Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (1967)

Directed by Harald Reinl [Other horror films: Die Bande des Schreckens (1960), Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse (1962), Der Teppich des Grauens (1962), Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor (1963), Zimmer 13 (1964), Der unheimliche Mönch (1965), Ein toter Taucher nimmt kein Gold (1974)]

Most commonly known as The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism, this German film is quite a disappointment. To be sure, I’ve seen it once before, but I didn’t remember just how uneventful and dull so much of this movie tends to be.

The basic story here is that two people (and their plus ones) are going to an old castle. Once there, a count who has been dead for 35 years comes back from the dead to exact his revenge (as the two people at the castle are descendants of those who led to the Count’s execution). Some spooky things happen, and the Count is defeated.

I can’t say exactly how long it took them to reach the castle, but I can say the trip took at least 40 minutes. Sure, there’s some creepy scenery on the way there, and I’ll touch on that, but it’s entirely uneventful and honestly doesn’t do much but perhaps give some meager atmosphere. Once they’re at the castle, it still takes a bit of time for anything to actually happen. In fact, in my opinion, things finally started moving at 55 minutes into the film, leaving just 25 minutes left.

Those 25 minutes, though, saving one sequence, were also on the dull side.

To be frank, no performance here did anything for me. Lex Barker as the lead felt quite uninspired, Karin Dor (The Terrible People, The Carpet of Horror, The Strangler of Blackmoor Castle, Dracula vs. Frankenstein, and Dark Echo) was dull, and though I hate to say it, Christopher Lee was also pretty unexciting, as though his heart wasn’t really in this.

Yes, a few good sequences take place (God, you’d hope so, as the same story that spawned this film also spawned the fantastic 1961 The Pit and the Pendulum), two of them on the long ride to the castle. The horse-drawn carriage passes through a forest, and the trees here have body parts, such as arms and legs, seemingly sticking out of them. That did look creepy, as did another forest which had a lot of hanged men on every tree.

At the castle, there was a pretty quality sequence where a ledge was slowly being taken from Dor’s character, and with each inch receding into the wall, the closer she was to falling into a pit of snakes. That was good stuff. The pendulum, however, was sort of weaksauce – the guy just threw a rock at it, knocked it into oscillation, and it perfectly severed the ropes holding his body down without cutting him.

I can’t express how much I wish I liked this one. I took four years of German in high school, and so feel an affinity with the country and it’s films, especially horror. The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism is just dull, though. It was underwhelming when I first saw it, and it still is. It might have some hokey fun every now and again, but to be honest, I was bored most of the time.


The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Dracula (1958), The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), The Man Who Could Cheat Death (1959), The Mummy (1959), The Stranglers of Bombay (1959), The Brides of Dracula (1960), The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll (1960), The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Phantom of the Opera (1962), The Horror of It All (1964), The Gorgon (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

In many ways, The Earth Dies Screaming is a decent movie, and reminiscent of later films (such as Night of the Living Dead). It’s a short film, running at just over an hour, and as such, quite digestible. I don’t think The Earth Dies Screaming is a movie I’d watch too often, and I don’t have a lot to say about it, but the movie is perfectly solid.

The film moves quite quickly – it has to, given how short it is. Most of civilization dies in a matter of a couple of minutes due to a gas attack, aside from a handful of people (reminding me of Corman’s Last Woman on Earth) who survived, such as a pilot. They then fight off zombie-esque controlled human beings and giant space robots.

It’s a quick, fun movie, with not really that much to it – there’s some conflict in the group of survivors (there always tends to be), and there’s naturally conflict against the alien menace. They discover a way to defeat, at least partially, the alien menace, and they make an attempt to do so. It’s simple and effective, just as you’d expect from the British.

Willard Parker, is his second-to-last film, made for a good and strong lead. He had that typical strong man feel to him, and I enjoyed him here. Dennis Price (The Haunted House of Horror and The Horror of It All) made for a fine human antagonist, though he got on my nerves quick. No other performances really stood out, aside from Thorley Walters (Frankenstein Created Woman), who had strong scene near the end.

