House of Usher (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

This Roger Corman movie is one I’ve been wanting to see for some time now, and now that I finally have, I’m somewhat underwhelmed. Oh, House of Usher is solid enough, and possesses both great performances and an enjoyable atmosphere, not to mention a fantastic conclusion, but still, I couldn’t help but expect more from it.

Even with the slight disappointment, though, there’s no doubt that Vincent Price brings a hell of a lot to this film. His character, paranoid and somewhat of a bastard, is great, and his performance is up there with the best of his material (House on Haunted Hill and Theater of Blood among them). The delivery of his lines is fantastic, and he just works wonderfully here.

The others are decent, and somewhat amusingly, my second-favorite performance here is not Mark Damon nor Myrna Fahey, but the butler, played by Harry Ellerbe. His loyalty to the dying House of Usher, despite all of the decay that he’s witnessing first-hand, was quite admirable, and I enjoyed him throughout. Fahey was good also, though I felt she didn’t really reach her stride until the finale. Truthfully, while Mark Damon was okay, I think he was the least stellar of the cast.

Also worth mentioning is the beautiful setting, being a desolate, decrepit mansion in the middle of a foggy swamp. With a cast as small as House of Usher had, this location brought more character to the movie, and the fact that it was in color, though gloomy still, was a nice touch. Related, the coloring here was solid, and it really shows in the psychedelic dream sequence, one of the moments that stands out a bit more.

The finale is fantastic, what with the mad search for a woman buried alive, only to discover that the woman has escaped her coffin and went mad, her bleeding fingers leading a trail to a great confrontation. Of course, this truly is the end of the House of Usher, and that’s probably for the best, given Price’s very apparent unstable mind-set.

House of Usher is a classic, and I don’t have a problem saying that. I just wish that I liked it a bit more than I already do. Perhaps I was overselling it to myself before seeing it, but still, the movie is certainly above average, and boasts a very good atmosphere and, of course, Vincent Price near his best.

7.5/10

The Strangler (1964)

Directed by Burt Topper [Other horror films: N/A]

What makes The Strangler a movie worth remembering is the performance of Victor Buono. Sure, the crisp black-and-white looks nice, and it doesn’t feel too far removed from Psycho (which I’m sure influenced this), but Buono’s performance here is what makes it work.

Others in the film do fine, including his atrocious mother played by Ellen Corby, a detective played by David McLean, and two attractive young women Davey Davison and Diane Sayer, but no one stands out as well as Buono does, and truth be told, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before this, Buono had a quite a few small television roles, along with some uncredited movie roles, until he played a character in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which was probably one of his first bigger roles. But The Strangler was one of his earliest starring roles, and boy, does it work for him.

While the kills are as tepid as you could expect from the 1960’s, the characterization Buono puts in is fantastic, and I personally can’t help but feel sympathetic for his character (especially after seeing what his mother puts him through). It’s just heartbreaking at times, and Victor Buono really shows it on his face and pained expressions.

The Strangler was a good movie when I first saw it some years back, and it’s still a movie very much worth watching. In many ways, I’m reminded of a movie I saw just some weeks ago called The Couch, which was also a 1960’s film focusing on an insane killer and his steady decline in a psychological manner. The Strangler is the better of the two, but I think both would fit well on a two-pack, but no matter what, definitely give this one a look if you’re a fan of 60’s horror.

8/10

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

Directed by William Grefé [Other horror films: Sting of Death (1966), Stanley (1972), Impulse (1974), Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), Whiskey Mountain (1977)]

To be honest, I wanted to like this one. I mean, a low-budget horror film made in Florida by Grefé (see resume above)? Sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Sadly, though, more than anything else, Death Curse of Tartu is pretty dull.

The best thing I can say about the performances is that Maurice Stewart and Mayra Gómez Kemp looked cute during the ridiculously groovy dance scene. Otherwise, Babette Sherrill and Fred Pinero, not to mention most everyone else (save perhaps Bill Marcus) were overly stilted and the dialogue generally just felt awkward.

Setting the story in a Florida swamp had potential, and even filming most everything during the day was a somewhat daring move, but due to the sluggish pace of the film, it doesn’t really help all that much.

