Eye of the Devil (1966)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson [Other horror films: The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Happy Birthday to Me (1981)]

So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one, and to be entirely honest, I wasn’t really anticipating that I’d enjoy it, which goes to show (not that this needs any additional examples) of how wrong I can be.

Eye of the Devil is far from your typical Satanist movie, even for the time period. I was expecting something along the lines of The Devil Rides Out (1968), which seemed a fair basis of comparison since that’s also a British Satanist film from the latter half of the 1960’s, but again, I was far, far mistaken.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Eye of the Devil’s horror is subtle, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s far more uneasiness and unsettling situations than there is outright horror. Certainly there are some tense scenes (two of my favorites being the children playing on the roof and the main actress being chased through the woods by robed cultists), and I think they work beautifully in the movie, but it’s not a thrill-ride from beginning to end.

Another somewhat surprising aspect about this film is the fact it’s in black-and-white. By the mid-1960’s, most movies had made the full transition over to color (Night of the Living Dead being the most famous exception, but other cases of black-and-white movies post-1965 include Hour of the Wolf, Blood Bath, Ghosts of Hanley House, The Living Skeleton, Confessions of a Psycho Cat, Zinda Laash, and A Thousand Pleasures), so the fact they filmed this in black-and-white was a bit of a surprise. That said, I do think it worked wonderfully with the story (especially during the scene when Deborah Kerr is being chased by the cultists).

Kerr (The Innocents) here is great in her leading role, as she is well aware something sinister is going on around the castle and surrounding village, but she can’t ascertain as to exactly what it is (and it doesn’t help when everyone who knows something has exactly zero intention on letting her in on it). Playing her husband, David Niven (who has an extraordinarily familiar face, but aside from the murder mystery spoof Murder by Death, I haven’t seen anything else with him it in) does a great job too, especially as his somewhat tragic tale unfolds. I often wonder if he is seeking, or the one being sought.

Of most interest to me, of course, is Donald Pleasence (most famously Halloween, though he also really stood out in 1960’s The Flesh and the Fiends), who played a priest here. He was pretty much as you’d expect, speaking in soft tones (it’s hard for me to even hear him speak without immediately thinking about The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water), so that was fun. David Hemmings isn’t a name I know, but he was also great (and that scene where he pops up blowing that horn just randomly amusing), and brought a fantastically tense character. Others who stand out here include Sharon Tate (yes, that Sharon Tate), Edward Mulhare, and Flora Robson.

What really sets Eye of the Devil apart from many of it’s contemporaries is the atypical cinematography, some of which is really quite smashing, as my homeboi Nigel would say (90’s kids what’s up!). Seriously, some of the camera-work here is fantastic, and much before it’s time. Even if the story isn’t up your alley (and it should be, because there’s some solid uncertainty and a great feeling of dread of the unknown), you should probably watch this just to see how it was filmed.

Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t really expect to like this film, but I was quite mistaken. I’ve not honestly seen that many 1960’s horror (at most recent count, only about 148 total films for the decade), but I can say that I think Eye of the Devil would be in my personal top 20 list for the decade, and it’s a movie I’m sorry I waited so long to see.

8.5/10

Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)

Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu [Other horror films: Konchû daisensô (1968)]

This Japanese film, commonly known as The X from Outer Space, is pretty poor in comparison to both other movies from the same production company (Shochiku) and other movies from the overall decade. This isn’t to say The X from Outer Space is terrible, but it is pretty unremarkable in most ways.

Shochiku isn’t a well-known name, but they made films such as Genocide (Konchû daisensô), The Living Skeleton (Kyûketsu dokuro-sen), and perhaps most famously, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro). The best of these may well be Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, but the other two are decent enough also. This one just can’t match any of those others at all. It’s as if they were trying to be Toho, and just failed miserably at it.

I think the first big problem is the fact that, until you get 48 minutes in or so, you can’t even tell this is going to be a giant rampaging monster movie. Personally, I thought the first half was decent (albeit in a rather cheesy, very 60’s type way), but the story of the astronauts going up into space could have been trimmed a bit in places. They could have gotten to the meat of the story quicker. The thing is, I don’t think there was that much meat to get to, which is probably why the first half was so dragged out.

