Review of “I Saw What You Did” (1965)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it with Svengoolie and a yummy merlot.

Plot:

Dave Mannering (Leif Erickson) takes his wife Ellie (Patricia Breslin) to a business meeting out of town. At the last minute, their babysitter cancels, forcing them to leave their teenage daughter Libby (Andi Garrett) alone with their younger daughter, Tess (Sharyl Locke), for the night. Libby’s friend Kit Austin (Sara Lane) is to come over for dinner, with her father picking her up at 11:30.

The Mannerings live on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. The two sisters are in the habit of making prank phone calls and, once the adults are gone, show Kit how they do it: pick a name at random out of the phonebook*, call that person and pretend to be someone they’re not. For example, if a woman answers, Libby adopts a voluptuous voice and asks to speak with the husband. She says to tell him “Suzette” is calling.

They call several people, saying, “I know what you did, and I know who you are.”

Yeah, it’s all fun and games until they happen to tell that to a guy who’s just returned from trying to bury the body of the wife he’s murdered.

Thoughts:

The movie was based on a 1964 thriller novel Out of the Dark by New Mexico author Ursula Curtiss.

The viewer is presented with an intriguing premise: teenagers have their pranks come back to bite them in unexpected ways. Naughty girls playing with innocent people’s lives catch hell. Later, not realizing she’s already come close to being murdered twice, Libby will say, “It was all just a game!”

Most of the action seems predicated on the victims constantly put themselves in harm’s way. Told to lock up all the windows and doors, Libby leaves a kitchen window wide open. From this window, the bad guy hears her talking to Kit (who is home by now) about the news Kit heard on the radio—a woman’s body found off the side of the road.

Exercising poor judgment is not restricted to the “innocents,” however. The bad guy’s copy of How Not to Murder Your Wife for Dummies must have gotten lost in the mail.

Sharyl Locke, the actress who plays the younger sister Tess, was about ten when the film was made, though she seemed to be portraying a much younger child. She is surprisingly convincing.

An odd and creepy sexuality works its way into the film. Libby, a putative sixteen-year-old,  slips into the “Suzette” persona for the prank phone calls with remarkable ease. Kit asks her what she would do if she met the guy they’ve been prank calling. Libby becomes infatuated. She concludes, “His voice was so deep, so exciting. It was like he was running his hand down my back real slow.”

Joan Crawford plays Amy Nelson, a love-sick neighbor of the bad guy. Even after she figures out he killed his wife, she wants to marry him. EWWW. She figured the Mrs. had it coming.

The most unsettling thing about the movie was the music. It struck me as inappropriate for the subject matter, sounding at times more like the theme music of a sitcom than a thriller like this. Perhaps it was intended to lighten to mood, but it struck my ear as incongruous. I half-expected Austin Powers to jump out and cry, “Yeah, baby!”

The threat to the girls is real. Adding to the tension is that they repeatedly do foolish things that increase the likelihood of one of them ending up on the wrong end of the bad guy’s knife.

I can’t call this movie outstanding, but it was entertaining.



*Kids, ask your parents what a phonebook is.


Title: I Saw What You Did (1965)

Director
William Castle

Writers
William P. McGivern (screenplay)
Ursula Curtiss (novel)

Cast:
Joan Crawford as Amy Nelson
John Ireland as Steve Marak
Leif Erickson as Dave Mannering
Sara Lane as Kit Austin
Andi Garrett as Libby Mannering
Sharyl Locke as Tess Mannering

Released: May 15, 1965
Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes


Review of “She-Wolf of London” (1946)

trailer from YouTube

This is the latest Saturday night pizza selection. Both the pizza and the wine were enjoyable. As we often do, we watched this with Svengoolie.

Plot:

In London, near the turn of the 20th century, Scotland Yard is investigating reports of a man attacked and seriously injured in a park. The victim says it was a woman, not a man, who attacked him. Given the savage nature of the attack, Detective Latham (Lloyd Corrigan) jumps to the conclusion that a werewolf is about. Perfectly logical assumption. His boss, Inspector Pierce (Dennis Hoey), remarks that it’s a little early to be visiting “grog shops.” Together, they go inspect the site of the attack.

In the park at the same time, orphaned heiress Phyllis Allenby (a really young June Lockhart) is riding horses with her intended, Barry Lanfield (Don Porter), a barrister. Phyllis lives near the park in her ancestral home with “aunt” Martha Winthrop (Sara Haden) and her “cousin” Carol Winthrop (Jan Wiley).

Phyllis and Barry stop their smooching when they hear Pierce and Latham discuss finding a woman’s footprints at the crime scene. Phyllis admits seeing the police makes her upset. Barry says having an audience has broken the spell, and they return to the Allenby house. There, Aunt Martha wrangles two temperamental German shepherds. The dogs dislike Phyllis.

When Phyllis retires that evening, the dogs are barking and howling their heads off. She lights and hangs a lantern outside her window. Aunt Martha walks in (doesn’t anybody knock anymore?) and expresses dismay that Phyllis would believe that old superstition about hanging a lantern outside when the dogs are barking to keep evil spirits away.

Phyllis says the dogs barking and the goings-on in the park are getting on her mind.

“You really are upset,” Aunt Martha tells her. “I’ll fetch you some warm milk from downstairs. You’ll sleep so soundly, you won’t even hear the dogs.”

