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?

Wrong.

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.

5.5/10

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.

6/10

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.

5.5/10

The Witches (1966)

Directed by Cyril Frankel [Other horror films: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)]

Known as The Devil’s Own in the USA, Hammer’s foray into witches was okay. It was far from great, and I think the ending could have used a hell of a lot of work, but it was watchable, albeit it in a below average way. It just wasn’t much more.

What I can say for The Witches is that it lays out a somewhat engrossing mystery in a small English village, but by the final twenty minutes, when everything is laid out and we see that extraordinarily goofy (and lengthy) Satanic ritual, my interest has pretty much disappeared entirely.

And let me talk about that stupid ritual for a second. Getting a majority of a small village to join a Satanic cult might be possible, but if they knew how goofy they’d have to act during the rituals, how over-exaggerated and silly they’d look, I think it’d lose most of the potential members. It just didn’t seem realistic at all to me.

I also felt somewhat torn about the time-lapse about halfway through. Even after that, though, I can admit the movie had a decent atmosphere and I was still engaged with the story. But that stupid fucking ritual. That just really killed what little interest I had left at that point completely.

I’m not familiar with Joan Fontaine, but she was okay here. I appreciated how she wasn’t the typical young woman (not that she looked old here, by any means – she just looked quite a bit more mature), and I liked the nightmarish scenario she had in Africa. Alec McCowen was decent, though ultimately, pretty pointless, as he played zero part in the conclusion (surprisingly so). I started out liking Kay Walsh, but by the end, I just found her overly illogical and goofy.

The Witches had a good atmosphere at times, and it has that small village feel that I enjoy from films around the same time period (such as The Reptile and The Gorgon), but that final act wasn’t the way to go. I can understand how this one isn’t one of the more celebrated Hammer films, because it just sort of falls apart, and ends up a movie with potential, but ultimately disappointing.

5.5/10

Children of the Damned (1964)

Directed by Anton Leader [Other horror films: N/A]

Yeah, this didn’t do it for me. It’s a shame, because after revisiting the 1960 Village of the Damned, I was moderately happy, but this one was just lacking something that made that first film special. Not that Children of the Damned is a bad film, necessarily, and not that I particularly enjoyed Village of the Damned, because I didn’t, but Children of the Damned is not a film that I really got much out of whatsoever.

I’ll give it moderate props for looking at the children through the lens of the arms’ race (each of the six children are from different countries, so for instance, obviously the USSR wouldn’t want their ‘weapon’ being taught in the UK), and it lent a somewhat unique political climate to the film (which was partially played with in the first movie, but this is far more explicit), but it didn’t make for an exciting time.

That’s honestly my main problem. A few of the scenes were a little creepy, but once the children got together in an abandoned church and held off the military with their super intellect and by virtue of holding a woman captive, I pretty much tuned out. I mean, I wasn’t in the least bit interested, and nothing past that point, be it the arguments as to whether or not the kids should be destroyed to the finale, made any impact whatsoever.

I wouldn’t say that Alan Badel or Ian Hendry stood out (because even now, reading the characters names, I forget who’s who despite just having finished this), but they probably made more of an impression than anyone else, which isn’t saying much.

Honestly, I don’t have anything else. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mood for this. Maybe it’s something that I’ll grow to appreciate the next time I see it, if I ever do. Whatever the reason, while enjoying revisiting Village of the Damned, this one fell flat for me.

5/10

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

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), The Earth Dies Screaming (1964), Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966), Island of Terror (1966), Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), Night of the Big Heat (1967), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

Better known under it’s American title The Devil’s Bride, this is a classic Satanist film that certainly has it’s place, but apparently, after seeing it twice, it’s place isn’t with me.

The movie’s not a bad movie. I just don’t care about a lot of it. Trying to keep two people safe from a Satanic cult has the potential to be a good movie, no doubt, but I was, more than anything, somewhat bored sitting through this, which is a shame given the film looks quite nice and has a solid cast.

Christopher Lee as the main character was a nice touch, and I sort of enjoyed his regal outrage at a friend who got into Satanism. He hates religious freedom it seems, but it was still nice to see such a popular face here. Charles Gray was fine as the lead Satanist, but I never got an overwhelming thrill from him.

Leon Greene was pretty good as a loyal friend of Lee’s and I thought he character played well off Lee’s as a more action-oriented individual. Patrick Mower (who plays the young friend that gets involved in some Satanic bois) was okay, but I wanted to know a bit more about him, and we never really do. Nike Arrighi was also decent, but again, we didn’t really know her character, so it made it hard to really care about after a certain point.

The special effects are okay. Perhaps the best scene is when four of the protagonists are protected within a circle and various visions are being flung at them, hoping to scare or coax them out of the protection, including a little girl being attacked by a giant tarantula, a horseman of death or something like that, and a knocking on the door from a supposed friend. Lee keeps his head throughout the scene though, and it doesn’t really keep that suspenseful feel going.

