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

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

Eye of the Devil (1966)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson [Other horror films: The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975), Happy Birthday to Me (1981)]

So I didn’t really know what to expect going into this one, and to be entirely honest, I wasn’t really anticipating that I’d enjoy it, which goes to show (not that this needs any additional examples) of how wrong I can be.

Eye of the Devil is far from your typical Satanist movie, even for the time period. I was expecting something along the lines of The Devil Rides Out, which seemed a fair basis of comparison since that’s also a British Satanist film from the latter half of the 1960’s, but again, I was far, far mistaken.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Eye of the Devil’s horror is subtle, but I think it’s fair to say that there’s far more uneasiness and unsettling situations than there is outright horror. Certainly there are some tense scenes (two of my favorites being the children playing on the roof and the main actress being chased through the woods by robed cultists), and I think they work beautifully in the movie, but it’s not a thrill-ride from beginning to end.

Another somewhat surprising aspect about this film is the fact it’s in black-and-white. By the mid-1960’s, most movies had made the full transition over to color (Night of the Living Dead being the most famous exception, but other cases of black-and-white movies post-1965 include Hour of the Wolf, Blood Bath, Ghosts of Hanley House, The Living Skeleton, Confessions of a Psycho Cat, Zinda Laash, and A Thousand Pleasures), so the fact they filmed this in black-and-white was a bit of a surprise. That said, I do think it worked wonderfully with the story (especially during the scene when Deborah Kerr is being chased by the cultists).

Kerr (The Innocents) here is great in her leading role, as she is well aware something sinister is going on around the castle and surrounding village, but she can’t ascertain as to exactly what it is (and it doesn’t help when everyone who knows something has exactly zero intention on letting her in on it). Playing her husband, David Niven (who has an extraordinarily familiar face, but aside from the murder mystery spoof Murder by Death, I haven’t seen anything else with him it in) does a great job too, especially as his somewhat tragic tale unfolds. I often wonder if he is seeking, or the one being sought.

Of most interest to me, of course, is Donald Pleasence (most famously Halloween, though he also really stood out in 1960’s The Flesh and the Fiends), who played a priest here. He was pretty much as you’d expect, speaking in soft tones (it’s hard for me to even hear him speak without immediately thinking about The Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water), so that was fun. David Hemmings isn’t a name I know, but he was also great (and that scene where he pops up blowing that horn just randomly amusing), and brought a fantastically tense character. Others who stand out here include Sharon Tate (yes, that Sharon Tate), Edward Mulhare, and Flora Robson.

What really sets Eye of the Devil apart from many of it’s contemporaries is the atypical cinematography, some of which is really quite smashing, as my homeboi Nigel would say (90’s kids what’s up!). Seriously, some of the camera-work here is fantastic, and much before it’s time. Even if the story isn’t up your alley (and it should be, because there’s some solid uncertainty and a great feeling of dread of the unknown), you should probably watch this just to see how it was filmed.

Like I said at the beginning, I didn’t really expect to like this film, but I was quite mistaken. I’ve not honestly seen that many 1960’s horror (at most recent count, only about 148 total films for the decade), but I can say that I think Eye of the Devil would be in my personal top 20 list for the decade, and it’s a movie I’m sorry I waited so long to see.

8.5/10

The Plague of the Zombies (1966)

Directed by John Gilling [Other horror films: Escape from Broadmoor (1938), Mother Riley Meets the Vampire (1952), The Gamma People (1956), The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), The Shadow of the Cat (1961), The Night Caller (1965), The Reptile (1966), The Mummy’s Shroud (1967), La cruz del diablo (1975)]

This Hammer film may be one of the last voodoo zombie films before Night of the Living Dead launches a new way forward for the zombie sub-genre, and it’s certainly the last big name zombie film before Romero’s classic. Being a Hammer movie (and being in color), The Plague of the Zombies isn’t too shabby, but it’s not a personal favorite of mine.

I enjoy the performances, though no one really blows me away. Perhaps my favorite here is André Morell, because seeing a slightly older man take the lead is a bit of a rarity, and his character is enjoyable, being a distinguished doctor, and yet partaking in robbing graves. He was just fun. Playing his daughter is Diane Clare, and she gets along quite well with Morell. Brook Williams, as a young doctor asking for Morell’s advice, is a bit generic, but he has his moments. John Carson did quite well here as a somewhat mad Cornish squire – much like Morell, he’s fun throughout, especially toward the end.

The atmosphere here is pretty solid, and there are some pretty solid scenes (perhaps my favorite is a dream sequence in which zombies rise from the grave, which looks quite beautiful in color), but as decent as the story was (in it’s average Hammer fair), trying to turn the same premise of White Zombie into a better-made version by throwing in color isn’t really my idea of a great time.

