Dracula (1958)

Directed by Terence Fisher [Other horror films: Three’s Company (1953, episodes ‘The Surgeon’ & ‘ Take a Number’), The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), 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), The Devil Rides Out (1968), Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell (1974)]

Horror of Dracula, sometimes known as just Dracula, is one of Hammer’s earlier ventures into horror, following both The Curse of Frankenstein and The Quatermass Xperiment. It’s a decent film with some great performances, but it’s never been a favorite of mine.

Part of it may have to do with the fact I grew up on the 1931 Universal classic version of this story, and so even to this day, when I hear ‘Dracula,’ I immediately think ‘Bela Lugosi.’ Maybe that’s not fair, but it is true. Christopher Lee, of course, is a great actor, but when it comes to Dracula, he never really possessed the suave, almost je ne sais quoi, quality that Lugosi did. Lee is perhaps more frightening, and certainly more action-packed, but I’ve always been on Team Lugosi.

Even so, I’m not blind to the flaws of the 1931 film. I do tend to prefer it – while it may feel far more stagey than Horror of Dracula, I think it has far more classic scenes and lines which this version lacks – but at the same time, I don’t think it’s vastly superior to this movie. In fact, the story here is probably a bit more crisp and tragic, with some occasionally creepy vibes (such as a vampire leading a young girl through a forest at night), and of course, the fact that this movie’s in color helps out a bit.

It’s by no means a bloody film. There is one decent scene of a stake being driven into someone that looks good, but there’s no splatter whatsoever. Late in the film, we do see some quality special effects – think the conclusion of Fright Night only done 27 years prior – but on a whole, I think The Curse of Frankenstein probably stands out a bit more than this one in terms of pushing the boundaries.

I’ve always been a huge Peter Cushing fan. From his wide horror catalogue (The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Gorgon, The Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Abominable Snowman), he’s never failed to entertain me, and I quite enjoy his serious character here. I especially enjoy seeing him work side-by-side with Michael Gough (who I know as Alfred from the Batman movies, but he was also in Horrors of the Black Museum, Curse of the Crimson Altar, Berserk, Black Zoo, and Trog), who perhaps plays the most tragic character of the film.

We get a good twenty or so minutes with Jonathan Harker, played here by John Van Eyssen. He’s not that memorable, but I rather liked the approach to setting the story up. Neither Carol Marsh nor Melissa Stribling did much to leave an impression, but the more humorously-inclined scenes with George Benson were fun at times.

As far as Christopher Lee goes, his performance as Dracula is fine. Like I said, I personally prefer Lugosi, but both bring something different to the role. Lee (The Wicker Man, The City of the Dead, and I, Monster) is a great actor, and though he doesn’t have a lot of screen-time here, he does make a solid and threatening impression when he does pop up, and I certainly can’t find fault in that.

I think my biggest issue with the film – which may be overstating it, as I don’t think the film is bad whatsoever – is that I’m just so familiar with the Universal classic. The story here may be better, like I said, but it doesn’t feel anywhere near as classic to me. There’s no scenes that stand out as great, no quotes that stand out as stellar, and aside from Gough and Cushing, no performances which blow me away. I’ve always found Horror of Dracula a perfectly fine movie, but really, no more than that.

None of this should take anything away from the film. If I had seen this before the 1931 version, I’d likely enjoy this one more. It’s a good way to spend your time, and things pick up very nicely come the finale, which includes some solid special effects, but when it comes to classic Hammer horror, I’d personally prefer spending my time with The Curse of Frankenstein or The Mummy.

7/10

The Blob (1958)

Directed by Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. [Other horror films: 4D Man (1959)] & Russell S. Doughten Jr. [Other horror films: N/A]

Few movies are as nostalgic for me as The Blob. Ever since I was a kid, my family has owned this one on an old Goodtimes VHS tape, and I cannot even begin to guess how many times I’ve seen it. I won’t pretend that to a modern-day viewer the film wouldn’t have problems (one of them being that Steve McQueen doesn’t much look like a teenager here), but to me, the movie’s perfect.

Watching this now, after seeing much more that the genre has to offer, the first thing that strikes me is the fact that it’s in color, and it’s even pretty decent color. Most American horror movies didn’t switch over to color until the 1960’s, so the fact that this one was color just impresses me more than it might others who already prefer the 1988 remake.

Another thing – the catchy number at the beginning. The credit to the song goes to The Five Blobs (which is a funny artist name to begin with), and while I understand that a song like that might not seem appropriate before a horror flick, I always thought it was a lot of fun, and that song has graced my iTunes for many years now.