The next morning, Phyllis wakes up to find blood on her hands. Her slippers are muddy, and the hem of her rob is wet. Aunt Martha assures her she’s done nothing wrong. However, the morning paper has an account of the horrible murder of a child in the park. Phyllis is convinced this is the Allenby curse coming home to roost.

Thoughts:

The movie some negative reviews when it first came out. Reviewers called it too long. (Really? It’s only an hour.) and a story they’d heard before.

Current horror fans often don’t care for it either. The movie opens with horror-ish sounding music. The viewer should see a castle someplace of an ancient family estate. No, we get opening lines mentioning the Allenby curse, which has almost been forgotten. Where’s the castle or grand family estate nestled by the seashore?

This flick falls several pegs short of what one might call a masterpiece. For starters, no one ever explains what the curse of the Allenbys is. Are they really all werewolves? Are they bad dancers? Or is it that they just can’t hold their liquor?

The solution to the story was obvious to me about fifteen in. Just the same, I did not feel cheated. The main character was in the dark until nearly the end. One could feel a little sympathy for the villain’s situation, but not their actions.

The fun came from watching the main character’s enlightenment, gradual as it may be. (In the immortal words of Bug Bunny, “Now wait a minute. Could it be that I been tricked?”). It also came from watching the villain scheme and toying with their prey.

The movie further offered some comic relief with dialogue between police officers, both those walking a beat and those in offices. Inspector Pierce was moonlighting from his day job as Inspector Lestrade in the Sherlock Holmes movies.

Given most reviewers’ reactions to it, I suspect many people will dislike the movie more than I did. Again, I can’t call this a great movie, but I found it entertaining.

The movie can be watched here: She Wolf of London 1946 – YouTube  It is a free download and comes with subtitles for a language I can’t read.

Title: She-Wolf of London (1946)

Director
Jean Yarbrough

Writers
George Bricker (screenplay)
Dwight V. Babcock (original story)

Cast:
Don Porter as Barry Lanfield
June Lockhart as Phyllis Allenby
Sara Haden as Martha Winthrop
Jan Wiley as Carol Winthrop
Lloyd Corrigan as Detective Latham
Dennis Hoey as Inspector Pierce

Released: 1946
Length: 1 hour, 1 minute

Review of “Time Walker” (1982)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. We watched it with Svengoolie. The pizza was good.

Plot:

An earthquake strikes a modern archaeological dig at King Tut’s tomb, knocking down a wall into a previously unknown room. (Yeah, it could happen.) Inside are multiple skeletonized remains and a sarcophagus.

Never mind the poor dead guys around the room. Prof. Douglas McCadden (Ben Murphy) and his team bring the sarcophagus back to the California Institute of the Sciences. (No clearance tussle with Dr. Zahi Hawass?) There, McCadden and some students carefully remove the outer lid. They translate the revealed cartouche, Ankh Venharis, as “noble traveler.” The mummy appears to have been hastily wrapped and is covered in a fluorescent green powder. McCadden asks student Michael Goldstein (Gary Dubin) to take a sample of the green powder. As he does, Michael accidentally gets a little on his wrist above his gloves.

Student Peter Sharpe overcharges the x-ray machine. In developing the x-rays, he notices what he thinks are valuable jewels—five crystals that look like marbles— by the mummy’s head and steals them (naughty, naughty!) then retakes the x-rays to conceal his theft. When a jeweler tells him they’re worthless, he starts giving them away to girls and selling them to gullible guys.

Dr. Ken Melrose (Austin Stoker) of the pathology department thinks the green powder is a dormant fungus but not one he’s seen before. There are other oddities. Unlike other mummies, this one still has its internal organs. Its bone structure is… unusual.

Goop on the side of the sarcophagus lets the viewer know the fungus is no longer dormant. At a press conference called to unveil the mummy, Michael tries to wipe it off. He ends up screaming in pain and is rushed to the hospital.

But that’s not the most dramatic thing that happens at the press conference. When the lid is removed, the sarcophagus is empty.

The authorities and even McCadden (for a while) treat its absence as a fraternity prank. But the viewer knows better: We see the world through a green filter when the mummy walks looking for the crystals Sharpe is passing around.

Thoughts:

This could have been an interesting and unusual take on the mummy story. Several things keep that from happening, in my seldom-humble opinion. First, the pacing drags. The acting is flat and phoned it. The most convincing actor was the mummy (Jack Olson), who didn’t have any speaking parts.

Having said that, I will add that Sheri Belafonte as the school’s photographer/d.j., Linda Flores, was fun to watch.

Many story elements are potboiler pre-disaster slasher movie tripe. A creep peeps on his girlfriend’s roommate undressing. A couple making out in the park is spooked by a guy in a mummy costume from a costume party. You know, every college campus has a costume party at least once a week with maybe a break for finals. The professor is having an affair with his beautiful young assistant Susie Fuller (Nina Axelrod). And, of course, we watch a girl undress and get into the shower, where the mummy attacks her. Don’t monsters ever attack guys in the shower?

The mummy’s fatal touch/fungus is what killed King Tut. No wonder he was quickly wrapped up and shoved into a secure room.

By far the most off-putting thing, though, was the ending. It made no sense. Originally, there was a promise of a sequel that might have explained things, but it has yet to be.

Although the movie gives the viewer some (intentionally) silly moments that are fun, for the most part, this movie doesn’t deliver.