See, the thing is, watching a snake chase someone for four minutes isn’t exciting, nor are most chase sequences in the film. The only exception that comes to mind is a scene toward the end with Tartu (Doug Hobart) chasing Sherrill’s character, and it was filmed in a pretty solid way. Everything else, though, just felt uninspired and quite dull.

Death Curse of Tartu could probably be a pretty cool movie had it been done entirely differently. The potential is there, but it just didn’t show at all, which wasn’t really surprising, but I will admit to being disappointed. For the 1960’s, the color here was nice, but it didn’t save the sluggish pace, and I can’t really see myself sitting through this one again sober.

5.5/10

The Couch (1962)

Directed by Owen Crump [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a pretty unassuming movie, and I can sort of see why I’ve never heard of this one before (aside from the fact that some refer to it as just a thriller), but it’s a relatively tight story, some solid suspense, and comes across as something of a rough gem. Before I go on, if you’re into 60’s horror and haven’t seen this, I’d recommend checking it out.

From the get-go, we know the killer is Grant Williams, and the film is really a psychological probe into his mental state (plot twist: he’s not particularly the picture of mental health), which is pretty fun, because his physique isn’t really what you’d expect. His killing style, a quick jab with an ice pick, is fun to watch. Just an average guy killing a random person in a crowded area, and you can see why he’d get away with it.

Williams here is great. I don’t really know him, but based off this performance, he might have been able to give a good Norman Bates performance a few years prior in Psycho. The others here, including Shirley Knight, Onslow Stevens, and William Leslie, all do well, but this is really the Grant Williams show, which worked fine for me.

As far as mentally unstable characters go, the one Williams plays is pretty fantastic. He’s completely detached from reality at times, and toward the end, he gives us a really stellar conclusion, and as I mentioned, pretty tense at times also.

Any black-and-white thriller/horror dealing with a psychopath made in the immediate years following Psycho would have a harder time gaining traction, but I’d still recommend giving this one a look. Sure, some aspects are rough, such as occasional camera-work, but The Couch was still a mostly solid film, and I’m glad I took the time with it.

7.5/10

Konchû daisensô (1968)

Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu [Other horror films: Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)]

I’ve not seen that many Japanese horror films from the 1960’s, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from Konchû daisensô, better known as Genocide, but I was pretty happy with it come the conclusion.

The plot here isn’t really that stellar, but the consistent anti-war message throughout was certainly welcomed (and, from a post-World War II Japan, logical), and one of the characters references both the arms race between the U.S.S.R. and the U.S.A. as foolish, along with both the Superpowers being arrogant, which is a nice sentiment to see (and largely accurate).

With topics like this, not to mention the horrid experiences Jewish people, and others, went through in Germany, or issues of environmental concern, it’s probably not a surprise that Genocide (even the title’s invocative of a dismal story) has a somewhat nihilistic conclusion. Not that it’s entirely dark, but certainly it’s probably one of the more depressing endings I’ve seen in recent times.

The cast is generally solid, though not perfect. In particular, I think Kathy Horan was a bit over-the-top at times, which didn’t feel right for this movie. Most main performances, though, such as Emi Shindô, Yûsuke Kawazu, and Keisuke Sonoi, all do commendably enough.

Like I said, I’ve seen only a few Asian horror films from this time period, and to be honest, I was thinking that this would be a lot cornier than it even came close to being. I won’t go as far as to call the movie ‘amazing,’ but I had a fun time watching it, and would certainly recommend it, especially if they want a slice of horror that deals with more serious topics.

7.5/10

Queen of Blood (1966)

Directed by Curtis Harrington [Other horror films: Night Tide (1961), How Awful About Allan (1970), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), The Cat Creature (1973), Killer Bees (1974), The Dead Don’t Die (1975), Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Usher (2000)]

A 1966 movie starring John Saxon, with appearances from Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper? Is this an undiscovered classic waiting to be unleashed from the vaults it so cruelly was forced into?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Queen of Blood is, above all else, a rather dull affair, which is a damn shame, as the year previous brought forth a fantastic voyage into space horror, being Planet of the Vampires. What we have here feels not too far removed from Lifeforce, only this is lifeless.