The director of this one was Terence Fisher (and as you can see above, he has quite the filmography), which is partially why this film works as well as it does for so simple a story. There were some suspenseful scenes, and utilizing corpses as something that can be controlled by the soon-to-be robot overlords was a nice touch.

All-in-all, I don’t think The Earth Dies Screaming is an amazing movie, but it does what it needs to and does it quickly, and while it’s not one I think I’d watch too often in the future, I did think it was decent, and at least worth seeing once.


Dance of the Vampires (1967)

Directed by Roman Polanski [Other horror films: Repulsion (1965), Rosemary’s Baby (1968), The Ninth Gate (1999)]

Roman Polanski is a director that I have very limited experience with. Perhaps his most well-known film, Rosemary’s Baby, is a movie I’ve not yet seen, and honestly don’t have that strong an urge to do so. Of the few films of him I have seen, the only one I actually liked was The Ninth Gate, and after watching this film, that hasn’t changed.

I can’t say what went wrong here with strong certainty. Dance of the Vampires (or to American audiences, The Fearless Vampire Killers) is a film that had potential, but I couldn’t get into it at all. I didn’t care for the style of the movie, I didn’t care for the characters, and I definitely didn’t care for the fact it ran for an hour and 48 minutes.

To be honest, this movie was a struggle to sit through. I was consistently frustrated with character decisions (especially those from Alfred, portrayed by director Roman Polanski), and I became actively annoyed the longer the film went on. It reminded me of two movies, both of which are well-respected, being Eraserhead and Multiple Maniacs. Both have quite high ratings, yet despite that, I utterly hated the both of them. Dance of the Vampires isn’t nearly as experimental as either of those two, but in much the same way, this seems to be a well-respected film, and I just couldn’t stand it.

Of all the performances, the only one I cared much for was Ferdy Mayne (who I know best from Frightmare). Mayne had that classy vampire appearance, and I could get behind it. Sharon Tate (Eye of the Devil) played a character I felt was pointless, Roman Polanski played the most aggravating character I could imagine, and while Jack MacGowran had a few okay moments, his absent-mindedness got old quickly.

There were some solid sequences. When MacGowran and Polanski are using the roofs of the castle to get around, with the mountain scenery in the background, that looked quite nice. The titular dance of the vampires was an okay sequence, and provided some of the only humor I really found amusing, being some characters trying to hold a conversation while dancing. It wasn’t laugh out loud funny – that’s not the type of humor this movie has – but it was mildly amusing.

Otherwise, Dance of the Vampires drags from beginning to end. It’s an hour and 48 minutes, so that’s a lot of dragging. If the type of humor this film possesses appeals to you, then you may be in for a good time, but like I said, I didn’t care for this humor, and so it was just painful throughout.

No doubt this is a classic comedy-horror mix. I hated it, though, and that’s all she wrote (the ‘she’ being me, in this case).


The Last Man on Earth (1964)

Directed by Ubaldo Ragona [Other horror films: N/A] & Sidney Salkow [Other horror films: Twice-Told Tales (1963)]

As many of you may know, Vincent Price is one of my favorite actors in the horror genre. It’s hard to imagine not liking one of his movies, and The Last Man on Earth, based on the Richard Matheson novel I Am Legend, is not only a quality movie, but one of the finest of the 1960’s.

Not only that, but it has to stand out as one of the most dismal. True, I think the ending of Night of the Living Dead is ultimately more depressing, but the tone of this film throughout is just one of hopelessness and solitude. It has a fantastic aura – the city void of any living beings, which just looked amazing – and for some quality atmosphere, you need search no further.