Title: Time Walker (1982)

Directed by
Tom Kennedy

Writing Credits
Jason Williams…(story) &
Tom Friedman…(story)
Tom Friedman…(screenplay) &
Karen Levitt…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Ben Murphy…Prof. Douglas McCadden
Nina Axelrod…Susie Fuller
Kevin Brophy…Peter Sharpe
Robert Random…Jack Parker
James Karen…Dr. Wendell J. Rossmore

Released: November 19, 1982
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Review of “Curse of the Undead” (1959)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s pizza and bad movie, an unusual mixture of western and horror. Basil and garlic pizza didn’t seem to faze the bad guy who did wear the required black.

Plot:

In an unspecified area of the former Spanish territory of the Old West, perhaps around 1880, several young girls have come down with a mysterious illness neither Doc Carter’s (John Hoyt) medicine nor Preacher Dan’s (Eric Fleming) prayers seem to be much help against. After losing yet another young patient tragically, Doc and his daughter Dolores (Kathleen Crowley) get in his buckboard and drive home. His son Tim (Jimmy Murphy) has been beaten and starts waving a gun around. He’s embarrassed and angry. The men of neighbor and all-around bad dude, Buffer (Bruce Gordon), have illegally dammed the river, robbing them of water. When the boy tried to tear down the dam, he was beaten. His hat has four bullet holes in it. Doc decides to have a talk with Sheriff Bill (Edward Binns).

The Sheriff’s talk with Buffer in the local watering hole produces lukewarm promises.

On his way home from the Sheriff’s office, Doc is followed by a stranger dressed in black. The viewer never sees the two meet, but Doc arrives home deceased. Son Tim, already upset about his own abuse at the hands of Buffer and his men, is certain Buffer was behind his father’s death. Barely has Doc been laid to rest when a ranch hand reports that a fence has been torn down. About eighty head of cattle are missing. Hoof prints indicate ten men did the deed. Despite good advice to the contrary, Tim forces a confrontation with Buffer. He does not survive the encounter.

Convinced the law will not help her, Dolores puts up posters, asking for a gunslinger to help find a murderer. As quickly as she puts them up, the Sheriff takes them down. But the stranger in black (Michael Pate) picks one up. He takes it into the saloon to think the deal over. Buffer (who doesn’t seem to have a home despite all the land he owns) asks him whether he’s thinking about taking the job. He admits he’s the subject of the poster. In an effort to dissuade him, one henchman ends up with a bullet to his gun hand. After the stranger walks out, boss and henchmen argue about who shot first. Buffer tells the man to collect his pay and go—tough boss.

Thoughts:

This is said to be the first western/vampire mix. Interestingly, it stays reasonably true to both genres. It’s firmly within the western, depicting a dispute over water and boundaries, the lady of the ranch left alone having to fight for herself, the conflict between the bully rancher and the rancher the viewer sympathizes with, and the gunslinger in black. It even ends with the requisite gunfight in the middle of town, while townsfolk scatter—but with a twist.

The vampire lore is a little mixed. Drake cringes at the sight of a cross but can walk in daylight, though he prefers night. He can eat and drink (…wine, presumably, but much prefers whiskey). A wooden stake through the heart is fatal. He likes to sleep in coffins, even if they belong to someone else. Yeah, creepy.

The Theremin-heavy opening music lets the viewer know this isn’t a run-of-the-mill western. The Theremin seems to return when the black-clad stranger is onscreen.

Overall, I found the dialogue bland, but there were some genuine gems.

While Tim is sitting in the saloon getting drunk waiting for Buffer to show, the bartender (Jay Adler) tells him, “Boy, you poured enough out of the bottle to give you man-sized trouble.”

Preacher Dan tries to talk Dolores out of hiring a gunslinger by telling her, “All this talk about killing and revenge is as sinful as praying to the devil himself.”

“If the devil can stop some of this pain in me,” she replies, “then I’ll even pray to him.”

There’s a knock at the door. It’s the stranger in black with a copy of Dolores’s poster. He introduces himself as Drake Robey. Hmmm… yes, a likely name.

Upon learning there’s a real killer after him, Buffer goes to Sheriff Bill for protection. He and Preacher Dan come up with a plan they think will convince Dolores to call off the hired gun but decide to wait till morning. When Buffer objects, Sheriff Bill tells him, “I’ll tuck you into bed, and one of your men can hold your hand.”

At one point, Dolores offers to let Drake stay in an old caretaker’s cottage by the cemetery, unless he’d rather not.

“The dead don’t bother me,” he tells her. “It’s the living who give me trouble.”

In a heated exchange with Preacher Dan after the clergyman has learned Drake’s identity and called him evil, Drake tells him, “Without the devil, you have no profession.”

While the movie was odd in many ways, and the Theremin got on my nerves, it was also a lot of fun. In a blending of genres that tend to be overly dramatic and played straight, this left room for a chuckle or two without becoming camp. I liked it. It turned out to be a great Saturday pizza and bad movie movie.

I could not find a free streaming version of this movie.




Title: Curse of the Undead (1959)

Directed by
Edward Dein

Writing Credits
Edward Dein…(written by) and
Mildred Dein…(written by)

Cast (in credits order)
Eric Fleming…Preacher Dan
Michael Pate…Drake Robey
Kathleen Crowley…Dolores Carter
John Hoyt…Dr. Carter
Bruce Gordon…Buffer

Released: May 1959
Length: 1 hour, 19 minutes

Review of “How to Make a Monster” (1958)

from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday pizza and bad movie offering. We watched this with Svengoolie and polished off the good chardonnay.

