The Birds (1963)

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock [Other horror films: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), Psycho (1960)]

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen The Birds, and once I rewatched this (on the same night I revisited Psycho), I came to the somewhat shocking self-discovery that I actually enjoy The Birds more, and as I got further and further into this movie, I was hooked in a way I wasn’t through most of Psycho.

It’s the slow-building nature of the bird attacks that really revs things up. The first instance is the seagull attacking Daniels’ on the boat. Then the bird flying into the door. Then the small (most mostly harmless) attack on the birthday party. Then (off-screen) them going after that farmer. And all of this leads to my all-time favorite sequence of films.

Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is asked by Lydia (Jessica Tandy) to go pick up Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) from school. At the school, waiting for the session to end, Daniels sits on a bench with the playground (including a jungle gym) in the background, and beautifully, slowly, crows fly and land on the jungle gym.

There may be ten or so when the film suddenly focuses on purely Daniels as she smokes, and then after a few minutes, she notices a crow flying overhead, and watching where it lands, we now see that the jungle gym, and in fact every surface suitable for a bird to perch on, has a bird. It’s creepy, and even if you know it’s coming, it’s done amazingly.

Then comes the scene of Daniels and Annie (Suzanne Pleshette) ushering the children out of the school, and getting attacked by the crows. It’s a tense scene, but they all seem to get out fine. And then a quiet diner scene, which is, again, fantastic, as Daniels tells of the attack of the school by birds, which leads to pushback from all sides (one woman doesn’t think it’s possible, another man wants all birds killed, one mother just wants them to stop scaring her children), and then a gas attendant gets attacked by a bird (which they all witness), and falls down, gas now leaking toward a car. And in that car, a man who gets out and lights a cigarette and, upon burning his fingers (and not taking heed in the people yelling at him to not drop the match), he drops it.

Perhaps one of my all-time favorite shots of the film is next. We see Bodoga Bay from – a bird’s eye view (kill me now if you want) – which looks so cool, and more and more birds join in before swooping down onto the town, causing all-out mayhem.

That was just a beautiful collection of scenes, and there wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t fully engaged in what was going on. That doesn’t change once Daniels and Mitch (Rod Taylor) get back to the house and start boarding things up. It only sustains it’s suspense throughout.

Tippi Hedren was an interesting character. Strong in her own right, she completely loses it toward the end of the film, breaking down mentally (sort of like Barbara in Night of the Living Dead) after a vicious attack by birds. Rod Taylor was strong throughout, as was Jessica Tandy, who had plenty of emotional scenes. And for a younger actress, Cartwright was pretty good too.

The effects here don’t always look great (such as the children being chased from the school by the crows), but all of it is pretty admirable, and there are just some fantastic scenes (such as Hedren’s character being trapped in a glass phone booth with wild birds flying all around), and the onslaught of birds was just amazing.

If I was asked a day or two ago, I probably would have said that Psycho was my favorite Hitchcock film, but after seeing The Birds again, I’m all in. I very much love this film – it’s ominous ending a fantastic one – and this is top-rate stuff.

9/10

The Haunted Palace (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 Raven (1963), The Terror (1963), X (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964), The Tomb of Ligeia (1964), Roger Corman’s Frankenstein Unbound (1990)]

Being the second time now I’ve seen this,  The Haunted Palace is a good example of a Corman-Price movie, with a great setting, quality atmosphere, nice color, all the works. I have to admit, though, that I just think it’s a good movie, and not much more.

You’ve gotta love the setting – the New England town of Arkham (H.P. Lovecraft influenced obviously), and of course, once a husband and wife seek out an ancestral palace they inherited, the townspeople react just as warmly and cuddly as you’d expect (pretty much as they did in The Gorgon). There’s also an influx of mutated people roaming around town, which leads to some pretty creepy scenes.

Vincent Price gives a solid performance, but this is Vincent Price we’re talking about (House on Haunted Hill, Pit and the Pendulum, Theatre of Blood, and The Tingler, among many others), so that can’t come as a surprise. Lon Chaney Jr. (The Wolfman) is nice to see, but his character doesn’t really have much in the way of agency. Elisha Cook Jr. (House on Haunted Hill and Blacula) was nice to see, but like Chaney, his character wasn’t really given much to do. Others such as Milton Parsons, Frank Maxwell, and Debra Paget were all good also.

These elements (and the fact the film is in beautiful color) should lead to a great movie, but I think it’s only okay. I can’t entirely say why – the story isn’t my favorite, but it’s still decently creepy (it helps that the titular palace is a pretty stellar setting), and seeing Price’s character being taken over and becoming a cruel warlock is good stuff, but I just don’t love this the same way I did, for instance, The Pit and the Pendulum.

None of this is to say that The Haunted Palace isn’t a movie worth seeing, because it’s still a fine slice of 1960’s horror films. And I know others who rank this quite highly among the Corman-Poe cycle, so perhaps you’ll love it, but for me, I think it’s just around average.