Few of these characters are really worth much. In his own way, I did sort of like Shun’ya Wazaki as the straight-laced captain, and the idea that both Itoko Harada and Peggy Neal’s characters wanted to jump his bones was fine (though the cat fight I was hoping for never happened), but it doesn’t much go anywhere aside from a scene in the finale that was somewhat laughable. Otherwise, the only character in the film worth watching this for was the monster, called Guilala, which was just an overly goofy-looking lizard thing with bouncing antennas.

You get some funky music here rather often, but the first half of The X from Outer Space can come across as particularly dry, the quickness at which they can travel in space seems ridiculous, and the rather silly destruction of models – sorry, Japanese cities and power plants – wasn’t much what I’d call thrilling.

There are some fun space-based movies from the 1960’s, one of them being the Italian Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio), and there are some fun monster movies, such as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (Daikyojû Gappa), but this tries to combine the two, and it really doesn’t work out. Stick with the other Shochiku movies instead, and go to this only if all else fails.

5/10

The Pit and the Pendulum (1961)

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 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)]

The last time I saw this movie, it was free on IMDb. If I had to guess, this was around 2009, 2010 or so. It’s been around ten years since I’ve last seen this, and I can’t express what a blast it was to finally see The Pit and the Pendulum again after so long.

Luckily, this movie very much stands the test of time. It’s simple, yet tense, and, if you’re a new viewer, may keep you guessing for a little while. It’s also rather tragic, as the antagonist come the end wasn’t at fault whatsoever for their actions, and honestly, I can’t much say I blame them for the horrors that went down.

It’s Vincent Price that really brings this movie to life. Price is one of my favorite actors of the genre, and this is one of his top performances, without a doubt, especially toward the end when he seems to break entirely, shouting, over and over again, “TRUE! TRUE! TRUE!” – who couldn’t feel bad for this man during that time? His performance in House of Usher was no slouch, but I think he does even better here, and I really find him engaging through the whole of the film.

To be sure, I have no complaints about John Kerr, Barbara Steele, Antony Carbone, and Luana Anders. Out of these, Carbone was the most forgettable, but he still had a great performance. Steele, of course, was in quite a few classic horror films, such as Black Sunday, The Ghost, Castle of Blood, and Nightmare Castle, and she did great here. She doesn’t get a whole lot of screen-time, and when she does, she’s not particularly sympathetic, but she’s still great. Anders isn’t a name I was familiar with, but I do know that she also stars in Dementia 13, so I thought I’d mention that.

Pit and the Pendulum has a very oppressive, ominous feel to it, and while some might say that things don’t really pick up until the conclusion, the whole film is pretty much fantastic from beginning to end. I enjoyed the flashback of Price’s character, and how that’s later expanded on. I loved the last split-second ending, which really felt deserved. I loved the psychedelic nature of a few of the scenes (not unlike a portion of House of Usher), and the mystery, and that scene where they check the corpse of the supposedly dead woman.

Really, this whole film is great. Until I see the other Corman-Poe films, I can’t say it’s the best (I’ve heard tell that Premature Burial, while not possessing Price, is a pretty good movie), but I can say that it’s hard for me to personally imagine a better one.

8.5/10

Peeping Tom (1960)

Directed by Michael Powell [Other horror films: N/A]

Often considered a proto-slasher, Peeping Tom is a horror classic that I’ve wanted to see for a really long time, but I have to admit to being disappointed after having finally accomplished that goal.

It’s not as though the movie’s bad, though. Peeping Tom is a very solid psychoanalytic look into a crazed killer, from the killer’s perspective (think movies like The Couch or The Strangler, both of which came out a few years later). I just didn’t find much of the movie enjoyable, and more so, found the stilted and almost inhuman conversations more awkward than anything.

While the film got terribly skewered upon it’s original release, from a modern-day standpoint, it’s hard to see almost anything in Peeping Tom that comes across as too obscene or ghastly. In fact, there’s almost no on-screen murders, and while there’s passing nudity, again, we’re talking very tame, muted stuff. What some critics saw in this movie back then, I don’t know, but I don’t see it now.