Plot:

Pete Dumond (Robert H. Harris) and his assistant Rivero (Paul Brinegar) have been creating monster make-up for the movies for twenty-five years. He has just finished an excellent (…it’s in the eye of the beholder…) teenage werewolf for a picture in which the werewolf and a teenage Frankenstein monster will duke it out.

On seeing himself in the mirror, the teenage werewolf, Larry Drake (Gary Conway), remarks that he’d scare himself.

After delivering the werewolf to the set, Dumond returns to the workshop. “I enjoy working with these teenagers,” he tells Rivero. “They’ve got spirit, and they cooperate. They don’t sour on you like some of the older actors.”

Two men walk in. When Dumond tells them it’s customary to knock, one of them, Jeff Clayton (Paul Maxwell), responds, “We don’t have to.” The other man introduces himself as John Nixon (Eddie Marr) and tells Dumond they are from the group taking over the studio. Once this picture is done, Dumond’s services will no longer be needed. The horror cycle is over. People want to hear music. They want to laugh. They want to see pretty girls. Dumond protests that he saved the studio from bankruptcy. They offer him a week’s severance pay.

Be still my heart.

Dumond is understandably upset. He stands outside staring at two movie posters, one for I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the other for I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. He first vows to destroy the studio then the new management. He has a plan, an ingredient he can put into the foundation makeup of his creations. As he explains to assistant Rivero, this new, unnamed ingredient enters the pores and makes the subject obedient to his will. Rivero offers little objection.

When Larry Drake next stops by to have his makeup applied, Dumond tells him about his career being over. He further tells him his own career is over. The new makeup feels weird. Dumond hypnotizes him.

Later, Nixon is watching the rushes of the Frankenstein/werewolf movie in the projection room. He’s alone. The viewer sees a furry paw reach over the back of the seat. The screams on the screen drown out Nixon’s screams.

Thoughts:

One redeeming aspect of this gruesome revenge flick is humor. It’s not camp or farce, but little side gags relieve the heaviness of the main story. On the (fictional) lot of the American International Studios, an actor dressed as a pirate sees Dumond leading his werewolf to the set. He gets an idea for a brilliant new script: he and his crew board a ship only to find the captain is a werewolf!

On another note, on the set, the director tells the two monsters, “Werewolf, meet Frankenstein. Shake hands and come out snarling.”

The device of the unnamed substance, absorbed through the pores of the skin, that makes a person subject to the will of another, even to the point of killing like a monster and then not remembering it—well, suffice to say, it gives the credulity a good workout. At the same time, one can’t help feel a little sympathy for Dumond. He believes his work saved the studio from bankruptcy, and now he’s being unceremoniously shown the door. Well, with a week’s severance pay.

However, perhaps he takes things too personally when he refers to the masks not only as his “creations” but as his “children.”

The idea that he could use made-up monsters to wreak his revenge is indicative of poor planning. It’s not like a guy in monster get-up can fade into the crowd.

I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein are actual films, both appearing the year before this one. Michael Landon was the werewolf in the earlier movie, and Gary Conway was the Frankenstein monster in both this and the earlier movie.

Most of the movie is in black and white. The end is presented in color for no discernable reason. Of course, color was still something of a novelty in 1958 and would add to the drama.

As for recommendations, this one is tougher than I thought it would be. I enjoyed the humor and like that the movie didn’t take itself too seriously. At the same time, most of the plot was hard to buy into. It was entertaining, but I don’t know if I’d want to watch it a second time.





Available: (1) 1958 How To Make a Monster (English) – YouTube

Title: How to Make a Monster (1958)

Directed by
Herbert L. Strock

Writing Credits
Aben Kandel…(original story) (as Kenneth Langtry) and
Herman Cohen…(original story)
Aben Kandel…(screenplay)(as Kenneth Langtry) and
Herman Cohen…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Robert H. Harris…Pete Dumond
Paul Brinegar…Rivero
Gary Conway…Tony Mantell–Teenage Frankenstein
Gary Clarke…Larry Drake–Teenage Werewolf
Malcolm Atterbury…Richards

Released: July 1, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 13 minutes

Review of “The Iron Woman” by Margaret Deland

Image from goodreads

Plot:

Set some decades before the turn of the twentieth century, this follows the lives of four children who grow up in fictional Mercer, Ohio-ish, a stand-in for the author’s own hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, then an ironworks hub.

The iron woman of the title is Sarah Maitland, mother and stepmother of two of the four children. She inherited Maitland Ironworks from her father and husband (who were partners) and runs the business with the determination and acumen of any man. These points are emphasized throughout the book. She is immensely wealthy but lives simply enough. She dominates her stepdaughter Nancy (“Nannie”), and indulges her son, Blair. Blair has never heard the word “no.” Blair finds his mother’s house “ugly” and longs to get away from Mercer, the soot from the ironwork, and everything about it

Robert Ferguson, manager at the Maitland Ironworks, lives nearby with his niece, Elizabeth. Mr. Ferguson is bitter over once having been jilted by a woman. His deceased brother’s wife was “bad,” which gives him a further dislike of the whole fairer sex. Nevertheless, he admires his boss, Mrs. Maitland, for the way she runs the ironworks. His niece’s temper tantrums—during some of which she’ll bite herself—don’t concern him. He’s worried she’ll become vain.