7/10

Maniac (1963)

Directed by Michael Carreras [Other horror films: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb (1964), Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (1971)]

I can’t say that this Hammer film is exceptionally good, because it’s not. By no means a bad movie, Maniac has a pretty decent story and a somewhat stellar ending. Even the method of murder is interesting (when it pops up), but all of that said, I don’t know if it’ll end up being all that memorable.

One thing that doesn’t necessarily bother me, but does make me question the sanity of Kerwin Matthews’ character, is when he falls for Nadia Gray over Liliane Brousse. Nothing against Gray, who certainly wasn’t unbecoming, but Brousse looked quite fantastic throughout, but I guess that the heart wants what the hearts wants.

Otherwise, it’s a solid story, and has a pretty fair conclusion, the likes which somewhat reminded me of the 1972 mystery-horror film Endless Night (though I still think Endless Night has a better finale), though I do think there was a change or two this movie could have made to make the ending even better. That said, it was a solid ending still for what they cobbled together.

I’m not familiar with any of the names in the cast – Kerwin Matthews (The Boy Who Cried Werewolf being one of his few other horror roles) was pretty decent, had a good look to him, and though I can’t say I care for his romantic choice, still seemed a solid guy. Nadia Gray didn’t do poorly, but I never thought much of her character, especially in the beginning when she was obviously trying to pull Matthews’ attention away from Brousse’s character. And as for Liliana Brousse (who was also in Hammer’s Paranoiac, which came out earlier in 1963), she was quite cute and I felt for her throughout. Donald Houston (A Study in Terror) was appropriately threatening.

While I do wish that Maniac had a bit more frights in it than it ultimately ended up having, I think the suspense was decent enough for what they had, and overall, it’s one of the lesser-known Hammer films that might be worth checking out. I have to admit, though, that others they made around this time, such as Paranoiac, were superior.

7/10

Dementia 13 (1963)

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola [Other horror films: The Terror (1963), Dracula (1992), Supernova (2000), Twixt (2011)]

This proto-slasher has always been interesting to me. I’ve never found it a great movie, and rarely have I found it good, but I do appreciate the combination of an old dark house mystery style of horror from the 1920’s and 1930’s with the emerging slasher (and arguably giallo) stories of the 1960’s. Dementia 13 isn’t a good movie, but I do think it’s one that’s certainly worth experiencing.

Obviously this isn’t H.G. Lewis – there’s no excessive gore here, and in fact, barely any gore at all. It’s also black-and-white, and focuses more on the atmosphere than it really does the kills. That said, we do get some okay kills here (by an unseen assailant with an ax), and some skin from Luana Anders (no nudity, of course, but solid, smooth skin), and the mystery is almost fun, so that helps also.

William Campbell and Bart Patton were decent as brothers, but I sort of wish we saw more of them actually acting like brothers as opposed to feeling like two people who live in the same house without ever seeing each other. Though now that I think about it, the house is certainly large enough to warrant that excuse. Either way, both were decent, but I don’t think either one was all that amazing.

Neither Mary Mitchel or Luana Anders were really all that special, either – Anders might get higher accolades, though, as her character actually did something. Patrick Magee (who’s been in quite a few horror films, Tales from the Crypt being the role I’m most familiar with) was okay, but he felt a bit over-the-top here, and almost intentionally sinister (and whether or not that’s a red herring, well, you’ll see).

It’s the atmosphere of this one I’ve always liked, and while the mystery is okay, I don’t know if the ending is entirely satisfying, and I wish maybe a few more twists were thrown in. It’s not too hard to figure out the one behind these things, and I wish it were more of a challenge. Even so, Dementia 13 is a proto-slasher that is at least worth one look, if for no other reason, to see how far slashers have come in the years following Psycho and this one.

6.5/10

The Haunting (1963)

Directed by Robert Wise [Other horror films: The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Audrey Rose (1977)]

This is a classic I’ve seen only once before, and while I appreciated it, I didn’t particularly love it, and the same can be said with a rewatch.

What the movies does well is instill a strong feeling of paranoia into the viewer, and some of the camera views match the atmosphere with a very frantic style. Related, the atmosphere here is solidly dense, and especially toward the end, things get ratcheted up and the spiral staircase sequence – talk about intense.

My issue is that, as the movie’s almost two hours long, and much of the first hour-and-a-half is composed of character-building and somewhat annoying arguments between the women, I find myself somewhat disengaged. The story’s great, and the opening’s amazing (‘Whatever walked in Hill House, walked alone,’ followed by a charming history of the domicile), but the movie as a whole? It doesn’t cut it for me.