Of course, Vincent Price is great here. In fact, this is probably one of his best performances (at least out of the movies I’ve seen), and his internal monologue (with perhaps some of the best first-person narration in horror) was just depressing. There’s a scene where he’s watching some old home videos of his now-deceased family, and begins wildly laughing, only to soon turn into uncontrollable sobbing. A damn strong and emotional performance here, Vincent Price knocks this out of the fucking park.

Also worth mentioning is how the story is told. For the first 28 minutes, we get a look into Price’s current life, and how he fills his days (throwing bodies into a burning pit, getting some fresh garlic, searching for the hidden vampires to put a stake through their hearts – all that monotonous fun), and then we’re given a 24-minute flashback as to how the world got to the deserted husk we’ve been seeing. Once the flashback’s done, we come back to the present-day, and Price learns that he may not be as alone as he thought.

None of this is necessarily groundbreaking in terms of story-telling, but I did think that it worked out really well, and just gives a little more flavor to this movie (as though it really needed any).

Another unique aspect of the film is the nature of the antagonists. Technically, they’re vampires, and share many of the traits (can’t stand their reflection in a mirror, unable to operate in daylight, rather dislike garlic, need to be staked through the heart), but really, these things feel a bit more like Romero zombies (and as it’s four years before Night of the Living Dead is released, that is impressive). One thing I personally don’t care for is how these vampires can talk – one just bangs on a door all night and screams at Price’s character. It’s sort of funny, but the idea that this has been going on every night for three years borders on ridiculous.

There’s also something of a twist revealed in the last quarter of the movie, and while I didn’t necessarily love where the movie went afterward, the twist itself was fantastically dark and demoralizing. It’s something that Price’s character doesn’t have a lot of time to dwell on at the time, but it’s such a kick in the face, and I love it (and following the kick in the face that I didn’t love, being the dog, I appreciated it).

I don’t love how the movie ends, which is a shame, as I utterly adored most of what came before. Once Franca Bettoia’s character shows up, while it brings with it the aforementioned twist I love, along with some interesting ideas, I just don’t dig the movie as much, probably because Price is no longer the sole focus, and the sense of isolation (especially in the last 15 minutes) is entirely gone.

One last note is that I really enjoyed the conversations Price had in the flashbacks with Giacomo Rossi Stuart’s character – both are scientists, but Stuart’s character is more willing to believe fantastic theories and in fact, uses garlic and mirrors to repel the vampires before it became fashionable. I wish we had seen a bit more of that guy, because I enjoyed his chemistry with Price.

Were it not for the fact that I don’t love the finale (and never have – this is probably the third time I’ve seen this, if not fourth, and I never cared much for the last twenty or so minutes), this movie would be close-to-perfect. As it stands, it’s still a very strong movie, and I have a hard time imagining any top 15 horror films of the 1960’s not having this smuggled somewhere within it.


Homicidal (1961)

Directed by William Castle [Other horror films: Macabre (1958), House on Haunted Hill (1959), The Tingler (1959), 13 Ghosts (1960), Mr. Sardonicus (1961), The Old Dark House (1963), Strait-Jacket (1964), The Night Walker (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), Let’s Kill Uncle (1966), The Spirit Is Willing (1967), Shanks (1974)]

William Castle is probably one of my personal favorite directors when it comes to pre-1970’s horror. His campy style never fails to entertain, and though his movies may rarely be necessarily special (with the exception of House on Haunted Hill, which is definitely special, and perhaps Mr. Sardonicus), they’re almost always entertaining, and Homicidal is no different.

Partially influenced by the success of Psycho from a year previous, Homicidal gives us a story filled with different characters and plenty of mystery, along with a conclusion of which the influence of Psycho can clearly be gleaned. Just because the film shares some elements with it’s better doesn’t mean Homicidal is without credit, though, because this movie has a lot going for it.

The cast throughout is stellar. It’s true that Joan Marshall gives one hell of a performance, and though maybe a little over-the-top at times, it’s a Castle movie, so I don’t imagine many could hold that against her. What’s even more impressive, though, is the performance given by Eugenie Leontovich, who plays a mute character, and must express herself solely via facial expressions. The terror that her character felt in certain scenes was palatable, and I loved it.

