Horror movies


THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF THE GRAVE. Phoenix Cinematografica, Italy, 1971, as La notte che Evelyn uscì dalla tomba. Phase One, US, 1972; dubbed. Anthony Steffen, Marina Malfatti, Enzo Tarascio (as Rod Murdock), Giacomo Rossi Stuart. Direcctor: Emilio Miraglia.

   The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave starts off as an uncomfortably sleazy enterprise before transforming into a gripping, moody Gothic thriller. Directed by Emilio P. Miraglia, this stylish Italian giallo film has the typical sex and violence that is prevalent in the genre. But what it also has – what gives the film a little something extra – is a Gothic atmosphere that owes as much to Roger Corman’s cinematic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories and poems as to the emerging Italian proto-slasher genre of which it is indubitably a part.

   Although an Italian film with dialogue in Italian (there’s also apparently an English language version), the movie is set in England. Aristocrat Alan Cunningham (Anthony Steffen) lives a decadent lifestyle in his family’s estate. His wife, the beautiful redheaded Evelyn, has recently died. But not before he was able to confront her about her infidelities. So Alan is a little … mentally unbalanced. So much so that he has a penchant for bringing red headed prostitutes back to his lair so he can have his way with them.

   All that changes when he meets Gladys (Marina Malfatti), a stripper who Alan decides is going to be his next wife. All seems well finally for the tormented Alan. But when Alan’s family members begin to die in horrifically mysterious ways, it seems as if he may be cursed. Perhaps his wife Evelyn has indeed come back from the grave to exact revenge. Or maybe someone is playing a giant prank, a cruel trick to send the wealthy Alan over the edge in order to inherit his large fortune.

   If you can manage to overlook the giant plot holes in the story, you might just find yourself a bit enthralled with The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave. Although it’s not nearly as good a film as Dario Argento’s output from the same era, it has a stylish flair, some really dark humor, and an effective score composed by Bruno Nicolai.


DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE. Paramount-Artcraft Pictures, 1920. Silent film. John Barrymore, Brandon Hurst, Martha Mansfield, Charles Lane, Cecil Clovelly, Nita Naldi, J. Malcolm Dunn. Based on the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. Director: John S. Robertson.

   Originally published in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde introduced the reading public to two of the most well known characters in modern literary history: the conventional Victorian physician, Dr. Jekyll and his alter-ego, the uninhibited and cruel Mr. Hyde. Stylized as a detective story, one in which the reader does not discover that Jekyll and Hyde are merely two parts of the same man until the story’s ending, Stevenson’s novella highlighted the duality of man: That lying underneath man’s civilized, urbane exterior is a bestial side, one that later critics identified as lurking not far beneath a highly repressed Victorian society.

   Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, however, doesn’t read as if it was designed to impart any emphatic moral lesson. Instead, the work unfolds as a mystery tale and, to a lesser extent, an early work of the emerging genre of horror fiction. In that sense, it is as much of a thriller as the shudder pulp stories that it influenced decades later.

   Indeed, Stevenson’s novella is written from the point of view of a society lawyer, Gabriel John Utterson who begins an amateur investigation into the strange happenings concerning his friend, Dr. Jekyll. By the end of the tale, Utterson has learned that Dr. Jekyll and his strange friend, Mr. Hyde, are one and the same person. Two divided halves of the same self. This was a concept that Stevenson, who is still best known for his adventure fiction, apparently wanted to incorporate into his writings. In that sense, Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has been not only a literary success, but also a personal triumph for Stevenson as Jekyll and Hyde are now among the best known fictional characters in Anglo-American literature.

   Although it wasn’t the first effort to adapt Stevenson’s novella into a motion picture, Paramount/Artcraft’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1920) has ended up the default template for nearly all the subsequent movie versions. Arguably based more upon Thomas Russell Sullivan’s 1887 stage adaptation of Stevenson’s novella than the literary work itself, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde stars John Barrymore in the dual title role, a performance that by all accounts solidified his Hollywood star power. Barrymore, who at the time was still best known as a stage actor, delivers an exceptional performance in his portrayal of two halves of the same individual man.

   The Dr. Jekyll that the audience first encounters in the film as opposed to the novella is both a physician and a philanthropist, a Victorian man of science who devotes considerable amount of time to helping the poor. He is a rather stiff, that is to say not particularly relaxed individual, who seems to be more interested in expanding his knowledge than in the more mundane, let alone sensual, aspects of life.

   Jekyll is, however, engaged to a charming lady named Millicent (Martha Mansfield). Millicent’s father, Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst) in the presence of friends Edward Enfield (Cecil Clovelly), Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane) and Utterson (J. Malcolm Dunn), tempts the ascetic physician with the possibility of exploring London’s less refined, if not downright seedy, locales. Observers have rightly noted that Carew’s temptation of Jekyll into the proverbial dark side seems to be based more on the character of Lord Henry in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) than on Stevenson’s work itself.

   Furthermore, at least some of the silent film’s intertitles include text that are directly borrowed from, or inspired by, Wilde’s literary portrait, and philosophical study of libertinism. Indeed, Sir Carew’s admonition that “the only way to get rid of a temptation is to yield to it” comes directly from Wilde.

   The turning point for Dr. Jekyll is when he meets Gina (Nita Naldi), a dance hall girl he encounters when Sir George Carew takes him to the seedier side of town. Jekyll is fascinated by her, but is actually somewhat embarrassed, if not repulsed, by the degree to which he finds himself attracted to her.

   Before he absconds back into the London night, Jekyll engages in a short conversation with Gina during which she shows him a large ornamental ring that she wears on her finger. She tells him that the ring acts as a vessel and that it contains poison. When Jekyll ends his encounter with Gina, it seems as if her poison ring is all but forgotten. The audience, which is familiar with foreshadowing, knows that this ring will very likely end up playing a prominent role in what follows.