German actor Karlheinz Böhm did fantastic as the main character, a seemingly-mild but quite demented, socially-awkward killer. There’s a decent amount of character building in regards to his father and what made him into the man he is, but I definitely get the sense that more was left unsaid than what was discovered. His love interest, played by Anna Massey, was good also, but I didn’t fully understand her character (why she was so insistent on staying around Mark even after she discovered his homicidal activities was beyond me), and her blind mother, played by Maxine Audley, confused me more.

One thing I’ll say as far as surprises go, I honestly didn’t know until I started the movie up that Peeping Tom was in color, and not only that, but it looked pretty good. I’ve sometimes heard this compared to Psycho, and I guess I just mentally imagined this as a black-and-white film, but no, it’s in gorgeous color, which was nice. I just wish there was more in it worth seeing in color.

For what Peeping Tom is, I think the movie’s decent, and to a certain extent, I can understand it’s inclusion in many proto-slasher lists, but I honestly didn’t enjoy the movie near as much as I was hoping for, and given all that I’ve heard about it, I was hoping for a bit more violence and less awkward conversations. Still worth a watch, if only because it’s one of the more-commonly referenced British horror films, but it’s not one I can imagine keeping in my rotation.

6/10

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

Kyûketsu dokuro-sen (1968)

Directed by Hiroki Matsuno [Other horror films: N/A]

Though at times incoherent, this Japanese film, commonly known under the title The Living Skeleton, has a creepy vibe and seems to be a movie worth seeing at least once, although it may not be the most enjoyable time.

It’s somewhat hard past a certain point to keep up with who’s who, and that’s what causes much of the potential confusion toward the latter half of the film, but even so, there’s enough here to keep the viewer engaged, especially as the movie draws to a close and there’s even a pretty fun twist thrown in there.

The skeletons in the water may not have the most realistic look, but I did enjoy it when they popped up. What’s less engaging was the focus on some Japanese gangsters, but they don’t last all that long, and hell, it is a movie of ghostly revenge from the watery grave, so it works fine.

Being a black-and-white movie (which certainly isn’t a given for a late 1960’s Japanese flick), The Living Skeleton had a lot of atmosphere, and though the story itself wasn’t always the most clear, the fog throughout the film, along with the coastal town and characters attempting to locate a friend gone missing, do make this an atmospheric, beautiful film, and possibly an influential one for Carpenter’s The Fog.

Really, no characters stood out that much to me, but the story, if you can keep up with the names and faces, was still worth watching, and though this would be far from the first recommendation when it comes to classic Asian horror, The Living Skeleton still merits a look, albeit a tepid one.

6.5/10

The Innocents (1961)

Directed by Jack Clayton [Other horror films: Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)]

Very much a classic movie, The Innocents is a very interesting case, perhaps one of the best cases, of a horror film with an interpretative plot. The story’s simple, in which a governess is hired to watch over two children, but as things turn sour, are there supernatural spirits afoot, is the governess losing her mind, some combination of the two, or a simple case of possession?

The Innocents asks a lot of questions and doesn’t much give in the way of answers (The Turn of the Screw, the novel by Henry James which this story is based off of, is much in the same vein). In some cases, that bothers me, but here, I think it’s done really well. We’re sucked into the idea that Miles and Flora are being possessed, but there’s enough evidence to suggest a failing mental health is more the culprit. Fans of both psychological horror films, along with supernatural/ghost movies, should definitely give this a watch for this interpretation issue alone.

Personally, I’ve been of the mind that Deborah Kerr’s governess character, due to a lot of factors, is just losing it, and becoming a bigger danger to the kids (Pamela Franklin and Martin Stephens) as opposed to anything supernatural. That said, nothing’s written in stone, and there are scenes which lead credence to both possible solutions.

Deborah Kerr is fantastic here, and again, I think you can see her beginning to lose her grip clearly as the movie goes on. The two kids, being Pamela Franklin (who starred, 12 years later, in The Legend of Hell House) and Martin Stephens, both do beautifully, though boy, does Stephens’ Miles get annoying after a while. Lastly, as a housekeeper, Megs Jenkins too brings a lot, and it’s from her that Kerr’s character begins dwelling on the possibility of possession.

The Innocents has a very creepy vibe to it, which is bolstered by the large, Gothic mansion and the black-and-white cinematography, not to mention that dreary tune that pops up now and again. Oh, and the poem that Miles read during the party was also a nice touch, especially since no one but Kerr’s character seemed to find anything wrong with it.