Patricia Breslin (who also popped up in Castle’s I Saw What You Did) was pretty good as the focal character past a certain point, and though she wasn’t really near as stellar as others, I definitely appreciated her presence. Somewhat similar is Glenn Corbett – he was perfectly fine in his role, but he didn’t stand out quite as much as other cast members.

Being a movie from the early 60’s, and also being black-and-white, Homicidal doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of gore (though there are two scenes of note – one a multiple gut-stab, the other the results of a decapitation – that are worth seeing), but it does give us a decent little mystery with a really fun finale (following Castle’s corny Fright Break, of course, which allowed theater-goers 45 seconds to leave prior to the film’s conclusion).

Since I’ve seen this once or twice before, I obviously knew how the film was going to end, and I suspect that most modern-day audiences, hard-wired to see plot twists coming from a mile away, will spot this one from, well, miles away, but that doesn’t, in my mind, make the conclusion any less stellar. It may well be obvious to new-time viewers, but I recall being surprised the first time I saw this, and while that may just mean I’m gullible, I still felt appreciation for that.

What I also appreciated was the opening to this film, which had director William Castle speaking to the audience, referencing previous works (Macabre, House on Haunted Hill, The Tingler, and 13 Ghosts) and having a jolly time with it. It reminded me a bit of Edward Van Sloan’s speech which opened up Frankenstein. It’s corny, but it’s fun, which I think Castle excelled at.

Homicidal may not be my favorite work from Castle, but I do think it’s a pretty good movie, and I definitely recommend it to fans of the classics the genre has to offer.


Torture Garden (1967)

Directed by Freddie Francis [Other horror films: The Brain (1962), The Day of the Triffids (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Hysteria (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970), Trog (1970), Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Craze (1974), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Dark Tower (1989)]

Amicus’ second anthology horror film (following 1965’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors), Torture Garden is a film I’ve seen once before, but didn’t particularly care for. Seeing it again does confirm, to me, at least, that it’s one of the weakest of Amicus’ anthologies that I’ve seen.

I find the framing story as fun as any other, and the route it takes, while predictable, is still fun, but none of the four stories throughout the film really interest me. No doubt that two of them (‘Terror Over Hollywood’ and ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’) had potential, but I don’t feel either one was necessarily executed that well. Of the four, I guess I’d say that ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’ was the best, but really, all four of these felt somewhat underwhelming, especially compared to Amicus’ later entities, such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

The first and third stories (‘Enoch’ and ‘Mr. Steinway,’ respectively) had their own issues – for ‘Enoch,’ it just felt sort of been-there done-that, and ‘Mr. Steinway’ felt undercooked (and that ridiculous ending, while almost fun, just felt, well, ridiculous), and while some performances stood out in each (Michael Bryant, who later starred in The Stone Tape, for ‘Enoch,’ and John Standing, later in Nightflyers, for ‘Mr. Steinway’), these stories felt weak in ways that reminded me of another weak Amicus outing, being their final anthology, From Beyond the Grave.

Good performances are common throughout the film, of course. Jack Palance (Man in the Attic, Alone in the Dark, and Without Warning) was somewhat enjoyable, though his character’s personality threw me off. Of course, Peter Cushing is always a joy to see, no matter how flawed the particular story was. Others that are worth a mention include Robert Hutton (The Slime People), John Phillips (The Mummy’s Shroud), Michael Ripper (who was in The Mummy along with quite a few other Hammer outings), and of course the enjoyably hammy Burgess Meredith (who I primarily know from the Batman series, but was also in Burnt Offerings and Magic).