He rents a cottage to a newcomer, a Mrs. Helena Richie, a widow with her adopted son, David. The new landlord is friendly, helping her with some new plants for the garden and such things. He’s aware Mrs. Richie had a sad life before she came to Mercer.

The children grow up, the boys go off to school, and return. Blair doesn’t really settle on a career. David becomes a physician and eventually gets a position at a hospital in Philadelphia. Their romantic entanglements drive the plot.

Thoughts:

This was part of a bundle of other books I downloaded and not something I would typically read. I was surprised by the odd interpretations I found online by professionals that led me to wonder if some of these folk read the same book I did. By “professionals,” I mean English professors as opposed to two- or three-line amazon and/or goodreads comments. (“Yeah, this book sux, man. I mean like REALLY SUX.”)

The book is a sequel to 1906’s The Awakening of Helena Richie, which tells the story of her marriage to a drunken, abusive husband who killed their child. Escaping him, she lived in sin (yeah, people were doing that even way back then) with a man while they posed as brother and sister. Mrs. Richie now lives a quiet life, concerned only with raising her adoptive son, David.

Most of the plot is taken up with the two boys going off to school and the romantic entanglements of the four young people. Overshadowing all of this is the character of Sarah Maitland. She influences not only her two children, effectively leaving both as eternal adolescents. She does this to Blair by never telling him no or letting him bear the consequences of his actions. She pays off the gambling debts he incurs in college and then increases his allowance, as it obviously isn’t enough.

Nannie is unequipped to deal with adulthood because her mother has brought her up to be her right-hand person. Nannie can even sign her mother’s name so like the original, no one can tell the difference. No room exists for Nannie to be a separate person.

The irony is Mrs. Maitland loves her children. She’s devastated when Blair rejects her or speaks of their house as ugly. Providing for them and indulging them is her expression of love. She also holds sway over Mr. Ferguson as his boss. One off-the-cuff remark from her changes his thinking about a particular situation entirely.

Is this a condemnation of capitalism or the Protestant work ethic? Or a comparison between the urban maternal ethos and the agrarian? Oh, please. Is someone writing a thesis paper?

I don’t see it as either of those or anything quite so profound. Many people in this book are driven and pay the price: Sarah Maitland is driven to run the ironworks like a man and loses the capacity to adequately raise her family; Robert Ferguson is lonely but nurtures resentment toward a girl who jilted him and sister-in-law who ho wronged his brother, leaving him unable to properly raise the unstable Elizabeth; Blair detests what he sees as the ugliness of Mercer yet, dependent on his mother’s money, he is unwilling and unable to take the steps he needs toward independence; on the opposite side of the spectrum, David feels the need for such complete autonomy, he will not accept any money, even when it might make all the difference. I’m ignoring a biggie as it’s a spoiler.

On the crucial question of whether I enjoyed the book, I have to say I did not, despite the wonderful character study of Sarah Maitland and the nostalgic scenes in an ice cream parlor. While this isn’t a Greek tragedy ending with a pile of corpses and a single mourner lamenting the absurdity of humanity, the reader gets to watch nearly everyone behave irrationally and against their own best interests and maybe mutter something along the lines of, “Oh don’t to that, you poor benighted numbskull.”

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first deprive of the ability to put one foot in front of the other.

The book received at least one glowing review upon its publication, so there is room for disagreement, of course.




Title: The Iron Woman
Author: Margaret Deland (1857-1945)
First published: serialized Harper’s Monthly November 1910 through October 1911

Review of “The Cult of the Cobra” (1955)

trailer from YouTube

This was this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. We had a nice chardonnay. The moral of the story: don’t be a jerk, even when you think the other guy’s religion looks weird.

Plot:

In 1945, six U.S. airmen are about to return home from their deployment someplace in “Asia:” Sgt. Paul Able (Richard Long), Rico Nardi (David Janssen), Pete Norton (William Reynolds), Tom Markel (Marshall Thompson), Nick Hommel (James Dobson), and Carl Turner (Jack Kelly). The airmen wear what looks suspiciously to my inexpert eyes like Army insignia, and their location seems to be the Indian subcontinent, albeit with a Middle-East flavor.

While shopping in the local bazaar, the men watch a snake charmer (Leonard Strong). They even pay him $2 to hold the cobra. As he’s posing, and they’re snapping pictures, Sgt. Able asks, “Hey, have you ever heard of snakes being changed into people?”

This catches the attention of the snake charmer, especially when he hears Paul mention he’s heard of the Lamians, a secret society that worships snakes. The rest of the men don’t think much of the idea, but Paul says, “I’d give anything to see that.”

“If the sergeant means what he says,” the snake charmer says, “about giving anything, he might the chance he’s looking for.”

He asks for $100 (“there’s over $15 each!”) to show them “she who is a snake and yet a woman.” He can get them past the temple guards. “The secret meeting is at 9 o’clock.” He warns them there must be no pictures. No outsiders have even seen the ceremony. It would be fatal for them, and none too healthy for him, if they were discovered.

What could go wrong?

The Lamians sit in robes and watch a dance telling the story of the first time the cobra goddess came to the aid of the Lamians. Just as the lithe cobra/woman dancer is about the enter a basket that could not contain an adult human, Nick Hommel pulls out his camera, complete with flash. One of the Lamians (an uncredited Edward Platt) curses the interlopers: “The Cobra Goddess will avenge herself! On by one, you will die!”

