Torture Garden (1967)

Directed by Freddie Francis [Other horror films: The Brain (1962), The Day of the Triffids (1963), Paranoiac (1963), Nightmare (1964), The Evil of Frankenstein (1964), Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), Hysteria (1965), The Skull (1965), The Psychopath (1966), The Deadly Bees (1966), They Came from Beyond Space (1967), Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1968), Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970), Trog (1970), Gebissen wird nur nachts – das Happening der Vampire (1971), Tales from the Crypt (1972), The Creeping Flesh (1973), Son of Dracula (1973), Tales That Witness Madness (1973), Craze (1974), Legend of the Werewolf (1975), The Ghoul (1975), The Doctor and the Devils (1985), Dark Tower (1989)]

Amicus’ second anthology horror film (following 1965’s Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors), Torture Garden is a film I’ve seen once before, but didn’t particularly care for. Seeing it again does confirm, to me, at least, that it’s one of the weakest of Amicus’ anthologies that I’ve seen.

I find the framing story as fun as any other, and the route it takes, while predictable, is still fun, but none of the four stories throughout the film really interest me. No doubt that two of them (‘Terror Over Hollywood’ and ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’) had potential, but I don’t feel either one was necessarily executed that well. Of the four, I guess I’d say that ‘The Man Who Collected Poe’ was the best, but really, all four of these felt somewhat underwhelming, especially compared to Amicus’ later entities, such as Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror.

The first and third stories (‘Enoch’ and ‘Mr. Steinway,’ respectively) had their own issues – for ‘Enoch,’ it just felt sort of been-there done-that, and ‘Mr. Steinway’ felt undercooked (and that ridiculous ending, while almost fun, just felt, well, ridiculous), and while some performances stood out in each (Michael Bryant, who later starred in The Stone Tape, for ‘Enoch,’ and John Standing, later in Nightflyers, for ‘Mr. Steinway’), these stories felt weak in ways that reminded me of another weak Amicus outing, being their final anthology, From Beyond the Grave.

Good performances are common throughout the film, of course. Jack Palance (Man in the Attic, Alone in the Dark, and Without Warning) was somewhat enjoyable, though his character’s personality threw me off. Of course, Peter Cushing is always a joy to see, no matter how flawed the particular story was. Others that are worth a mention include Robert Hutton (The Slime People), John Phillips (The Mummy’s Shroud), Michael Ripper (who was in The Mummy along with quite a few other Hammer outings), and of course the enjoyably hammy Burgess Meredith (who I primarily know from the Batman series, but was also in Burnt Offerings and Magic).

Of course, worth-while performances can only go so far if their stories don’t do them justice, and I don’t think any of these really did, aside from maybe Meredith’s role in the framing story (though even that edit cut toward the end just felt poorly done). Little in any of the stories aside from wasted potential stuck me as memorable (especially ‘Terror Over Hollywood,’ which I really think could have been interesting in a Michael Crichton way), but aside from the framing story, which threw in a surprise or two, nothing here is going to stick with me.

Naturally, being a big fan of some of Amicus’ later work, this doesn’t give me pleasure to admit, but I found this even weaker than the aforementioned From Beyond the Grave, if only because one of those stories was actually about average. As of this writing, the only Amicus anthology I’ve not seen is Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, but as that’s the first of this kind, I’m definitely hoping for a little more out of that one. As for Torture Garden, despite some quality performances (Meredith, Cushing, and Palance alone had quality star power), I just don’t think it did that much right.

5/10

Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967)

Directed by Jean Yarbrough [Other horror films: The Devil Bat (1940), King of the Zombies (1941), House of Horrors (1946), She-Wolf of London (1946), The Brute Man (1946), The Creeper (1948), Master Minds (1949)]

When I recorded this off TCM (gotta give TCM props for playing something like this, on a side-note), I had no delusions that it’d somehow be a good movie, and boy, what a quality prediction that was. Hillbillys (which isn’t even a proper plural version of the word) in a Haunted House was something I’ve never really experienced before, and never really want to again.