Of course, worth-while performances can only go so far if their stories don’t do them justice, and I don’t think any of these really did, aside from maybe Meredith’s role in the framing story (though even that edit cut toward the end just felt poorly done). Little in any of the stories aside from wasted potential stuck me as memorable (especially ‘Terror Over Hollywood,’ which I really think could have been interesting in a Michael Crichton way), but aside from the framing story, which threw in a surprise or two, nothing here is going to stick with me.

Naturally, being a big fan of some of Amicus’ later work, this doesn’t give me pleasure to admit, but I found this even weaker than the aforementioned From Beyond the Grave, if only because one of those stories was actually about average. As of this writing, the only Amicus anthology I’ve not seen is Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, but as that’s the first of this kind, I’m definitely hoping for a little more out of that one. As for Torture Garden, despite some quality performances (Meredith, Cushing, and Palance alone had quality star power), I just don’t think it did that much right.


The Raven (1963)

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), 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 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)]

For many, this is a classic film, an enjoyable blend of horror and comedy, but I have to admit that, despite the fantastic cast, this movie really didn’t do a thing for me.

Which is a damn shame, as you can imagine. I mean, check out the cast – Vincent Price (House on Haunted Hill, The Haunted Palace, and Theatre of Blood), Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Black Cat, The Ghoul, and The Walking Dead), and Peter Lorre (Mad Love, The Beast with Five Fingers, and You’ll Find Out) are the central actors, and what a great mix it is. A young Jack Nicholson (The Shining and The Terror) appears throughout, and we also get some Hazel Court (The Premature Burial, Ghost Ship, The Masque of the Red Death, and The Curse of Frankenstein). All of these performances (and throw in Olive Sturgess for good measure) were solid.

I just don’t care for the story, though, which is very heavily entwined with comedy and fantasy. It started out strong, with some stanzas from Edgar Allan Poe’s classic poem being read by Price, but as soon as the raven (Lorre’s character who was transformed during a failed magical duel with Karloff’s sinister warlock character) flew in, I was just taken aback. Don’t get me wrong, I knew the film was partly comedy, but I didn’t quite realize it’d play so heavily a part, and some of the intended comedy just didn’t do much for me (such as Nicholson’s scene on the carriage).

And of course, this isn’t to take away from the performances, which were fantastic throughout, and they even managed a few pretty good scenes (I personally think the best one was Nicholson’s character traversing a ledge outside Karloff’s castle in order to get to another room, which held quality tension), but then there was a lengthy magical duel at the end between Price and Karloff which went on for at least six minutes with zero dialogue, and I can’t express how drowsy that made me.

Vincent Price is one of my personal favorite actors of the horror genre, being in multiple movies I absolutely love (such as the aforementioned House on Haunted Hill and Theatre of Blood), so it gives me no pleasure to admit that I didn’t care for this, especially because I also have a huge respect for Lorre and Karloff. The story just wasn’t my cup of tea, though, and I just did not derive much in the way of enjoyment from this whatsoever.

Most people enjoy this one, though, so if you’re into classic movies, by all means, give it a shot. Just know what you’re going into.


Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949)]

When I recorded this off TCM (gotta give TCM props for playing something like this, on a side-note), I had no delusions that it’d somehow be a good movie, and boy, what a quality prediction that was. Hillbillys (which isn’t even a proper plural version of the word) in a Haunted House was something I’ve never really experienced before, and never really want to again.

For a movie from the later 60’s, this was very-much steeped in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A haunted house that wasn’t really haunted, but a headquarter for spies who were trying to scare people away (which is pretty much what Ghosts on the Loose from 1943 focused on), a gorilla (right out of The Monster Walks and The Gorilla), even older names that were popular around that time (such as John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, and Lon Chaney, Jr.) – this movie was really late to the game, and the country angle doesn’t really make it any fresher.

And if you’re wondering where the country angle comes from, by “hillbillys,” the movie means country musicians (the film stars Ferlin Husky, who I’m not a particular fan of, but he has the occasionally catchy song). And being performers, much of the film is singing from various different people (a guy watches some television to help him sleep, and sees performances from artists such as Merle Haggard, for instance). There’s a lot of music in this film, some of it decent, some more generic, but always laughable when it pops up.