The story here isn’t that different from other alien invasion movies of the 1950’s, the only real difference being that the alien here is an amorphous blob as opposed to some type of bipedal humanoid. Design-wise, the blob is pretty simple, but I always liked that purpleish-pinkish shade, and the fact that it’s pretty unstoppable is also impressively horrifying.

Steve McQueen (who famously screwed himself when taking $2,500 for the film, as opposed to 10% of the film’s profits) may not be the best-cast here, but I still love what he brings to the film, and his sometimes overly-dramatic performance (“He was just gone. Just gone”). Aneta Corsaut wasn’t necessarily special here, but I still love her for her unending concern of the old man’s dog.

Earl Rowe and John Benson both brought something to their roles, Benson an authoritarian, teen-hating cop, and Rowe a cop with a bit more of an understanding nature. Their mild conflicts throughout the film were interesting (more so when we found out Benson’s character was in the war, most likely Korea), and Robert Fields’ (Tony) story about moving a friend’s car was pretty funny also (I never quite understood the exact nature of McQueen’s and Field’s relationship, but it always had charm).

I understand that some of my views are purely nostalgia, and I suspect that some people might not be able to take me seriously as a reviewer given I’m perfectly okay with allowing nostalgic value to help guide my rating (though if they’ve been reading my reviews for a while, this definitely isn’t the first time nostalgia has played a role). I maintain that there’s not an issue with that, though – most people have those movies that they’ve loved since childhood, and I certainly have loved this one for a long time.

A great piece of 50’s horror, The Blob has been a long-time favorite of mine, and I’m not the least bit guilty for giving this one the highest of ratings.

10/10

The Return of Dracula (1958)

Directed by Paul Landres [Other horror films: The Vampire (1957), Destination Nightmare (1958), The Flame Barrier (1958)]

This is a film that I had little interest in, and while I admit that it surprised me a bit in elements of it’s approach, I don’t think The Return of Dracula will end up being that memorable. It’s not a bad movie, but is it noteworthy? Likely not.

It’s the plot here that makes things a bit better then one might think at first. Instead of focusing on some Eastern European country, or the Transylvanian region, the story takes place in sunny California, which was an interesting change of pace. The shift in setting doesn’t really help the basic story any, but it does give the movie a fresher feel.

Only two names really stood out here, being Francis Lederer (from Terror Is a Man the following year) and Norma Eberhardt. Eberhardt had that young, innocent look that made her perfect for a vampire to lust after, and as for Lederer, while his portrayal was nothing special (and Christopher Lee blew him out of the water the same year), it was perfectly competent.

For a slight surprise, there was a small scene in this black-and-white film that utilized color. It wasn’t near as unique as The Tingler’s approach, but when a vampire gets staked through the heart, the scene moves to color and we see the red blood spurt out. It wasn’t a big addition, but it was sort of cool in an otherwise mostly pedestrian film.

From my understanding, this came out before the aforementioned Horror of Dracula, but once Hammer’s second hit came out, this movie, with it’s low budget and black-and-white execution, was largely forgotten. And even had Horror of Dracula not hit the theaters until ‘59, I have a hard time imagining this would be heralded as a lost classic.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not as though The Return of Dracula is bad. It’s competently-made, and has a few decent scenes. But overall, is the film memorable? Not whatsoever. I’d probably watch it again in the future, but I’d probably have forgotten I’d seen it before. It’s good for a single view, but past that, not so much, and it ultimately strikes me as a little below average.

6.5/10

The Strange World of Planet X (1958)

Directed by Gilbert Gunn [Other horror films: N/A]

I’ve seen this British science-fiction/horror movie once before, and as it turns out, I remembered it a bit more fondly than it really deserves. The movie’s not bad, but it does drag quite a bit at the beginning, and save for one scene of note, the special effects were poor (especially coming out four years after Them!), and there wasn’t really enough meat to really keep me occupied.

Sometimes known under the title Cosmic Monsters (as the poster above attests to), The Strange World of Planet X had potential that the film didn’t really reach. Many of the performances were decent (including, in no particular order, Wyndham Goldie, Martin Benson, Alec Mango, Geoffrey Chater, and Forrest Tucker), but the only one that I really loved was that of Mango’s mad scientist.

The story, too, was decently solid, but in a movie that’s barely over an hour and ten minutes, having the first real action start up forty minutes in seems an unwise choice. Additionally, throwing in a more science-fiction subplot didn’t bother me that much, but it was just a bit corny.