Overall, this just isn’t a film that much impresses or amuses me. I was probably a little lenient on it the first time I saw it, but after seeing it again, The Devil Rides Out just doesn’t do it for me.

5.5/10

Maciste all’inferno (1962)

Directed by Riccardo Freda [Other horror films: I vampiri (1957), Caltiki il mostro immortale (1959), L’orribile segreto del Dr. Hichcock (1962), Lo spettro (1963), L’iguana dalla lingua di fuoco (1971), Estratto dagli archivi segreti della polizia di una capitale europea (1972), Murder Obsession (1981)]

Known sometimes as The Witch’s Curse, this Italian production isn’t a bad film, but is can be somewhat tedious, so ends up in the middle of the road.

I’ve seen this story done before in the 1925 Italian movie of the same name – in both, strongman Maciste goes down to Hell, and must defeat evil and resist temptation before coming back to the over-world. Though I like the somewhat intense framing for the reasoning Maciste went into Hell in this movie more, I’ll say that the 1925 version is a lot more fun.

There’s a Corman-Price movie from 1963 titled The Haunted Palace, which I recently revisited, and what struck me as amusing was how the first 15 minutes of this film follows that beginning of The Haunted Palace almost exactly – a witch/warlock is burned to death and puts a curse on the village, years later an ancestor of that witch/warlock moves back into the castle to the horror of the superstitious townspeople, and instantly the the townspeople want to rush to the castle and set the ancestor to the flame.

In The Haunted Palace, though, the townspeople hold off a bit. Here, though, on the first night that the ancestor and husband get there, they rush the castle with torches and pitchforks, and drag the woman out to be slain. All hope looks lost until the shirtless Maciste comes forth to save the innocent woman, and enters hell to do so.

From a modern, American viewpoint, Maciste is pretty much Superman. He’s an embodiment of all that’s right and good, strong and virtuous, and even when he gets into Hell, he tried to help some of the people suffering, which shows strong character. In relation, I did think Hell looked better in the 1925 version of this story, but here it’s in proper color, and doesn’t look all too shabby.

Kirk Morris is the handsome feller who played Maciste, and I think he did a pretty fair job. Any time he struggled to lift something (which was about half of what he spent time doing), he did a fair job acting like what he was trying to lift was actually heavy. Vira Silenti did pretty good – it was tense that, while Maciste was slowly trying to through Hell to find the witch, that Silenti’s character was getting closer and closer to being burned to death. And playing her husband, Angelo Zanolli did great showing his devotion, perhaps foolishly so, to his wife.

Believe it or not, I wasn’t a young boy in Italy back in the 1960’s, but if I were, I would think that I’d find The Witch’s Curse a moderately fun romp. I don’t personally think this is a great film, but I am somewhat surprised by how it has only a 5.1/10 on IMDb as of this writing. The film has it’s charm, and for a pre-giallo Italian horror/fantasy/adventure film, I think it’s decent.

6.5/10

Les yeux sans visage (1960)

Directed by Georges Franju [Other horror films: N/A]

This French film, commonly known as Eyes without a Face (Les yeux sans visage for my French friends), is one of those classics that I don’t care for. More than anything, once you move past it’s okay story and compelling characters, I find the film somewhat ponderous.

Maybe that’s just how French cinema was at the time. I’ve not seen many from that time period, but both Diabolique (Les diaboliques) and Rififi (Du rififi chez les hommes) came out in 1955, and I had similar feelings about them. The story here is done in such a generally-safe manner (the only scene, throughout the whole film, that really stands out is the face-removal sequence) that it just feels as though it’s dragging.

Pierre Brasseur does decent as a doctor who is trying to save his daughter, but I’m not able to really feel for him, especially as it’s clear his daughter would rather die than keep living as she is. Playing his daughter is Edith Scob, who doesn’t have much in the way of character or meaningful dialogue, but she wears a mask like no other. Alida Valli’s character has a chance to be interesting at times, but never actually becomes interesting, and as much as you’d think that François Guérin’s character would become relevant to the plot, he never really does.

That face-removal scene is pretty solid. It’s not too hard to sit through by any means (maybe partially because the film’s in black-and-white), and it’s done pretty tastefully (which could be said for the whole of the film), so though it’s gory (and the only gory scene in the movie, aside from maybe the ending if you stretch the definition of ‘gory’), it’s not enough to really boost the movie up.

I first saw this when I was much younger, and I got bored with it. I was a kid, though, and I don’t think most kids who were born in the early 1990’s could have sat through this movie without becoming restless. I’m 26 now, though, and guess what? I still became quite bored quite quickly. A few okay things happened, but this film took it’s time and I just don’t see it as worth it.