I’ve only seen The Innocents twice now, but I do think it’s very much a classic that warrants looking into. Compared to many modern day horror movies, it may seem quite tame, but I think it holds it’s creepy vibe wonderfully, and with the fantastic setting and interpretation that will no doubt take place by the viewer, this one is a winner.

8.5/10

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Directed by John Gilling [Other horror films: Escape from Broadmoor (1938), Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952), The Gamma People (1956), The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), The Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Night Caller (1965), The Reptile (1966), The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), La cruz del diablo (1975)]

This Hammer film may be one of the last voodoo zombie films before Night of the Living Dead launches a new way forward for the zombie sub-genre, and it’s certainly the last big name zombie film before Romero’s classic. Being a Hammer movie (and being in color), The Plague of the Zombies isn’t too shabby, but it’s not a personal favorite of mine.

I enjoy the performances, though no one really blows me away. Perhaps my favorite here is André Morell, because seeing a slightly older man take the lead is a bit of a rarity, and his character is enjoyable, being a distinguished doctor, and yet partaking in robbing graves. He was just fun. Playing his daughter is Diane Clare, and she gets along quite well with Morell. Brook Williams, as a young doctor asking for Morell’s advice, is a bit generic, but he has his moments. John Carson did quite well here as a somewhat mad Cornish squire – much like Morell, he’s fun throughout, especially toward the end.

The atmosphere here is pretty solid, and there are some pretty solid scenes (perhaps my favorite is a dream sequence in which zombies rise from the grave, which looks quite beautiful in color), but as decent as the story was (in it’s average Hammer fair), trying to turn the same premise of White Zombie into a better-made version by throwing in color isn’t really my idea of a great time.

The Plague of the Zombies is a bit of a classic as Hammer horror is concerned, and for good reason (worth noting, many of the same sets are used in The Reptile, another Hammer film from the same year, which I like a bit more), but even as far as 1960’s horror goes, this doesn’t quite make my Top 10 list.

I’m not trying to throw The Plague of the Zombies under a bus – I think it’s a decent film, and I wouldn’t object to seeing it a few more times in the future. It’s just that I’ve seen it twice now, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not the best the 1960’s has to offer.

7/10

The Gorgon (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 Earth Dies Screaming (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)]

This Hammer film is a very worthwhile watch on many levels. Not only is the cast superb, but the story here is actually decently mysterious up to a point, and though the finale isn’t all that it could have been, the story here’s interesting and memorable.

Peter Cushing is one of the stars, playing  a tight-lipped medical examiner, and that alone is enough to push this movie in a positive direction, given Cushing is one of my favorite actors (after Vincent Price). What’s even better is that Christopher Lee eventually shows up, and the two of them together is great. Lee is always of good quality, and he’s best here during his heated conversation with Patrick Troughton. Horror fans might best remember Troughton from The Omen, and that was a solid role, but being a rather big fan of the science-fiction series Doctor Who, I know Troughton as the Second Doctor, perhaps one of my favorite incarnations of the character.

Seeing Cushing, Troughton, and Lee all in one movie is very much a treat. Lee has a very commanding presence here, and though Troughton is a bit brow-beaten, his situation doesn’t really do him any favors. Even without those stars, Barbara Shelley (who has a somewhat unique story arc here), Michael Goodliffe (though he gave one of the worst justifications for the belief in the supernatural that I have ever heard in my life), and Richard Pasco came to play. Goodliffe really carries the first half of the film, and has a somewhat touching last scene. With a cast like this, even an okay story can go a long way.

Luckily, The Gorgon has a somewhat interesting one, which deals with memory loss and people being turned to stone. Much like other Hammer films, this possesses a strong atmosphere, and while in my opinion the color somewhat mutes that, it’s still nice to see a classic story like this using the best of the techniques at the time.

I’ve seen The Gorgon a handful of times before, and I still find it an enjoyably solid movie with a pretty interesting (and somewhat surprising) finale. The only real flaw here is that the design of the Gorgon, when it fully appears, is somewhat laughable. Otherwise, this is an enjoyable slice of 1960’s British horror. Just look at that cast and say ‘yes.’

7.5/10

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