In the ensuing mayhem, the snake charmer who brought in the servicemen is slain, punches are thrown, and the curtains set ablaze. Nick grabs the aforementioned basket only to find himself staring down a cobra. Our heroes escape to their Jeep. Nick is missing. No—wait! There he is. Lying in the street next to the empty basket he took. A woman walks away. Tom Markel gives chase but loses her.

In the military hospital, Nick feels much better. The docs say he should be able to ship home with his buddies in the morning. The nurse leaves his window open a couple of inches, despite the rainstorm.

Nick is found dead the next morning. At Paul’s insistence, the doctors look for and discover Nick’s corpse full of cobra venom.

But the remaining five are going home the next day. They’ll be in the States, far away from “Asia” and any problems with the snake-worshippers, right?

Two seemingly unrelated things happen. Back in New York City, one of the original airmen, Rico Nardi, goes to work at his old man’s bowling alley. While driving home one night, he dies in what looks like a terrible one-car accident.

Paul Able shares an apartment with Tom Markel. They’ve been interested in the same woman, Julia Thompson (Kathleen Hughes). Julia has just decided to marry Paul. Tom is understandably upset until he meets the beautiful woman who moves in across the hall. He ignores the oddities that arise around her: the way his dog cowers in his bed when she’s around, the way horses in the street startle when she passes by—or the way another friend dies.

Thoughts:

It was hard to like this movie despite some very cool elements. The dancers at the temple are enjoyable, particularly the snake-woman who slithers around in a way no human ought to be able. They’re only billed as The Carlssons—a married couple, Ruth and Carl. There were three dancers, however.

There is also suspense. The viewer knows something is hinky with the neighbor long before any of the characters suspect a thing. The special effects are less than extraordinary, but they don’t have to be overwhelming for a movie made in 1955—just don’t show me see the strings, okay?

The airmen are jerks, though hardly deserving of death. They might be forgiven for sneaking into a “secret meeting at 9 o’clock,” but taking a picture, then burning the place down is overkill. The woman across the hall, who uses the name Lisa Moya (Faith Domergue), at first refuses Tom’s advances. He pursues her in ways that border on stalking.

Does Lisa grow a (long, very flexible) backbone and slap him upside the head, telling him that no means no? Nah. She starts falling for him and becomes…confused. Her goal is to kill him and his friends. Sadly, she has no choice in the matter. On the other hand, she’s just a helpless cobra goddess, and like all females, powerless before a commanding male presence. Never mind that that male presence is in part responsible for the destruction of the temple back home and threatened people she traditionally protects…

There were fun moments in this movie. The car crash that took out poor old Rico was spectacular and must have left someone walking funny. The threatening shadow of the cobra as she slinks up on her next victim is nice and creepy.

I really wanted to like this movie, but the main characters were unlikeable, even if I didn’t necessarily want to see them all picked off by a snake. How about paying for that temple you ruined, dudes?

I could not find this one as a free download.


Title: The Cult of the Cobra (1955)

Directed by
Francis D. Lyon

Writing Credits
Jerry Davis…(story)
Jerry Davis…(screenplay) and
Cecil Maiden…(screenplay) and
Richard Collins…(screenplay)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Faith Domergue…Lisa Moya
Richard Long…Paul Able
Marshall Thompson…Tom Markel
Kathleen Hughes…Julia Thompson
William Reynolds…Pete Norton

Released: August 5, 1955
Length: 1 hour, 22 minutes

Review of “The Frozen Ghost” (1945)

trailer from YouTube

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. This pizza and wine were good, and the movie a bit weird. We watched it with Svengoolie

Plot:

Gregor the Great (Lon Chaney Jr.) performs as a mentalist, that is—at least in this context—one who is able to put another person into a trance. He performs with his fiancée and partner, Maura Daniel (Evelyn Ankers), who can read the minds of audience members once in a trance.

One skeptic (Arthur Hohl), who is also good and drunk, declares it’s done with mirrors. Indeed, he trips on one of those mirrors on the way up to the stage. Enraged with the man, Gregor whispers that he could kill him. He stares into the man’s eyes. The man keels over, dead.

Gregor is so distressed he gives up his career, breaks off his engagement to Maura, and disappears from public life. The coroner declares the cause of death natural; the poor man was an alcoholic and had a bad heart, but that doesn’t stop Gregor from blaming himself for the man’s death.

Gregor’s business manager, George Keene (Milburn Stone), suggests he stay with a friend of his, Mme. Valerie Monet (Tala Birell), who owns and runs a wax museum because—why not?

Instead of rest and relaxation, Gregor—now using his workaday name, Alex Gregor—finds himself in the middle of a lot of tension. Mme. Monet is sweet on him. Her niece, Nina Coudreau (Elena Verdugo)—who is far too young for him—is star-struck. The sculptor of the wax figures, Rudi Polden (Martin Kosleck), has eyes for Nina, who thinks he’s a creep. Rudi was once a plastic surgeon, at least, until the incident

Maura tracks Alex down, just to check up on him. Mme. Monet’s jealousy flares, and she provokes him into putting his whammy on her. She faints, and he high-tails it out of the museum. When he returns, no one knows where Mme. Monet is. Could she be (gulp) dead?

Thoughts:

This is one of six Inner Sanctum mystery movies. The Inner Sanctum series began in 1930 with books featuring drama and romance but was most well-known for its mysteries. It became a renowned radio series, lasting from 1941 to 1952. The radio program opened with a creaking door and closed with a signature, “Pleasant dreams, hmmm?” The horror/mystery was delivered tongue-in-cheek.

