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

Devils of Darkness (1965)

Directed by Lance Comfort [Other horror films: Daughter of Darkness (1948)]

I went into this one pretty blind, not overly sure what to expect. Unfortunately, though this British vampire movie possesses some charm, overall, I struggle to believe that Devils of Darkness will end up being that memorable.

As such, the plot itself is somewhat decent and moderately intriguing, dealing with members of a vampire-led cult attempting to retrieve something of their masters’ from an unsuspecting man, and the mysterious deaths around the man are somewhat interesting. When Scotland Yard gets involved, things become even more interesting. But despite all of this, I don’t think the movie ends up being great.

There’s no doubt some cool things here, such as a somewhat suspenseful reflection-off-water scene near the beginning (and speaking of the beginning, I did appreciate how we got eight minutes of opening before the title and credits came up), along with blood coming from a portrait. A few red herrings around Tracy Reed’s character, too, come into play. But there wasn’t anywhere near enough to keep things moving along at a brisk enough pace.

As a leading character, William Sylvester does pretty good, and I sort of liked Hubert Noel’s vampire character. But other than Tracy Reed, who wasn’t necessarily great, most of the cast is pretty forgettable, which certainly doesn’t help matters any.

Ultimately, Devils of Darkness has the occasional atmosphere that you might be looking for from a 60’s vampire film, but it’s not done nearly as well as Hammer was able to, so why go for a cheap knock-off if you can pick up the real thing? Might be worth checking out a single time, but I wouldn’t really expect to fall in love with this one. At least the color looks moderately nice.

5.5/10

The Gruesome Twosome (1967)

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis [Other horror films: Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Monster a-Go Go (1965), Color Me Blood Red (1965), A Taste of Blood (1967), Something Weird (1967), The Wizard of Gore (1970), The Gore Gore Girls (1972), Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002), The Uh-oh Show (2009), Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania (2017)]

H.G. Lewis is a personal favorite director of mine, despite not having seen all of his horror output as of yet. Both Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!, despite their flaws, are rather enjoyable. The Wizard of Gore is somewhat nonsensical, but still fun. I never cared much for Color Me Blood Red, and generally consider that my least-favorite of his.

Luckily, The Gruesome Twosome is a bit more enjoyable than the disappointing Color Me Blood Red, but it’s still quite a rocky film for only being an hour and ten minutes, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

The biggest issue here, by far, is the padding throughout the film. I’d say that 18 minutes easily could have been cut out without much issue (including that atrociously amusing opening, a ten-minute sequence of a character following someone they suspect is a killer, and a couple of beach party and slumber party scenes), but no, you have to suffer through those scenes honestly to get to the good stuff.

And the gore itself is pretty solid – I mean, c’mon, we’re talking about H.G. Lewis, aren’t we, Napoleon? There’s a solid throat-slitting with an electric knife, an enjoyably messy scalping, and while possibly gratuitous, a scene in which the killer’s digging through a woman’s entrails (for some reason). I mean, sure, it more often than not looks fake, but we’re talking about 60’s horror, so I applaud Lewis for his heavy use of gore.

Being a film from the Godfather of Gore, much of the acting is either subpar or wildly ridiculous. Gretchen Wells, as the main character, didn’t really make much an impression on me, nor did co-star Rodney Bedell. In his limited screen-time, Chris Martell did well as the mentally-subnormal killer, but it’s really Elizabeth Davis’ performance that’d leave a mark on you. As a kindly old woman who often talks to her stuffed wildcat Napoleon, and makes flighty, poetic comments from time-to-time, a lot of screen-time is spent on Davis, which I was cool with, as her character was so fun. It’s a shame no one else came close to her, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

I don’t think that many people, even horror fans, would go out of their way to see this one unless they were already fans of H.G. Lewis, which is probably a good thing, as it’s not his best release. Certainly a gory proto-slasher that’s better than Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome isn’t really anywhere near as enjoyable as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, or The Wizard of Gore, especially due to the unnecessary padding throughout the film. If you’re an H.G. Lewis aficionado, though, and you’ve not yet seen this, give it a shot. It could certainly be worse, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

6/10

The City of the Dead (1960)

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey [Other horror films: Circus of Fear (1966), The House That Would Not Die (1970), A Taste of Evil (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Home for the Holidays (1972), The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974), No Place to Hide (1981), I, Desire (1982), The Cradle Will Fall (1983)]

You want a movie with some atmosphere? The City of the Dead’s got it, in spades.