Obviously I’m in the minority, as the film is of course considered a French classic. Diabolique is a lot better, though, and I think the suspense there outdoes the somewhat tiring drama of this movie, face-removal scene or no.

5/10

The Green Slime (1968)

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku [Other horror films: Fukkatsu no hi (1980), Makai tenshô (1981), Chûshingura gaiden: Yotsuya kaidan (1994), Batoru rowaiaru (2000), Batoru rowaiaru II: Chinkonka (2003)]

Here’s another of the many movies that I’ve seen before but remember virtually nothing about. In this case, it’s possibly because there’s honestly not that much to remember about The Green Slime, and the whole of the movie just comes off generically and easy to let go.

It’s a cheap science-fiction/horror that has a few okay ideas, but it lacks the heart of other movies around the same time (such as the Italian Planet of the Vampires), and it comes across as somewhat soulless. The actors and actresses put in fine performances (I guess the three best being Robert Horton, Richard Jaeckel, and Luciana Paluzzi), but their characters are just boring tropes, and so is much of the movie.

As to what could have been done to make the movie better, I couldn’t say. While watching this, I was vividly reminded of Queen of Blood, a 1966 science-fiction/horror starring John Saxon. Queen of Blood was also boring and torturous to sit through, so the fact that I found this a reminder did not at all bode well. I was about to say that the only thing better about this film was that it was in color, but after double-checking that, Queen of Blood was also in color. Maybe in three years, I’ll get to thinking this was black and white too.

To be sure, The Green Slime has some fun ideas. I think the design of the green organisms are delightful in an early Doctor Who special effects way. If they had been featured in a Patrick Troughton-era Doctor Who story, I may even have liked it. But in an hour-and-a-half film, I was just bored, and found the movie somewhat lifeless and dull. 

But hey, it does have a funky song titled “The Green Slime” played at the beginning and the credits, so that’s cool.

5/10

Chamber of Horrors (1966)

Directed by Hy Averback [Other horror films: N/A]

I don’t know how well-known this film is, but I think it was aiming to be another one of those gimmicky movies from the 1960’s in the vein of William Castle that people would look back fondly on. Certainly some people do look upon this film with joy, and while I generally find it a decent movie, I was not a fan of the “horror horn” or the “fear flasher”.

“Horror horn?” I hear you cry in astonishment. “Fear flasher?” I hear shouts in the street, amazed.

See, the beginning of this film begins with a warning about the “supreme scenes of fright” and how the creators would safe-guard us against them. Flashing lights on the screen would warn us along with a horn, that frightful, terrifying-to-the-soul scenes would soon be on screen.

I don’t mind a good gimmick. I love William Castle movies. Even that timer in The Beast Must Die that allowed the audience time to guess who the werewolf would be was sort of charming. The “fear flasher” and “horror horn” could have been the same, hokey fun, even if it was such a foolish over-hype of the “supreme scenes of fright.”

There’s barely any blood in the film, though. If they had gone an H.G. Lewis route and made the dismemberments gory, or at least shown actual dismemberments, it might have been worth it. But what they do is show a flashing screen and then a blade slicing through the air and – cut scene. We see no body parts get chopped off. We see no gore of any sort (and this movie was in color, so if they had wanted to copy what Lewis was doing so well at the time, even more tastefully, they damn well could have), and really, no fright.

None of my complaints about those gimmicks are to say the rest of the movie’s bad. It has a vibe somewhat similar to House of Wax (a comparison I can’t resist given that a house of wax is one of the main locations in this film, albeit utilized in a different way), and it can still be fun, but “supreme scenes of fright?” This movie may not be a comedy, but that must be a joke.

Patrick O’Neil made for a decent Vincent Price-clone (I don’t know if that was intentional, but I got the vibe that’s what O’Neil was aiming for). His revenge was fun, but not gory enough. A dwarf named José René Ruiz (but credited as Tun Tun) played a pretty fun character, and he got in some good lines. Laura Devon was quite beautiful, and has an unique story arc.

Most fun were Wilfrid Hyde-White and Cesare Danova, who were partners at the wax museum and also were amateur detectives, possessing a Holmes and Watson relationship. Amusingly enough, at the end of the film, both of them discover another murder, and set out to investigate, so they easy could have made a sequel called The Mystery of the Iron Maiden Murder or something like that, and I would have been all in, because I thought this pair was pretty good together.

Chamber of Horrors isn’t a great film, but it’s okay. I think it would have greatly benefited from either getting rid of the gimmick or actually making the gimmick mean something by adding in gore, but it’s still an okay film. I didn’t care for it when I was younger, but I can appreciate it more now. I just wish it was better.

6.5/10