This shouldn’t take away anything from Julie Harris’ performance, which is fantastic, and toward the end, she really comes across as unhinged, so kudos there. I do think that some of her first-person narration got a bit hokey, but I suppose that’s part of the charm. Claire Bloom’s character started out decent, but boy, does her personality really grate on me at times. Also, and this may just be me, but I was getting somewhat lesbian vibes from her, which, if intended, adds a somewhat cool little subplot and extra reason for her character’s annoyance at Richard Johnson (who was decent, but not a stand-out).

As decent as parts of this movie are, it’s not a movie I could see myself watching that many times in a given five-year range. Once is probably enough, and while it’s possible that my appreciation of this one will grow with my age, for the time being, I’d still call it a classic, and a good movie, but not really a great one.

7/10

House of the Damned (1963)

Directed by Maury Dexter [Other horror films: The Day Mars Invaded Earth (1962)]

This one seems to have flown almost completely under the radar, and in fact, ever since I’ve known this movie existed, despite the promise the plot shows on IMDb, it’s never been classified in the ‘horror’ genre [though after this review was first written, it has since been categorized as such]. After having seen the film finally, I can dispel that and say it’s definitely horror, and not only that, but also a pretty decent one, all things considered.

What works well in this rather short film (clocks in around an hour and two minutes) is the creepy vibe it happens to possess. The setting, an old, large house on a hill, looks great, and the black-and-white brings with it additional charm. But there are some legitimately spooky scenes, one in which a man, walking on his hands (as he has no legs) crawls into a room and steals the keys to the house. They filmed that well, because I found it actually somewhat chilling.

The characters, those who appear for more than a few minutes, anyway, work out good too. Ron Foster does a pretty decent, if not perhaps somewhat unremarkable, job as the lead character, and playing his wife, Merry Anders (from the criminally-forgotten 1960 flick The Hypnotic Eye) provides a solid performance also. I could take or leave Erika Peters, but Richard Crane (The Alligator People) comes across well.

Extra interesting note: House of the Damned does contain a somewhat early appearance of Richard Kiel, who many may know from a couple of James Bond movies, but I always remember from the comedy Happy Gilmore. He’s a hell of a lot younger here, playing a mute giant, but he definitely has the same face and brings a good presence to the film.

If this had been done in the 1940’s, I suspect that it’d feel a bit less stellar, if only because old dark house films like this were all the rage back then. By the early 1960’s, though, they’d fallen out of favor, and because of that, this seems made during a somewhat unique time period for a movie of this nature. This doesn’t make House of the Damned any better, by any means, but I do think it allows the film to stand out a bit more (though given the fact not many people seem to know this one, perhaps only I got the memo).

House of the Damned isn’t likely to blow anyone away, but I did occasionally find the vibe really creepy, and the house was such a good, quality setting. A few good red herrings, along with a satisfactory conclusion (which I admittedly saw coming miles away, but I still appreciated it), I rather enjoyed this one. It’s short, charming, and definitely a film that I think more people should at least know about.

8/10

Blood Feast (1963)

Blood Feast

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis [Other horror films: Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Monster a-Go Go (1965), Color Me Blood Red (1965), A Taste of Blood (1967), The Gruesome Twosome (1967), Something Weird (1967), The Wizard of Gore (1970), The Gore Gore Girls (1972), Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002), The Uh-oh Show (2009), Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania (2017)]

H.G. Lewis’ first splatter flick is trashy, stilted, and overall, a rather awful film. And I love every second of it.

The gore isn’t as heavy here as it is in later films of his (such as The Wizard of Gore, a personal favorite of mine), but for the 1960’s, the gore is rather shocking, and it helps that the film’s in color (which wasn’t a given during this tumultuous time period), giving the murder sequences additional good effect.

The story itself feels stagy, and the performances mostly stilted. William Kerwin (who has appeared in a bunch of later horror films, such as Two Thousand Maniacs!, A Taste of Blood, God’s Bloody Acre, The Shadow of Chikara, and Whiskey Mountain) was very generic in his role, and had little character. His girlfriend, played by Connie Mason (who was also in Two Thousand Maniacs!), was little better.

Mal Arnold was ridiculous as Faud Ramses, and overly hammy, which was sort of charming. Kudos mostly go to Gene Courtier, though, who gave one of the worst performances I’ve ever seen in a film. These performances led to, as I said, a more stagy feel, which was amplified by the very cheap look of the sets in the film. It wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing, but it definitely stuck out.

The first of the ‘Blood Trilogy’ (followed by Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red in 1964 and 1965), Blood Feast isn’t a great movie, or even a good one. The effects, as gory as they are, look pretty bad, even by contemporary standards. The acting is pretty terrible, and the plot’s paper-thin. Given all of this, though, Blood Feast is still a classic in many ways. It had a lot of heart, and pretty graphic imagery for the time. H.G. Lewis improves with his follow-up to the trilogy, but Blood Feast alone is moderately compelling, if you don’t mind some shoddy film-making.

7.5/10