When the action does start, we’re treated to mostly unspectacular effects. Insects increase in size, and by that, they’re enlarged image is superimposed over the screen, so about none of the insects look particularly convincing (though the millipedes got the closest). One highlight of the film, though, was what looked like a cricket chewing on a man’s face. It wasn’t really bloody (this is black-and-white, be reasonable), but it was a tad more violent than I’d have otherwise expected.

The Strange World of Planet X is worth at least a single watch if you’re a fan of giant bug movies, but it really doesn’t compare with other classics such as Them! or Earth vs the Spider (which I know is almost universally bashed, but I enjoyed it). Still, this British addition to the genre is watchable, and occasionally enjoyable, though I do wish they sped up a bit to the action.

7/10

The Fly (1958)

Directed by Kurt Neumann [Other horror films: Secret of the Blue Room (1933), She Devil (1957), Kronos (1957)]

Filmed in glorious color that, for 1958, looks damn good, The Fly is a classic piece of science-fiction horror. Personally, I like most things about it, and it always warrants a watch when the movie comes on. With a great cast, interesting and engaging story, along with a very solid reveal that possibly even rivals the 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera, The Fly is a movie that’s recommended to all fans of the classics.

The cast here is moderately small but all the better for it. Patricia Owens did most commendably in her role, and you really feel the emotional upheaval she’s going through. At times, her hysterics do become a bit much, but unfortunately for this era, there’s not really much she could have done. David Hedison’s performance too was fantastic, and he’s perhaps one of my favorite versions of a work-obsessed scientist.

Though his role isn’t quite a big as the name would imply, it’s always great to see Vincent Prince in an early horror appearance (certainly some movies, such as The Invisible Man Returns, House of Wax, and The Mad Magician predate it). Price’s character is also solidly sympathetic, and especially toward the end, when with Herbert Marshall’s character, you really get some feeling from the both of them.

Another thing that I adore about this film is the presentation and set-up. We get thirty minutes of story before we finally get the extended flashback that tells us how the actions at the beginning of the movie occurred and make sense. Invasion of the Body Snatchers from two years previously did the same thing, as certainly did The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but neither one had a thirty-minute beginning before jumping into the flashback, which is something I always forget when I saw this as a kid, but thought was sort of nifty when I see it now.

On a related note, the fact that this movie’s in color really solidifies the opening scene as pretty graphic, especially with that blood splatter. This is the late 1950’s, about six years before H.G. Lewis would craft Blood Feast, so even though it’s not that much in comparison to later works, it really stands out in color. Also, speaking of gruesome, that final scene, while somewhat memorable for it’s hokey feel, was pretty terrifying. I know it looked, for lack of a better word, somewhat bad, but still, the implication was certainly depressing.

This is rightfully a classic, and like I said, it’s always worth a watch, and perhaps the best movie featuring a fly ever.

8.5/10

Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Earth vs the Spider (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

I wasn’t much impressed with this late 50’s flick at all. Though it was decently well-paced and had a somewhat interesting and innovative story, not to mention a few solid performances, the film just felt somewhat off to me.

The best I can say about this is that John Hoyt has a very solid (and somewhat hammy) performance as a lonely, somewhat unstable doll-maker. Hoyt’s character was sort of sympathetic (though honestly, they easily could have thrown more of an origin), and decently creepy near the finale. The only two others who make any difference at all are June Kenney (who appeared also in 1958’s Earth vs the Spider and 1961’s Bloodlust!) and John Agar (who was in such classics as Revenge of the Creature, 1955’s Tarantula, 1956’s The Mole People, 1957’s Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, and others), and neither one really bring a whole lot to this picture.

Admittedly, Kenney does occasionally have a solid ‘little innocent girl’ feel to her, and due to the plot turn taken about twenty minutes in (which sort of took me by surprise, if I’m being honest), she’s placed in a rather compromising position. A big part of my problem with this, though, are the reactions of the other characters reduced in size – that is, to relax and enjoy the fact that they no longer have any worries. When they sort of change attitudes when alone with Kenney and Agar’s characters, I didn’t feel much more pleased with them, and it’s around that time what was a somewhat taut flick begin falling flat for me.

The special effects are okay, but The Devil-Doll (1936), a film with a somewhat similar idea to this one, was almost more impressive in terms of what they could do on-screen, and it’s perhaps not really surprising coming from a director like Bert I. Gordon, who, while he’s done some films I enjoy, is somewhat well-known for his lower-budget features. In fact, there’s a minute or two of a previous film of his, The Amazing Colossal Man, in this film, playing at a movie theater. Solid advertising, brah.