Some of the tongue-in-cheek play makes its way into the movie. For example, Rudi Polden, the failed plastic surgeon—is his second career choice really to build wax figures? His sinister facial expressions and constant lurking around are just this side of parody. At one point, he appears to be part of an exhibit.

Police Inspector Brant (Douglass Dumbrille), who questioned and exonerated Alex after the death of the unfortunate, inebriated skeptic, also investigates the disappearance of Mme. Monet. He stops by the Shakespeare exhibit in the darkened museum and, before a figure of Hamlet, begins to recite, “To be or not to be….” At his side, the bad guy is busy trying to throw a cloak over the figure of the missing Mme. Monet.

After having said this, I hasten to add the movie is not a farce. Most of it is in deadly earnest. Did Alex really kill the poor drunk? What happened to Mme. Monet? Will Alex and Maura get back together? What about Nina? (She’s too young for him anyway. ICK.) And what about the eccentric Rudi?

While I liked this a lot about this, there were a couple of things I found annoying. First was Alex Gregor’s prolonging whining sessions. GEEZ, dude. Not like you have to worry about turning into a werewolf or anything.

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to locate this as a free download.




Title: The Frozen Ghost (1945)

Directed by
Harold Young

Writing Credits
Bernard Schubert…(screenplay) and
Luci Ward…(screenplay)
Harrison Carter…(original story by) and
Henry Sucher…(original story by)
Henry Sucher…adaptation)

Cast (in credits order)
Lon Chaney Jr….Alex Gregor / Gregor the Great (as Lon Chaney)
Evelyn Ankers…Maura Daniel
Milburn Stone…George Keene
Douglass Dumbrille…Inspector Brant
Martin Kosleck…Rudi Polden

Released: June 1, 1945
Length: 1 hour, 1 minute

Review of “King Kong Escapes” (1967)

trailer from YouTube. You really have to watch it.

This was this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering. This pizza was good, and we had a nice cab. The flick was more Saturday afternoon fare. We watched it with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Mad scientist/Bond villain Dr. Who (not that one) (Hideyo Amamoto), who sometimes spells his name Dr. Hu or Dr. Wu, has created a mechanical King Kong, Mechani-Kong (Yū Sekida), to mine radioactive Element X, found only at the North Pole. Madame X’s (listed as, but never called, “Madame Piranha”) (Mie Hama) country is financing his scheme. Alas! Mechani-Kong’s brain is not up to the task. The next logical step is to kidnap the real Kong. Of course!

Meanwhile, a U.N. (?) research sub stops at remote Mondo Island to repair a rudder damaged in an underwater rockslide. Mondo Island is reputed to be the home of the legendary King Kong. Commanding the sub is Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) (…hmmm wonder if his cousin commands The Seaview…). Second is Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada). Also aboard is a “pretty nurse” who threatens the ogling crew with castor oil, Lieutenant Susan Watson (Linda Miller).

When they land on the island, a man shouts at them from a hilltop. Commander Nelson, handy with local dialects, says they’re being warned the island is taboo and the home of King Kong.

That deters our intrepid heroes not a bit—not even when Gorosaurusu (Yū Sekida again) a goofy lizard/T. rex-ish-looking monster appears. Kong falls in love with the lovely Lt. Watson and can’t stand to see her harmed. Not content with dispatching Gorosaurusu, Kong follows the trio in their hovercraft (yes… hovercraft) back to the sub and whops a sea snake for his gal. Then, he rocks the boat.

Thoughts:

Forget about things like plot or suspension of disbelief. This is just silly. Poor old Kong has his heart broken, but that’s just the beginning of a long, lousy couple of days for him. He’s kidnapped in a scene that really should have had “Ride of the Valkyries” playing as background music. Mechani-Kong has eyes and some sort of flashing cone on his head that allows him to control Kong for a while—at least for a few minutes. Kong is forced to dig for Element X, but the control device in his ear slips out…

One does not watch these movies for their artistry. Yes, you can see the zipper. It’s clearly a couple of guys stomping around and smashing models. The dubbing wouldn’t convince a toddler. The dialogue itself—perhaps it loses something in translation:

Madame Piranha: Kong was apparently gentle with Miss Watson. May I ask why?

[Susan can provide no answer]

Madame Piranha: Miss Watson, do you know a reason you could tell them?

Commander Carl Nelson: It’s very easy for us to understand. You see, as ridiculous as it may sound, Kong is a male and, uh, Miss Watson is… Well, see for yourselves, gentlemen.

The dialogue and even the humans exist only to introduce the monsters and the fights, of course. Determined outcome notwithstanding, these are fun. The final rumble, atop the Tokyo Tower, a radio tower built to resemble the Eiffel Tower, is quite enjoyable. The Bond villains get their comeuppance and all that.

This is clearly aimed at children. The violence is minimal, sex non-existent, and gore left up to the imagination. Just the same, it was entertaining, the sort of thing I would have watched in college after finals.

I could not immediately find this for free download. I advise only the determined to pay for it.

Title: King Kong Escapes (1967) Kingu Kongu no gyakushû (original title)

Directed by
Ishirô Honda…(English language version) as Inoshiro Honda)

Writing Credits (in alphabetical order)
Takeshi Kimura…(as Kaoru Mabuchi)
Edgar Wallace…(Kingu Kongu Created By)

Cast (in credits order)
Rhodes Reason…Commander Carl Nelson
Mie Hama…Madame Piranha (Madame X)
Linda Miller…Lieutenant Susan Watson
Akira Takarada…Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura
Hideyo Amamoto…Dr. Who (as Eisei Amamoto)

Released: June 19, 1968
Length: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Review of “Fiend Without a Face” (1958)

trailer from YouTube—unfortunately, the titles don’t really reflect the movie.