For a movie from the later 60’s, this was very-much steeped in the 1930’s and 1940’s. A haunted house that wasn’t really haunted, but a headquarter for spies who were trying to scare people away (which is pretty much what Ghosts on the Loose from 1943 focused on), a gorilla (right out of The Monster Walks and The Gorilla), even older names that were popular around that time (such as John Carradine, Basil Rathbone, and Lon Chaney, Jr.) – this movie was really late to the game, and the country angle doesn’t really make it any fresher.

And if you’re wondering where the country angle comes from, by “hillbillys,” the movie means country musicians (the film stars Ferlin Husky, who I’m not a particular fan of, but he has the occasionally catchy song). And being performers, much of the film is singing from various different people (a guy watches some television to help him sleep, and sees performances from artists such as Merle Haggard, for instance). There’s a lot of music in this film, some of it decent, some more generic, but always laughable when it pops up.

The best part might be the ending – at around 70 minutes in or so, the haunted house mystery is wrapped up, the antagonists taken care of, and the central trio (Ferlin Husky, Joi Lansing, and Don Bowman) are driving away, not a care in the world. Perfect ending, right?

Wrong.

Because they’re going to Nashville for a concert, and instead of ending the story at a sensible moment, the movie instead finds it necessary to have six songs performed by six different artists to close the film out. And the final song (performed by Husky himself) isn’t announced as the final song – he just sings his song (as Merle Haggard, Don Bowman, Marcella Wright, Joi Lansing, and Molly Bee did before him) and boom, the movie’s over.

Now, to be fair, many of the songs were decent, such as “Heartbreak U.S.A.” by Molly Bee, “Swinging Doors” by Merle Haggard (which is definitely going onto my iTunes), the comedic, spoken (think artists like Red Sovine or maybe even Jerry Reed a la “Telephone Song) “Wrong House” by Don Bowman, and “The Bridge I’ve Never Crossed” by Ferlin Husky, but to end a film with 15 minutes of random country songs with zero relevance or reference to what happened in the previous 70 minutes of the movie – what madness is this?

And you’re probably wondering where the appeal to the film arises from, which I couldn’t blame you for. Sure, I enjoy some classic country (from The Statler Brothers to Waylon Jennings from Bobby Bare to Lefty Frizzell, I dabble a little in the genre), but the real appeal comes from seeing the aforementioned John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr., and Basil Rathbone, all three rather large stars (or were at points previously to 1967).

Carradine (Bluebeard, The House of Seven Corpses, and hundreds of other films) and Rathbone (Son of Frankenstein, The Hound of the Baskervilles ‘39, and Queen of Blood among his appearances) worked well together, though to be honest, their characters were somewhat interchangeable. Chaney Jr. provided a more simple-minded character, and while never all that sympathetic, he probably stood out the most of the three. On a side-note, this is Rathbone’s second-to-last film, as he died in mid-1967.

Ferlin Husky was as fine as he could have been, I suspect, given his character. In my view, Joi Lansing was cast more due to her physical attributes as opposed to acting ability (let’s just say that while of course there’s nothing close to nudity in this film, Lansing still provides quite the view), but honestly, for a movie like this, I can’t imagine bad acting being that much a concern. Don Bowman (who was both a country singer and a comedian, apparently) was the generic, cowardly side-character, and his Texas accent (and penchant for saying “weirdwolf” as opposed to “werewolf” for some unknown reason) did annoy me, but hey, that song he sang toward the end was funny, so as the kids say, whateves.

I don’t really know why this was made (perhaps there was a country craze in the mid-to-late 1960’s, as this is technically a sequel to non-horror film Las Vegas Hillbillys). I also don’t know why I spent ten whole paragraphs on it. I enjoyed a decent amount of the music, but the spy angle didn’t really catch my interest at all (and the whole M.O.T.H.E.R. organization just solidified my disinterest), and while it can be entertaining, you have to know beforehand what you’re going into.

As it was, Hillbillys in a Haunted House was something I won’t soon forget, but don’t mistake that for thinking it’s decent. At best, it’s still below average, with the fun musical numbers buoying it against the generically forgettable story, but I don’t think it buoys it that effectively.