It’s hard to say why the movie is as boring as it is – part of this is likely due to the fact that nothing much happens until the last thirty or so minutes of the film. Much of the movie is dry, but it doesn’t even really help build characterization or anything. It’s just dull and an exercise in tediousness.

Of course, Queen of Blood had potential. The ending is almost okay, but at the same time, it lacked any type of finale confrontation (I mean, technically, one was there, but it was so weak that it barely felt like it should count). A green, humanoid alien, passive 90% of the time, does not a great antagonist make.

Was John Saxon nice to see? Sure, and I got a blast out of that. But this movie just isn’t worth watching, and sitting through it once is difficult enough.

5/10

The Haunting (1963)

Directed by Robert Wise [Other horror films: The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Audrey Rose (1977)]

This is a classic I’ve seen only once before, and while I appreciated it, I didn’t particularly love it, and the same can be said with a rewatch.

What the movies does well is instill a strong feeling of paranoia into the viewer, and some of the camera views match the atmosphere with a very frantic style. Related, the atmosphere here is solidly dense, and especially toward the end, things get ratcheted up and the spiral staircase sequence – talk about intense.

My issue is that, as the movie’s almost two hours long, and much of the first hour-and-a-half is composed of character-building and somewhat annoying arguments between the women, I find myself somewhat disengaged. The story’s great, and the opening’s amazing (‘Whatever walked in Hill House, walked alone,’ followed by a charming history of the domicile), but the movie as a whole? It doesn’t cut it for me.

This shouldn’t take away anything from Julie Harris’ performance, which is fantastic, and toward the end, she really comes across as unhinged, so kudos there. I do think that some of her first-person narration got a bit hokey, but I suppose that’s part of the charm. Claire Bloom’s character started out decent, but boy, does her personality really grate on me at times. Also, and this may just be me, but I was getting somewhat lesbian vibes from her, which, if intended, adds a somewhat cool little subplot and extra reason for her character’s annoyance at Richard Johnson (who was decent, but not a stand-out).

As decent as parts of this movie are, it’s not a movie I could see myself watching that many times in a given five-year range. Once is probably enough, and while it’s possible that my appreciation of this one will grow with my age, for the time being, I’d still call it a classic, and a good movie, but not really a great one.

7/10

The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)

Directed by Roger Corman [Other horror films: The Beast with a Million Eyes (1955), Day the World Ended (1955), It Conquered the World (1956), Not of This Earth (1957), Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957), The Undead (1957), War of the Satellites (1958), The Wasp Woman (1959), A Bucket of Blood (1959), House of Usher (1960), Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), Tower of London (1962), The Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

A somewhat classic movie, The Little Shop of Horrors is a rather black comedic horror film that is probably more enjoyable than it should be, though it’s not altogether amazing.

Being a Roger Corman movie, it would shock no one that the film is really campy at times, and the humor is, more often than not, over-the-top. This is evident in multiple scenes, such as the ones starring the dentist, or any scene with Myrtle Vail (also in A Bucket of Blood, from 1959). Hell, even the carnivorous plant is over-the-top, with his constant clamoring to be fed and his silly voice.

Performance-wise, Jonathan Haze does decent as the main character, and Jackie Joseph as his love interest, but there are more interesting and amusing faces here. Mel Welles, who played a foreign florist shop owner, cracked me up with most of his lines (he also appeared in one of Corman’s earlier movies, Attack of the Crab Monsters). Also, there are two faces that I just love to see, being a young Dick Miller (following his starring role in the aforementioned A Bucket of Blood, also directed by Corman) and a younger Jack Nicholson (this is his sixth credit, and fourth movie). Also, if you’re into the JFK assassination, the name Karyn Kupcinet may mean something to you, and she appeared in this movie also as an annoying teenager.

If you can stand a goofy plot, The Little Shop of Horrors may be worth looking into. There’s not really any gore of note (this isn’t H.G. Lewis), but there are some body parts being fed to a carnivorous plant, so occasionally the film comes across as more graphic than you might expect for the age. I don’t find The Little Shop of Horrors an amazing movie, but I’ve seen it quite a handful of times, and have been consistently entertained.

7/10

This is one of the films covered on Fight Evil’s podcast. Listen below as Chucky (@ChuckyFE) and I discuss this one.