This is this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering, with more Cold War hokey monster movie atomic radiation/mad scientist vibes than you’d want to shake a stick at. I rather liked it. The pizza wasn’t too bad either, despite some distractions. We watched it with Svengoolie, who was—as ever—a fountain of information.

Plot:

At an American radar installation located outside the (fictional) town of Winthrop, Manitoba, a sentry (an uncredited Sheldon Allan) watches jets scream overhead. He hears ominous thumping and squishing sounds in the woods outside the chain-link fence surrounding the base. Fern leaves sway as if disturbed by some unseen critter.

A young man (an uncredited Eddie Boyce) standing in the woods outside the perimeter of the base with a pencil and notebook also watches the jets and notices the odd thumps and squishes.

The sentry, already looking around to find the source of the abnormal sounds, now hears the young man scream in mortal terror. He runs to find him sprawled out on his back, his head tilted over a tree root toward the audience, his face frozen in terror.

The title appears, and the credits roll—a nice, creepy opening scene.

The next day, Major Jeff Cummings (Marshall Thompson) and Capt. Al Chester (Terry Kilburn) await autopsy findings on the deceased young man, a local farmer named Jacques Griselle. Chester already has reports (he’s good) on Griselle and his sister Barbara (Kim Parker), who lives on the farm with her brother. Griselle has a solid war record. They’re both upstanding citizens. So what was he doing out in the woods at three o’clock in the morning?

Doc. Warren (Gil Winfield) breaks the bad news. There won’t be an autopsy. The civil authorities have claimed the body, and the dead man’s sister refuses to allow one. Neither the Air Force nor the civilian authorities can demonstrate poor Jacques’ death was not caused by atomic radiation, which the locals blame for a variety of anomalies, particularly those involving farming and livestock.

The base is using atomic power not for weaponry but to boost its radar capacity. It’s experimental work. Each time they power their system to the point of peeking into the Soviet Union, it fades, as if there were a drain or leak somewhere along the way. The control room swears there is no leak, and the equipment is in working order.

Hmmm….

Thoughts:

The nice, creepy atmospheric tone of this 1958 movie is set against the backdrop of the fear of radiation and its little understood effects on the environment and animal life. A layer beneath that is the “mad scientist,” Prof. R.E. Walgate (Kynaston Reeves)—who happens to be Barbara Griselle’s boss and the author of such works as The Energy of Thought.

One indication of how long ago 1958 was appears in the first moments of dialogue. Maj. Cummings looks haggard, going over the reports of Griselle’s horrific death outside the base the night before. Capt. Chester asks him casually, “Ever try sleep instead of Benzedrine?” (i.e., an amphetamine, now tightly controlled because of its abuse potential).

Another is the role of Barbara Griselle. When presented with the content of her brother’s notebook, she doesn’t deny the suspicious-looking notes but continues to read, putting those notes into context, revealing their innocence and making fools out of those who would see them as otherwise. Yet, the major has his eye on her, whether she’s in mourning or not.

Later, he’ll walk into her house because the door is unlocked and surprise her as she’s coming out of the shower—suitably wrapped in a towel—and linger a little longer than necessary while she disappears back into the bathroom.

A likeness of her in her towel made the movie posters of the time.

Why doesn’t she throw him out on his ass for barging into her house? Well, come on. He kinda likes her. Besides, it gives him a chance to rifle through the material she’s transcribing for elderly Prof. Walgate, a page-turner titled The Principles of Thought Control.

Creepy/voyeuristic, not at all like the delightful creepy mood set in the opening sequences and built upon with the assault and killings of additional Winthrop farm folk by invisible entities (thump—squish). The townsfolk worry now it’s not just radiation menacing them. Maybe a rogue soldier is preying on them—what a great time to get a posse together and find that killer.

What could go wrong?

The invisible enemy grows in strength, becoming visible only toward the end of the movie. The killing of the stop-action fiends was considered gory and violent for the times, with censors in Great Britain and the U.S. forcing some trimming of footage.

A 1930 story from Weird Tales titled “The Thought Monster” written by Amelia Reynolds Long inspired the movie.

The strong points in the movie are its suspense. It also gives the viewer both intentional and unintentional moments of amusement. On the other hand, the stock footage of aircraft is not worked in well. The dialogue is hollow at times. And, of course, pro tip: If you ever find yourself having to shut down a nuclear reactor in an emergency situation, don’t waste time blowing up to the control room. Get yourself some boron.

Overall, I liked this movie, warts and all. It was fun.






Title: Fiend Without a Face (1958)

Directed by
Arthur Crabtree

Writing Credits
Herbert J. Leder…(screenplay)
Amelia Reynolds Long…(original story “The Thought Monster”)

Cast (in credits order) verified
Marshall Thompson…Maj. Cummings
Kynaston Reeves…Prof. R.E. Walgate
Kim Parker…Barbara Griselle
Stanley Maxted…Col. Butler
Terry Kilburn…Capt. Al Chester (as Terence Kilburn)

Released: May 29, 1958
Length: 1 hour, 14 minutes
YouTube link: Fiend Without a Face