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

The Couch (1962)

Directed by Owen Crump [Other horror films: N/A]

This is a pretty unassuming movie, and I can sort of see why I’ve never heard of this one before (aside from the fact that some refer to it as just a thriller), but it’s a relatively tight story, some solid suspense, and comes across as something of a rough gem. Before I go on, if you’re into 60’s horror and haven’t seen this, I’d recommend checking it out.

From the get-go, we know the killer is Grant Williams, and the film is really a psychological probe into his mental state (plot twist: he’s not particularly the picture of mental health), which is pretty fun, because his physique isn’t really what you’d expect. His killing style, a quick jab with an ice pick, is fun to watch. Just an average guy killing a random person in a crowded area, and you can see why he’d get away with it.

Williams here is great. I don’t really know him, but based off this performance, he might have been able to give a good Norman Bates performance a few years prior in Psycho. The others here, including Shirley Knight, Onslow Stevens, and William Leslie, all do well, but this is really the Grant Williams show, which worked fine for me.

As far as mentally unstable characters go, the one Williams plays is pretty fantastic. He’s completely detached from reality at times, and toward the end, he gives us a really stellar conclusion, and as I mentioned, pretty tense at times also.

Any black-and-white thriller/horror dealing with a psychopath made in the immediate years following Psycho would have a harder time gaining traction, but I’d still recommend giving this one a look. Sure, some aspects are rough, such as occasional camera-work, but The Couch was still a mostly solid film, and I’m glad I took the time with it.

7.5/10

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

Directed by Robert Aldrich [Other horror films: Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)]

It’s been some many years since I first saw this movie, but I’m happy to report that, with a rewatch, this classic movie has lost exactly none of the magic. With a strong cast, an engaging story, and a rather dreary and helpless atmosphere, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an utterly amazing movie.

A lot of the reason this movie works are the performances involved. Both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis do a fantastic job, Crawford as a wheelchair-bound character in a desperate situation, Davis as a long-faded former star, who’s slipping into deeper mental instability, probably not helped by her heavy drinking. Along with an early role from Victor Buono (perhaps most well-known as King Tut from the 1966 Batman series) rounding out the main cast, you can see the movie has a lot going for it already.

These three did a decent amount for the genre too, which I think’s worth mentioning. Davis later appeared in such films as Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964, which I think makes a great double feature with this one, if you have five hours free), Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), and Burnt Offerings (1976). For Crawford, she appeared in Strait-Jacket (1964), I Saw What You Did (1965), and Berserk (1967). While Buono was more well-known for Batman, he did appear in both The Strangler (1964) and Lo strangolatore di Vienna (1971, also known as The Mad Butcher).

Strong cast aside, the story here is deeply engaging. On the surface, it’s not overly complex, but they throw in a few surprises, and the relationship examined between the sisters brought a lot of emotion to the movie (especially regarding Davis’ performance, who’s character was both often heinous and often heartbreaking).

I suspect the biggest issue that some people would have with this film, or at least the largest hurdle they’d have before watching it, would be the length. At two hours and fourteen minutes, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a long movie, but I personally don’t think any scene needs cutting, and I think the whole film is rewarding, especially the somewhat tonally different finale on a bright, sunny day on the beach.

The black-and-white is crisp in the film, and I think it helps loan the film some additional atmosphere (which the film certainly isn’t lacking on, but even so, every little bit plays it’s part). The suspense here is very solid, and with the story and cast, I can’t think of a good reason not to recommend this one.

9/10

Beauty and the Beast (1962)

Beauty and the Beast

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), Curse of the Faceless Man (1958), It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958), Invisible Invaders (1959), The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake (1959)]

I didn’t really grow up on many Disney movies, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast was one of them, and I deeply love it. The 2017 version with Emma Watson is also quite enjoyable.

This movie is nothing like those.

For one, it’s not a musical. The plot is also significantly altered (unlike other adaptations, the Beast is only a beast at night – during the day, he’s a normal guy), and it occasionally has a darker tone, though I regret to say toward the end, it followed the original story more, leading away from any horror aspects to more a fantastical feeling.

There were some fun things here, though – the king’s father had a curse put on his bloodline by a sorcerer, and to find a way to end the curse, some main characters search through catacombs looking for the hidden tomb, which was a fun sequence. The transformation scenes were good also (he legitimately looked like the Wolfman for a bit), but there were a bit too many, alas.

While no one did particularly poorly here, only two cast members stood out. Eduard Franz (who hasn’t been in many horror films, but was featured strongly in The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake) was a solid character, and I enjoyed almost every scene he was in. Stronger still was Walter Burke (a rather big name, I loved his Irish accent here, despite the film taking place in Italy), who played a sleazy side character who was glorious in every moment he appeared.

I wish they had kept darker elements toward the conclusion, as opposed to dropping much of the suspense about halfway through. The director, Edward Cahn, had done plenty of horror films before this, which are listed above. It is worth noting that this was his final film before his death in 1963.

When Beauty and the Beast had more horror-like moments, I think the movie stood out more. Regardless, I had fun still, and would recommend the movie to fans of the Disney animated film, if only so they can compare the two. It’s a bit light on horror, but is the movie mostly fun, aside from the somewhat played out conclusion? I rather think so.

7.5/10