House of the Damned (1963)

Directed by Maury Dexter [Other horror films: The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)]

This one seems to have flown almost completely under the radar, and in fact, ever since I’ve known this movie existed, despite the promise the plot shows on IMDb, it’s never been classified in the ‘horror’ genre [though after this review was first written, it has since been categorized as such]. After having seen the film finally, I can dispel that and say it’s definitely horror, and not only that, but also a pretty decent one, all things considered.

What works well in this rather short film (clocks in around an hour and two minutes) is the creepy vibe it happens to possess. The setting, an old, large house on a hill, looks great, and the black-and-white brings with it additional charm. But there are some legitimately spooky scenes, one in which a man, walking on his hands (as he has no legs) crawls into a room and steals the keys to the house. They filmed that well, because I found it actually somewhat chilling.

The characters, those who appear for more than a few minutes, anyway, work out good too. Ron Foster does a pretty decent, if not perhaps somewhat unremarkable, job as the lead character, and playing his wife, Merry Anders (from the criminally-forgotten 1960 flick The Hypnotic Eye) provides a solid performance also. I could take or leave Erika Peters, but Richard Crane (The Alligator People) comes across well.

Extra interesting note: House of the Damned does contain a somewhat early appearance of Richard Kiel, who many may know from a couple of James Bond movies, but I always remember from the comedy Happy Gilmore. He’s a hell of a lot younger here, playing a mute giant, but he definitely has the same face and brings a good presence to the film.

If this had been done in the 1940’s, I suspect that it’d feel a bit less stellar, if only because old dark house films like this were all the rage back then. By the early 1960’s, though, they’d fallen out of favor, and because of that, this seems made during a somewhat unique time period for a movie of this nature. This doesn’t make House of the Damned any better, by any means, but I do think it allows the film to stand out a bit more (though given the fact not many people seem to know this one, perhaps only I got the memo).

House of the Damned isn’t likely to blow anyone away, but I did occasionally find the vibe really creepy, and the house was such a good, quality setting. A few good red herrings, along with a satisfactory conclusion (which I admittedly saw coming miles away, but I still appreciated it), I rather enjoyed this one. It’s short, charming, and definitely a film that I think more people should at least know about.

8/10

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Directed by Robert Aldrich [Other horror films: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)]

It’s been some many years since I first saw this movie, but I’m happy to report that, with a rewatch, this classic movie has lost exactly none of the magic. With a strong cast, an engaging story, and a rather dreary and helpless atmosphere, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an utterly amazing movie.

A lot of the reason this movie works are the performances involved. Both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis do a fantastic job, Crawford as a wheelchair-bound character in a desperate situation, Davis as a long-faded former star, who’s slipping into deeper mental instability, probably not helped by her heavy drinking. Along with an early role from Victor Buono (perhaps most well-known as King Tut from the 1966 Batman series) rounding out the main cast, you can see the movie has a lot going for it already.

These three did a decent amount for the genre too, which I think’s worth mentioning. Davis later appeared in such films as Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, which I think makes a great double feature with this one, if you have five hours free), Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), and Burnt Offerings (1976). For Crawford, she appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), and Berserk (1967). While Buono was more well-known for Batman, he did appear in both The Strangler (1964) and Lo strangolatore di Vienna (1971, also known as The Mad Butcher).

Strong cast aside, the story here is deeply engaging. On the surface, it’s not overly complex, but they throw in a few surprises, and the relationship examined between the sisters brought a lot of emotion to the movie (especially regarding Davis’ performance, who’s character was both often heinous and often heartbreaking).

I suspect the biggest issue that some people would have with this film, or at least the largest hurdle they’d have before watching it, would be the length. At two hours and fourteen minutes, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a long movie, but I personally don’t think any scene needs cutting, and I think the whole film is rewarding, especially the somewhat tonally different finale on a bright, sunny day on the beach.

The black-and-white is crisp in the film, and I think it helps loan the film some additional atmosphere (which the film certainly isn’t lacking on, but even so, every little bit plays it’s part). The suspense here is very solid, and with the story and cast, I can’t think of a good reason not to recommend this one.

9/10