Using a Psycho-esque character switch that came as quite a surprise, The City of the Dead had a bit of bang for it’s buck. The plot is interesting enough, what with a young student going to study Satanism by traveling to the small town of Whitewood and taking a room at The Raven’s Inn, only to discover she bit off more than she can chew, but when something happens to our focal character, there’s a time-skip, and more horror ensues.

Of course, the idea of a small New England town being almost entirely dedicated to the dark side of Satanism (because of course, while this movie makes no mention of it, there’s plenty of perfectly good Satanists, more ratio-wise, I would bet, than Christians) was unique, and while I thought that many of the townspeople were being pretty obvious about their ill-intent, I guess that doesn’t bother those who wander into the town.

The cast here is superb. Related, this is a British production, but everyone spoke in American accents, so one might be fooled into thinking this an American-made picture. And speaking of which, while the original title is The City of the Dead, when released in the U.S.A., the title was changed to Horror Hotel (which, in my view, is quite a worse name), so there’s your random fact for the day.

Onto the cast, it’s Christopher Lee who stands out the most as a professor of Satanic studies, and one who takes his research seriously (his argument with a science professor, played by Dennis Lotis, was somewhat interesting). Playing the interested student was Venetia Stevenson, who was quite good, and seemed a lot more self-possessed than many women in the genre at the time. Taking off to the town of Whitewood alone was a nice touch, though it didn’t end as well as she may have hoped. Lotis wasn’t in much else, but he does well here as Stevenson’s concerned brother, as does Tom Naylor, playing her fiancée.

Actually, that brings to mind one thing that rather annoyed me. After a long absence of communication to either her brother or fiancée, Stevenson’s character is presumed missing. Obviously, both men are concerned. And both go up to Whitewood to investigate. But do they share a ride and work together to discover her whereabouts? Of course not. It’s not clear why one or the other didn’t bring up ‘Hey, I’m going to Whitewood, want to tag along,’ but I’m guessing it has to do with foolish ideas of manliness. Either way, the fact that both went up separately just bothered me to no end.

The other two cast-members worth mentioning are Betta St. John and Norman MacOwan. St. John was sort of an interesting individual, as she took the role of the main female character after Stevenson exited stage right, and she worked well with Lotis’ character, all things considered. MacOwan played an elderly priest with no congregation (get better employment, brah, cause you suck at your current job), and he did decent, though the whole ‘Christianity is superior to other valid religions without good reason’ gets really old, not that this is the only movie in the horror genre that makes that antiqued claim. Still, MacOwan was pretty fun.

It’s true that the ending of this one is pretty much the most generic thing about the movie, but it still works out reasonably well, and the fact that the final scenes take place in an old graveyard certainly help with the atmosphere the movie worked so well with (the hotel scenes with Stevenson in the first half were solid enough, and this brings it into overdrive). Overall, I wouldn’t say that The City of the Dead is a perfect movie, but for fans of beautifully-done black-and-white 60’s horror, this one would very likely be well-received.

8/10

Night of Bloody Horror (1969)

Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr. [Other horror films: Women and Bloody Terror (1970), The Night of the Strangler (1972), Creature from Black Lake (1976)]

This proto-slasher isn’t without potential, but unfortunately, the quality of the widely-available print leaves a hell of a lot to be desired, so despite some decent scenes in the film, along with a solid finale, much of the film is almost intolerably mediocre.

Gerald McRaney, an actor I don’t know (though this is his first of many roles) did decent as a young man potentially breaking down. Playing his long-time doctor, Herbert Nelson does well also. We don’t particularly see a lot of Evelyn Hendricks, but she had some okay time in the limelight. Pretty much no other characters really mattered, as they appeared for just a few minutes before getting killed.

My problems with Night of Bloody Horror notwithstanding, the kill scenes are all decent. There’s an individual getting stabbed in the eye with a needle, someone taking an ax to the chest, and another getting their hand chopped off. I wanted more build-up to these scenes, you know, with some actual tension, but the scenes themselves are good.

I get the sense that this was partially inspired by Psycho, one of the most well-known proto-slashers, but despite the fact Night of Bloody Horror managed to get made in color, it doesn’t come close to outshining it’s spiritual predecessor. A lot of this, in my view, has to do with both how muddy the color can sometimes be, along with the rather muffled sound of much of the audio.

There was a movie that came out a few years after this, on a side-note, titled Three on a Meathook. Also, a year after that, Scream Bloody Murder (Fred Holbert starring), and both of these films, along with being proto-slashers, share a lot in common with Night of Bloody Horror. Of the three, though it came first, Night of Bloody Horror is probably my least favorite. Even when I first saw it, I wasn’t overly impressed, and now, while I see that it has potential, it just doesn’t really work that well.

5.5/10