually has a nice moment here and there that indicates that someone had a feel for what they were doing. Unfortunately, these end up just being moments; the movie suffers from a plethora of problems, not least of which is an inadequate budget. Weak direction, uneven pacing, and highly variable acting also serve to undermine the movie, which comes across as cheesy and/or corny way too often. It’s also very hard to buy the quite youthful John Terry and the sixty-one year old Jack Palance (and he looks every year of it) as brothers. Terry fails to project an engagingly heroic persona, but the biggest disappointment is Palance’s performance; though Palance is fully capable of giving great performances and has the ability to exude menace with the best of them, he chooses to really chew the scenery in this one, and it becomes impossible to take him seriously. Maybe it’s no surprise that the movie depends too much on tepid comic relief. I don’t know how well this movie did at the box office; I only know that it never played in any theater near me, and that it sets itself up for a sequel that never happened, so I’m betting it was a flop.

 

Halloween (1978)

HALLOWEEN (1978)
Article 2332 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 8-14-2007
Posting Date: 12-31-2007
Directed by John Carpenter
Featuring Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes

A man, institutionalized for fifteen years after having killed his sister with a knife when he was a child, escapes from his asylum. He returns to his home town to commit more murders with the doctor from the asylum in hot pursuit of him.

I must confess at this point that I’ve long suffered from two problems as a fan of fantastic cinema; I’m a bit of a crank and a bit of a snob. I now believe these to be character flaws (and one of the reasons I undertook this whole Movie of the Day series was an attempt to overcome that), but I didn’t always believe that; when I was younger, I would often avoid movies for no other reason than that they were quite popular, and would often argue that they couldn’t hold a candle to the older movies. It should be no surprise under these circumstances that I avoided this movie like the plague when it was in its initial run. I wish I had seen it; I might certainly have understood why it spawned the whole slasher craze. After all, crazes like these are usually started by some truly great movie that created the template, and this one fits the bill.

So here I am, almost three decades after the movie was released, seeing it for the first time. I can understand why it brought both John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis into the limelight; Carpenter is definitely at the peak of his powers here, and Curtis made for the definitive slasher heroine. I’m also fascinated with the way it chooses to defy logic and reason; we’re given no real explanation for why Michael Myers is what he is or does what he does, other than the fact that he is an evil boogeyman. It defies our initial assumptions (such as that Myers is essentially human), and plays with our expectations. Many of the attacks come at unexpected moments, often after the movie has supplied countless opportunities for Myers to make his move; the babysitter that gets caught in the window comes to mind. But, on top of this, I also like the fact that Carpenter includes a fair share of nods to the past, including the presence of Donald Pleasence who had already had a long association with horror at this point, and the use of footage from THE THING (FROM ANOTHER WORLD) and FORBIDDEN PLANET . It’s almost as if Carpenter was acknowledging that he was part of a long tradition even as he was creating a new template. I also quite like Pleasence’s performance, especially in the light that he was given a character as single-minded as Watson Pritchard in HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL , but still manages to deliver his variations of the “Michael Myers is pure evil” theme with believable panache.

My favorite moment: one babysitter notices something funny about the windshield of the car.

 

The House that Dripped Blood (1971)

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971)
Article 2313 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-26-2007
Posting Date: 12-12-2007
Directed by Peter Duffell
Featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Jon Pertwee

An inspector from Scotland Yard visits a small town to investigate the disappearance of an actor. He is told the stories of four residents who lived in the house he had leased, all of which came to horrific ends.

It’s another Amicus anthology of Robert Bloch stories, and, for my money, it’s one of the lesser ones. This is not to say that it doesn’t have its moments; it does, with the third story (about a man who is afraid of his young daughter and treats her cruelly) perhaps the best. I also like the second story (about a wax museum), and the fourth story (about a horror actor who gets a cloak for a vampire movie that is a little too authentic) are also quite good. The first story (about a horror writer whose creation comes to life) nor the framing story do much for me though, and I think the movie fails in it establishing its premise that the house itself is the source of the evil; only in the first story does this seem so, whereas in the other stories, it definitely feels that the source of evil comes from other places. Peter Cushing does a good job as usual, and Jon Pertwee does a nice turn as the horror actor; he even makes an offhand reference to his castmate Christopher Lee, who is particularly good here as the father in the third story. However, I don’t think any of the stories here really hits the peaks of some of the other Amicus anthologies.