The best part might be the ending – at around 70 minutes in or so, the haunted house mystery is wrapped up, the antagonists taken care of, and the central trio (Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, and Don Bowman) are driving away, not a care in the world. Perfect ending, right?


Because they’re going to Nashville for a concert, and instead of ending the story at a sensible moment, the movie instead finds it necessary to have six songs performed by six different artists to close the film out. And the final song (performed by Husky himself) isn’t announced as the final song – he just sings his song (as Merle Haggard, Don Bowman, Marcella Wright, Joi Lansing, and Molly Bee did before him) and boom, the movie’s over.

Now, to be fair, many of the songs were decent, such as “Heartbreak U.S.A.” by Molly Bee, “Swinging Doors” by Merle Haggard (which is definitely going onto my iTunes), the comedic, spoken (think artists like Red Sovine or maybe even Jerry Reed a la “Telephone Song) “Wrong House” by Don Bowman, and “The Bridge I’ve Never Crossed” by Ferlin Husky, but to end a film with 15 minutes of random country songs with zero relevance or reference to what happened in the previous 70 minutes of the movie – what madness is this?

And you’re probably wondering where the appeal to the film arises from, which I couldn’t blame you for. Sure, I enjoy some classic country (from The Statler Brothers to Waylon Jennings from Bobby Bare to Lefty Frizzell, I dabble a little in the genre), but the real appeal comes from seeing the aforementioned John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone, all three rather large stars (or were at points previously to 1967).

Carradine (Bluebeard, The House of Seven Corpses, and hundreds of other films) and Rathbone (Son of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles ‘39, and Queen of Blood among his appearances) worked well together, though to be honest, their characters were somewhat interchangeable. Chaney Jr. provided a more simple-minded character, and while never all that sympathetic, he probably stood out the most of the three. On a side-note, this is Rathbone’s second-to-last film, as he died in mid-1967.

Ferlin Husky was as fine as he could have been, I suspect, given his character. In my view, Joi Lansing was cast more due to her physical attributes as opposed to acting ability (let’s just say that while of course there’s nothing close to nudity in this film, Lansing still provides quite the view), but honestly, for a movie like this, I can’t imagine bad acting being that much a concern. Don Bowman (who was both a country singer and a comedian, apparently) was the generic, cowardly side-character, and his Texas accent (and penchant for saying “weirdwolf” as opposed to “werewolf” for some unknown reason) did annoy me, but hey, that song he sang toward the end was funny, so as the kids say, whateves.

I don’t really know why this was made (perhaps there was a country craze in the mid-to-late 1960’s, as this is technically a sequel to non-horror film Las Vegas Hillbillys). I also don’t know why I spent ten whole paragraphs on it. I enjoyed a decent amount of the music, but the spy angle didn’t really catch my interest at all (and the whole M.O.T.H.E.R. organization just solidified my disinterest), and while it can be entertaining, you have to know beforehand what you’re going into.

As it was, Hillbillys in a Haunted House was something I won’t soon forget, but don’t mistake that for thinking it’s decent. At best, it’s still below average, with the fun musical numbers buoying it against the generically forgettable story, but I don’t think it buoys it that effectively.


Black Zoo (1963)

Directed by Robert Gordon [Other horror films: It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955)]

Maybe I was expecting too much, but I left Black Zoo feeling somewhat underwhelmed. The movie wasn’t poor, by any means, and there were some amusing scenes, along with performances worth noting, but a few elements of the story tasted funny, and I think the film, for me, ends up around average, if not a little lower.

I did appreciate the first 12 minutes of the film, though, wherein a tour bus of, well, tourists, comes to a zoo, and are taken through a tour by the head of the zoo, played by Michael Gough, and it’s just a nice, pleasant trip through the zoo, almost like one of those science documentaries my people sometimes watched in school when we had a substitute teacher. It was a charming opening, and I enjoyed it.