5.5/10

Uchû daikaijû Girara (1967)

Directed by Kazui Nihonmatsu [Other horror films: Konchû daisensô (1968)]

This Japanese film, commonly known as The X from Outer Space, is pretty poor in comparison to both other movies from the same production company (Shochiku) and other movies from the overall decade. This isn’t to say The X from Outer Space is terrible, but it is pretty unremarkable in most ways.

Shochiku isn’t a well-known name, but they made films such as Genocide (Konchû daisensô), The Living Skeleton (Kyûketsu dokuro-sen), and perhaps most famously, Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell (Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro). The best of these may well be Goke, Body Snatcher from Hell, but the other two are decent enough also. This one just can’t match any of those others at all. It’s as if they were trying to be Toho, and just failed miserably at it.

I think the first big problem is the fact that, until you get 48 minutes in or so, you can’t even tell this is going to be a giant rampaging monster movie. Personally, I thought the first half was decent (albeit in a rather cheesy, very 60’s type way), but the story of the astronauts going up into space could have been trimmed a bit in places. They could have gotten to the meat of the story quicker. The thing is, I don’t think there was that much meat to get to, which is probably why the first half was so dragged out.

Few of these characters are really worth much. In his own way, I did sort of like Shun’ya Wazaki as the straight-laced captain, and the idea that both Itoko Harada and Peggy Neal’s characters wanted to jump his bones was fine (though the cat fight I was hoping for never happened), but it doesn’t much go anywhere aside from a scene in the finale that was somewhat laughable. Otherwise, the only character in the film worth watching this for was the monster, called Guilala, which was just an overly goofy-looking lizard thing with bouncing antennas.

You get some funky music here rather often, but the first half of The X from Outer Space can come across as particularly dry, the quickness at which they can travel in space seems ridiculous, and the rather silly destruction of models – sorry, Japanese cities and power plants – wasn’t much what I’d call thrilling.

There are some fun space-based movies from the 1960’s, one of them being the Italian Planet of the Vampires (Terrore nello spazio), and there are some fun monster movies, such as Monster from a Prehistoric Planet (Daikyojû Gappa), but this tries to combine the two, and it really doesn’t work out. Stick with the other Shochiku movies instead, and go to this only if all else fails.

5/10

The Gruesome Twosome (1967)

Directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis [Other horror films: Blood Feast (1963), Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), Monster a-Go Go (1965), Color Me Blood Red (1965), A Taste of Blood (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, segments ‘Gory Story’ and ‘The Night Hag’)]

H.G. Lewis is a personal favorite director of mine, despite not having seen all of his horror output as of yet. Both Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs!, despite their flaws, are rather enjoyable. The Wizard of Gore is somewhat nonsensical, but still fun. I never cared much for Color Me Blood Red, and generally consider that my least-favorite of his.

Luckily, The Gruesome Twosome is a bit more enjoyable than the disappointing Color Me Blood Red, but it’s still quite a rocky film for only being an hour and ten minutes, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

The biggest issue here, by far, is the padding throughout the film. I’d say that 18 minutes easily could have been cut out without much issue (including that atrociously amusing opening, a ten-minute sequence of a character following someone they suspect is a killer, and a couple of beach party and slumber party scenes), but no, you have to suffer through those scenes honestly to get to the good stuff.

And the gore itself is pretty solid – I mean, c’mon, we’re talking about H.G. Lewis, aren’t we, Napoleon? There’s a solid throat-slitting with an electric knife, an enjoyably messy scalping, and while possibly gratuitous, a scene in which the killer’s digging through a woman’s entrails (for some reason). I mean, sure, it more often than not looks fake, but we’re talking about 60’s horror, so I applaud Lewis for his heavy use of gore.