The Plague of the Zombies is a bit of a classic as Hammer horror is concerned, and for good reason (worth noting, many of the same sets are used in The Reptile, another Hammer film from the same year, which I like a bit more), but even as far as 1960’s horror goes, this doesn’t quite make my Top 10 list.

I’m not trying to throw The Plague of the Zombies under a bus – I think it’s a decent film, and I wouldn’t object to seeing it a few more times in the future. It’s just that I’ve seen it twice now, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s not the best the 1960’s has to offer.

7/10

Death Curse of Tartu (1966)

Directed by William Grefé [Other horror films: Sting of Death (1966), Stanley (1972), Impulse (1974), Mako: The Jaws of Death (1976), Whiskey Mountain (1977)]

To be honest, I wanted to like this one. I mean, a low-budget horror film made in Florida by Grefé (see resume above)? Sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Sadly, though, more than anything else, Death Curse of Tartu is pretty dull.

The best thing I can say about the performances is that Maurice Stewart and Mayra Gómez Kemp looked cute during the ridiculously groovy dance scene. Otherwise, Babette Sherrill and Fred Pinero, not to mention most everyone else (save perhaps Bill Marcus) were overly stilted and the dialogue generally just felt awkward.

Setting the story in a Florida swamp had potential, and even filming most everything during the day was a somewhat daring move, but due to the sluggish pace of the film, it doesn’t really help all that much.

See, the thing is, watching a snake chase someone for four minutes isn’t exciting, nor are most chase sequences in the film. The only exception that comes to mind is a scene toward the end with Tartu (Doug Hobart) chasing Sherrill’s character, and it was filmed in a pretty solid way. Everything else, though, just felt uninspired and quite dull.

Death Curse of Tartu could probably be a pretty cool movie had it been done entirely differently. The potential is there, but it just didn’t show at all, which wasn’t really surprising, but I will admit to being disappointed. For the 1960’s, the color here was nice, but it didn’t save the sluggish pace, and I can’t really see myself sitting through this one again sober.

5.5/10

Queen of Blood (1966)

Directed by Curtis Harrington [Other horror films: Night Tide (1961), How Awful About Allan (1970), What’s the Matter with Helen? (1971), Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (1972), The Killing Kind (1973), The Cat Creature (1973), Killer Bees (1974), The Dead Don’t Die (1975), Ruby (1977), Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978), Usher (2000)]

A 1966 movie starring John Saxon, with appearances from Basil Rathbone and Dennis Hopper? Is this an undiscovered classic waiting to be unleashed from the vaults it so cruelly was forced into?

The answer, unfortunately, is no. Queen of Blood is, above all else, a rather dull affair, which is a damn shame, as the year previous brought forth a fantastic voyage into space horror, being Planet of the Vampires. What we have here feels not too far removed from Lifeforce, only this is lifeless.

It’s hard to say why the movie is as boring as it is – part of this is likely due to the fact that nothing much happens until the last thirty or so minutes of the film. Much of the movie is dry, but it doesn’t even really help build characterization or anything. It’s just dull and an exercise in tediousness.

Of course, Queen of Blood had potential. The ending is almost okay, but at the same time, it lacked any type of finale confrontation (I mean, technically, one was there, but it was so weak that it barely felt like it should count). A green, humanoid alien, passive 90% of the time, does not a great antagonist make.

Was John Saxon nice to see? Sure, and I got a blast out of that. But this movie just isn’t worth watching, and sitting through it once is difficult enough.

5/10

La lama nel corpo (1966)

Murder Clinic

Directed by Elio Scardamaglia [Other horror films: N/A] & Lionello De Felice [Other horror films: N/A]

This early giallo (originally titled La lama nel corpo, and seems best to be known as The Murder Clinic) lacks the flair of many others that come later, yet ends up having a pretty fun and ominous vibe all the same.

While the film lacks the style of earlier entries such as Blood and Black Lace (part of this may be due to the fact that this is Elio Scardamaglia’s, the director, one and only film), the film does have a decent amount of suspense, mystery, and, of course, potential suspects, to offer. It was a bit sluggish at the beginning, but picks up nicely around the twenty minute mark.

Unfortunately, there’s not that much in the way of gore, another thing that slightly sets it apart from its peers. The kills themselves are good, at least when we see them on screen, but it’s not at all a gory film, which was a bit of a shame.

William Berger did exceptionally well as a doctor with more than a few problems. He had a solid screen presence, and I rather liked his complex character. Some of the film’s charm too has to go to Mary Young and Barbara Wilson, especially considering that this is Wilson’s sole film, and just the second of only two films Young was in. Given the lack of experience with the both of them, they really brought something to this movie.

The atmosphere could have been a bit thicker than what it ended up being, admittedly. And like I said, the gore wasn’t really strong at all. But still, you have a fun mystery, a lot of suspects, a few twists, a few surprising deaths, so even though this film lacked the class of many giallos that followed suit, I thought that it was well worth watching.

7.5/10