Also worth mentioning, Black Zoo is in color, which I didn’t know beforehand (and certainly wasn’t a given during this period of cinema). I don’t know if it really mattered in the end, but it was sort of nice to see.

Of course, Michael Gough is best known for playing Alfred in the Batman movies, though he has done plenty of horror (appearing in films such as the 1962 Phantom of the Opera, Horrors of the Black Museum, Berserk, What a Carve Up!, and Trog), and he gives a solid performance here, occasionally hammy, but enjoyable throughout. I was indifferent on Jeanne Cooper, who played Gough’s wife, but both Rod Lauren (The Crawling Hand and Terrified) and Elisha Cook Jr. (House on Haunted Hill) were solid, though I admit I didn’t care entirely for Lauren’s story.

On that note, there’s a bit of a twist at the end regarding Rod Lauren’s character, but I really didn’t find myself caring that much about it, because it didn’t really make a difference as far as I could tell. Also, while I understand the concept, that one crazy animal cult (they basically believe that the souls of recently-deceased animals can enter a new animal and live again) was just a bit too silly, and Michael Gough’s character didn’t strike me as someone who’d want to mix-in with a lot like that.

Points are given, though, for the murders that Gough’s character plans. Who doesn’t like him taking revenge on people with the help of his lions, tigers, and gorillas? There’s even an emotional scene, of sorts, where one of his animals is killed by Cook Jr. and, in a rage, takes him out (honestly, I can’t blame him at all for that, as Cook Jr.’s character was the one that was begging to be attacked).

Overall, though, Black Zoo was just an okay movie. I didn’t have a terrible time with it, but I definitely think it could have been better in some ways. It’s worth a watch just for something different (how many zoo-based horror films even are there, aside from this and Murders in the Zoo?), but it’s not an amazing film.


Yabu no naka no kuroneko (1968)

Directed by Kaneto Shindô [Other horror films: Onibaba (1964)]

Largely known as The Black Cat, Yabu no naka no kuroneko started off a decent movie, but I have to say that, after thirty minutes or so, I thought it began to drag, and it never really fully picked up steam again.

The film has a beautiful setting, taking place near a bamboo forest, and it looks quite stunning in black and white (which actually, on a side-note, surprised me, as many Japanese movies I’ve seen from the late 1960’s, and even before, have been in color), and the story has some emotional resonance to it also, to be sure.

For the first thirty minutes, showcasing the two women who are raped and killed, and then coming back as vengeful spirits to get revenge on all samurai, the movie was pretty solid. I thought they were going through their revenge pretty quickly, but that’s because their focus wasn’t there yet (a newly-appointed samurai who they both knew in their previous life), so that’s fine.

And the story that follows isn’t too bad, either, and like I said, even carried with it some emotional scenes, not to mention suspenseful scenes, such as the precursor to the final battle. I just personally found much of it boring beyond belief.

Kichiemon Nakamura was solid as the peasant farmer who, due to valor in battle, moved up to become a samurai. He was a good character, through-and-through, and him finding out that, after three years of being away from home due to his forced conscription, his house had burned down and family missing, was effective and saddening. I just wish I could say that either Nobuko Otowa (Onibaba) or Kiwako Taichi could have made more an emotional impact past the opening scene, but at least Kei Satô provided a little amusement.

Certainly this film had some moments that should have been a bit more of a tug on the heart, but they just didn’t hit me that way. Even toward the end, when Nakamura’s character figures out how to destroy the spirit of his mother, I just wasn’t getting that depressing vibe that you’d sort of expect out of the situation.

Regardless of that, though, the fact that I found the film boring is probably what’s most damning. Others may not see the film that way (many others, given the high rating this sports on IMDb), but I definitely did, and really, given the story rarely got me invested, I’ll have to admit to being disappointed with this Japanese film; it’s no doubt solid and moody at times, but I was just more bored than anything else.