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 a 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