 

The Haunted House of Horror (1969)

THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR (1969)
aka Horror House
Article 2310 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-23-2007
Posting Date: 12-9-2007
Directed by Michael Armstrong
Featuring Frankie Avalon, Jill Haworth, Dennis Price

Teenagers decide to take their party to a deserted mansion that is supposed to be haunted. It’s all fun and games until someone gets brutally murdered. The teens decide to cover up the murder for fear that one of them will be suspected.

This movie doesn’t have much of a reputation, it has a weak rating at IMDB, and I remember not caring much for it when I saw it years ago on my local Creature Feature. Oddly enough, I liked it much better this time around. In particular, I found I like the ambiance. It manages to give a very good sense of the time and place; the music and the set design feel quite authentic. It also pays more attention to character than is usual for this sort of fare, and the mystery as to who did the killing (one of the teens? the older man who is stalking the woman? a real ghost?) is quite good. I do think the kids make a real foolish decision to cover up the murder, though the movie does a good job of showing the decay of trust that occurs between the teens as a result. The plot does have some weaknesses; I don’t know why the stalker is so concerned about the lost lighter, nor does the movie ever clarify the extent to which one character (a woman who left the party before the murder occurred) is in on the cover-up; though she does not appear to be so, at least one scene implies that she must be. Weaknesses aside, though, it did manage to hold my attention throughout, and that’s always a plus for a movie.

 

Hercules, Samson and Ulysses (1963)

HERCULES, SAMSON AND ULYSSES (1963)
ka Ercole sfida Sansone
Article 2309 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-22-2007
Posting Date: 12-8-2007
Directed by Pietro Francisci
Featuring Kirk Morris, Richard Lloyd, Liana Orfei

Hercules, Ulysses and other Greeks set out to do battle with a sea monster, but end up caught in a storm and find themselves stranded in Judea. There Hercules is mistaken for Samson, who is wanted by the Philistines. In order to save his friends from execution, he must track down and capture Samson by himself.

Among the many sword-and-sandal movies that came from Italy in the late fifties and early sixties, there are a few that stand out. If you see Pietro Francisci’s name as the director and writer, you’re probably seeing one of them. He made three movies featuring Hercules, and they are of a piece, with certain continuing characters (Ulysses,Iole, Aesculapius) and fairly coherent plots. There are plenty of campy laughs here, and quite a few of them are intentional; I love the moment where Hercules breaks up a fight aboard the raft by tossing two of the fighters off the raft into the water, and then approaches the third, who bows to the inevitable and throws himself in the water. It also takes the trouble to come up with logical reasons for the characters to meet; rather than just having Samson appear out of nowhere, this one takes the trouble of getting Hercules into Judea, where his encounter with Samson (and Delilah, for that matter) makes sense. Extra care was also taken with this one in adapting it for American audiences; MGM took some care to make sure that the dubbing was top notch, and that the music was excellent as well. The battle between Samson and Hercules in some old ruins is one of the greatest fight scenes in any sword-and-sandal movie; it’s both exciting and hilarious. Kirk Morris does a fine job as Hercules, as does Richard Lloyd as Samson. Oddly enough, one of the alternate titles is ERCOLE, SANSONE E MACISTE; there is really no Maciste character in it at all (and Ulysses is more a thinking man than a fighting man, so he can’t be Maciste). This is definitely one of the high points of the sword-and-sandal genre.

 

Hands of the Ripper (1972)

HANDS OF THE RIPPER (1972)
Article 2308 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-21-2007
Posting Date: 12-7-2007
Directed by Peter Sasdy
Featuring Eric Porter, Angharad Rees, Jane Merrow

After witnessing the murder of her mother by her father, the daughter of Jack the Ripper becomes possessed by his spirit whenever she is put into a trance by glittering lights and then kissed.

This early seventies Hammer film has a lyrical edge that makes it feel quite unlike a Hammer film on occasion; I attribute this to the fact that the score came from Christopher Gunning, who is not one of the regular composers of Hammer scores. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag; the premise itself is interesting, and it is grounded by a strong performance from Eric Porter as a doctor intent on learning about murder by studying the daughter of Jack the Ripper. Unfortunately, the script itself is rather improbable; apparently, the series of events where the daughter becomes possessed rarely happened for years, and then suddenly occurs four or five times in one week. Also, I found it difficult to believe that one character lasts as long as he does and remains as active as he does after having been impaled with a long sword. Still, when it’s working, it’s quite effective, and I thought its strengths outweighed its weaknesses, though I did find it curiously unsatisfying in the final analysis.