Attack of the Puppet People had potential, but after a certain point, despite the somewhat quick-moving and interesting story, this just didn’t possess that feeling of dread I was looking for. Certainly a lower-class tier flick for the late 50’s (which was a decently prolific and solid time for the horror genre), Attack of the Puppet People (which, by the way, is a somewhat misleading title) just didn’t do a lot for me, and I couldn’t see myself watching this a second time all that willingly.

5.5/10

Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Night of the Blood

Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski [Other horror films: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Black Noon (1971), Sssssss (1973)]

Despite the fun title, this late 50’s flick, produced by Roger Corman, ends up being a pretty dull affair.

There are portions of the film which do possess a decent atmosphere. Due to the small cast, there’s a sense of seclusion prominent also, which I think helps add to the feeling of dread (it’s never quite captured well, but that was the intent). A few decent shots of blood certainly helped a little, but given the design of the monster was pretty laughable, it’s somewhat hard to take seriously.

The cast did just as well as you would expect. Nothing too over-the-top, nothing too hammy, but also nothing that really positively stood out. Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson, Tyler McVey, and Georgianna Carter put in adequate enough performances, and though far from great, I somewhat doubt the acting would be one’s main concern when watching the film.

Really, it just comes down to the fact that it’s a slow-going movie. No, nothing as bad as Curse of the Faceless Man, which came out the same year, but if you get through this without feeling either bored or drowsy, I award you. The director of this picture, Bernard Kowalski, also directed the more enjoyable Attack of the Giant Leeches (from 1959) and much later, Sssssss (1973).

From his horror legacy, such as it is, I imagine many would consider Night of the Blood Beast to be his least favorable entry to the genre. Perhaps, for a dark and rainy night, this movie’s atmosphere could be amplified to an almost-threatening nature, but in most cases, this is a pretty weak film. Sad to say that my views haven’t much changed since the last time I saw it.

5/10

Curse of the Faceless Man (1958)

Curse of the Faceless Man

Directed by Edward L. Cahn [Other horror films: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), The She-Creature (1956), Voodoo Woman (1957), Zombies of Mora Tau (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959), Beauty and the Beast (1962)]

When I first saw this movie, I thought it was extraordinary slow. Upon rewatching it, I realized I was too kind; this is one of the driest, slowest films I’ve witnessed. And given the fact it’s just an hour and seven minutes, this statement should hold some weight.

The plot is basically a rehash of The Mummy (1932), only with a different setting. The performances are mostly rather stilted, and the melodrama that’s tolerable in most pre-1960’s horror films seems overbearing here. It’s just not that great a movie. There’s the occasional scene that looks decently shot (especially in the black-and-white scheme that was prevalent at the time), and the Faceless Man himself looks moderately threatening (if only he didn’t move so slow), but the movie has little more to offer past that point.

Curse of the Faceless Man, despite it’s short run time, is a dry, plodding film. I wasn’t tired before starting the film – now I feel dead on my feet. While the movie still has a bit to offer, it’s faults far outweigh the positives. As a note, the director of this film wasn’t a lightweight; Edward L. Cahn directed, among other films, movies such as Zombies of Mora Tau (1957) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), both of which were highly enjoyable. Whatever went wrong with this film, I don’t believe it to be Cahn’s doing. Perhaps the writer of the script. Regardless, this is a below average film both for it’s time and horror as a whole.

5/10

Earth vs the Spider (1958)

Earth vs the Spider

Directed by Bert I. Gordon [Other horror films: Beginning of the End (1957), The Cyclops (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), War of the Colossal Beast (1958), Tormented (1960), Picture Mommy Dead (1966), Necromancy (1972), The Food of the Gods (1976), Empire of the Ants (1977), Burned at the Stake (1982), Satan’s Princess (1989), Secrets of a Psychopath (2015)]

This is one of those movies that isn’t overly great, but I can’t help but enjoy. Starts off somewhat similarly to The Blob (also from 1958), in which two teens try to convince the authorities of a giant spider residing in a cave on the outskirts of town. And once they see it, they believe.

In a scene somewhat like the cave scene from Night of the Lepus, authorities witness the spider and gas the caves. Of course, the fun doesn’t end there. We have a groovy scene where, as a band is playing some early rock ‘n roll, the unconscious spider (which everyone just assumed was dead) wakes up, and strikes horror into both the students playing music and the town proper.

The movie, as a whole, is moderately unremarkable, really, especially considering the budget and effects of Tarantula (1955) were higher. Personally, I think this one has more spirit, though. Only problem I have, aside from some rather fake-looking webs, is one of the characters, Mike, who comes across as an asshole half the time. Other than that, this is some solid fun, and even stands up upon a rewatch. One of the better creature features of the time, despite others’ claims to the contrary.

7.5/10