Being a film from the Godfather of Gore, much of the acting is either subpar or wildly ridiculous. Gretchen Wells, as the main character, didn’t really make much an impression on me, nor did co-star Rodney Bedell. In his limited screen-time, Chris Martell did well as the mentally-subnormal killer, but it’s really Elizabeth Davis’ performance that’d leave a mark on you. As a kindly old woman who often talks to her stuffed wildcat Napoleon, and makes flighty, poetic comments from time-to-time, a lot of screen-time is spent on Davis, which I was cool with, as her character was so fun. It’s a shame no one else came close to her, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

I don’t think that many people, even horror fans, would go out of their way to see this one unless they were already fans of H.G. Lewis, which is probably a good thing, as it’s not his best release. Certainly a gory proto-slasher that’s better than Color Me Blood Red, The Gruesome Twosome isn’t really anywhere near as enjoyable as Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs!, or The Wizard of Gore, especially due to the unnecessary padding throughout the film. If you’re an H.G. Lewis aficionado, though, and you’ve not yet seen this, give it a shot. It could certainly be worse, isn’t that right, Napoleon?

6/10

The Shuttered Room (1967)

Shuttered Room

Directed by David Greene [Other horror films: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1991)]

This was a pretty solid watch for the most part, with good atmosphere and suspense, though a bit lighter on horror than I’d have preferred, especially for a movie over an hour and a half long.

The plot is fun, made additionally enjoyable by the setting. Not only are the two main characters on an island off the coast of an undisclosed state (though this is a British film, it takes place in the USA), the focus of the horrors take place in an abandoned mill, which was suitably creepy and run-down.

Unfortunately, there weren’t as many kills as I was hoping. The opening scene was rather engrossing, and so indeed was the rest of the film, but none of the death scenes really grabbed me all that much. The small amount of blood seen was a welcome sight, and occasionally there was a sense of brutality that was never really touched on, as necessary as I thought it was (more on this shortly). It’s really the atmosphere, the moody and ominous feeling throughout, that allows this movie a higher rating than the kill scenes themselves.

Now, this next part was something I wasn’t initially going to speak about, but it was a prevalent theme throughout the film, so if this seems out of place, I apologize.

Taking place on a moderately small and out-of-touch island, some of the male locals have rather backwards views on appropriate behavior and actions toward women they’re unfamiliar with. Multiple times throughout the movie, these men chase and sexually harass, with the intent to rape, Carol Lynley’s character. Of course, being the inbred pieces of trash they are, as soon as she rejects their affection or tries to defend herself against the unwelcomed touches, they get angry at her, only making them want to mess with her more. It’s sexist male entitlement at it’s finest, and I’ve rarely seen locals as undeserving as life as these assholes, especially with their actions toward the end of the film.

The point that’s more important to the movie is that only one of the five of the characters displaying these sickening and backwards actions (which far too many of my male peers would see little problem with) ends up dying. The movie had a solid opportunity to dispatch, with as much brutality as legal in the UK at the time, these utterly unlikable characters. But only one of them dies, and it was too quick to bring much pleasure. Talk about a wasted potential.

Gig Young and Carol Lynley’s characters both were done well. I loved Young’s brawling sequences, defending his young wife against the rapists that populate the island, and they struck me as more authentic than I’d have expected. Lynley, while her character was certainly afraid, never really fell into the whole ‘hysterical woman’ trope, which I appreciated.

Oliver Reed’s character was detestable, and he did quite well in that roll. It may be worth mentioning, too, that Reed has probably done the most for the genre, starring in such horror films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), Captain Clegg (1962), Paranoiac (1963), Blue Blood (1974), Burnt Offerings (1976), The Brood (1979), Venom (1981), Spasms (1983), Alan Birkinshaw’s The House of Usher (1989), and Severed Ties (1992), along with having smaller roles in a handful of other flicks. It’s an impressive horror resume, and if his acting in this film is any indication, it’s clear to see how he attained these many roles.

My biggest gripe with The Shuttered Room, despite all that is does right, is the lack of kills, instead focusing on the rapey locals. Certainly, that’s a horror in itself, but I’d have preferred more about the mysterious figure killing people at the mill as opposed to seeing Lynley’s character being continually assaulted. Still, the movie has a great moody feel, and the color is pretty crisp, which is a plus for a film from a decade that hadn’t fully embraced color yet. A solid 60’s flick, this is one that I would tepidly recommend.

8/10