   It is Jekyll’s encounter with Gina, a character that doesn’t appear in Stevenson’s novella, that sets him down a path from which he will never return, for it is his interaction with this dance hall girl that guides his decision to manufacture a chemical compound that will separate his good, philanthropic self from his baser, lecherous self – a part of him that he never acknowledged existed until he met her.

   Barrymore’s transformation from Jekyll to Hyde is perhaps the highlight of the film, for it showcases both his raw theatrical talent, specifically his ability to convey meaning with his facial expressions.

   The remainder of the film follows Dr. Jekyll and his diabolical alter ego, Mr. Hyde, as the latter embarks upon a path of death and destruction. Barrymore’s Hyde, dressed in a top hat and cape, lurks through London’s back alleys. Initially, Hyde seems to not only relish his inhibited self, but also appears to get away with his bad behavior.

   Things change, however, when he first injures a child, then escalates to murder, beating a man to death with his cane. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is as much a tragedy, as it is a horror story. It’s the story of a man, who in his quest for scientific knowledge, ends up both becoming and subsumed by his repressed, animalistic self.

   Mastered in high definition from archival 35mm elements, the Kino Lorber Blu-Ray release of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that I recently had the opportunity to watch provides movie aficionados with an opportunity to watch a relatively clean, uncluttered version of this silent film, one that exists in the public domain.

   Released in 2014, the Kino Classics version also features a serviceable, but by no means outstanding, score by Rodney Sauer, one that is performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. There are moments during the film when the music seems intrusive, as if it were disconnected from what was occurring on screen.

   Still, for the most part, Kino’s Blu-Ray release is quite watchable, despite some elements that were clearly degraded in the course of time. There’s also the tinting factor. Although most of the film was photographed in standard black and white, there are several sequences that are now bathed in either a reddish or bluish hue. Given that the workmanlike photography by cinematographer Roy F. Overbaugh is not particularly artistic – certainly not on the level of his German Expressionist contemporaries – the tinting does little to either elevate or to decrease the overall rather flat, staid visuals.

   Indeed, apart from the sequences featuring prosthetics in which Jekyll transforms into Hyde and the fever dream scene in which Jekyll is confronted by a giant crawling spider, there’s little in the way of outstanding visual effects in this film. In many ways, it’s Barrymore and Barrymore alone who carries the movie. At the end of the day, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is Barrymore’s vehicle, one to which both Fredric March and Spencer Tracy were truly indebted.

   Without Barrymore’s uncanny transformation from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, it also remains uncertain whether the two characters in one would have lived in through not only March and Tracy, but also such disparate actors as Jack Palance, Kirk Douglas, and Michael Caine, all of whom took turns in portraying the quintessential man divided against himself.


GHOST TOWN. Empire Pictures, 1988. Franc Luz, Catherine Hickland, Jimmie F. Skaggs, Penelope Windust, Bruce Glover. Director: Richard McCarthy.

   I’ve always been a fan of the Weird West, that sub-genre that blends elements of horror and the supernatural with Western themes. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to pull off a really cohesive mash-up of the horror and Western genres. There’s always something that just doesn’t quite gel the way it should.

   Maybe it’s because the “rules” of the Western genre are so rooted in human nature and, for the lack of a better term, reality. Maybe it’s because we associate horror with nighttime, rather than with the blazing hot sun. No matter what, I often come away from my excursions into the Weird West with a sense of what might have been, how the proverbial visit might have gone better.

   That’s basically how I felt after watching Ghost Town, a Charles Band production from 1988. Screened in very limited release, this horror Western is better than you might expect, but it’s hardly what you might categorize as a great Western.

   Lead actor Franc Luz, while solid in the part, doesn’t ever seem totally comfortable in his role as Deputy Sheriff Langley, a lawman tasked with locating a missing woman. This quest – the hero’s quest – mysteriously takes him out of the present and into an Old West netherworld, somewhere between heaven and hell.

   Apparently, an entire town is being held hostage from moving onto the afterlife by an undead outlaw named Devlin (the late Jimmie F. Skaggs in an standout role). Truth be told, there’s not a whole lot of logical coherence in the plot. This is unfortunate. It’s almost as if the filmmakers decided that because the supernatural was at work in the story, there need not be an internal logic that would explain how Devlin was able to stay alive past death and hold a whole town in a void.

   Yet, despite my criticisms, I have to admit that I enjoyed watching Ghost Town. The cinematography is quite good. Better than in many horror movies from the 1980s in fact. Most significantly, it’s a fun movie. Not a good movie. But an enjoyable one.

  THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD. Amicus Productions, UK, 1971. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Nyree Dawn Porter, Denholm Elliott, Jon Pertwee, John Bennett, Ingrid Pitt, Chloe Franks. Screenplay: Robert Bloch. Director: Peter Duffell.

   This four-story-in-one horror film from Amicus has one major flaw, at least looking back upon it now. In spite of the title, there is no blood in it. It was, in fact, rated GP at the time of its release, the equivalent of today’s PG.

   It is possible to give the audience a few chills without a lot of gore, and that’s all the movie does: give the audience a few chills along with a few twists of plot, most of which are foreshadowed well in advance.

   The setting for all four segments is a common looking house in the English countryside, rather large but otherwise not very imposing. But it has its secrets, and each of those who rent it out find out what exactly that means.

   Part One: A writer of horror stories finds that one of the crazed killers he writes about is coming to life and haunting him, but his wife can neither see nor hear the man. The biggest twist in all four stories comes in this one.

   Part Two: A newly retired tenant (Peter Cushing) finds a waxwork museum in town with a figure of a woman inside whose face begins to haunt him. A friend who comes to visit falls under the spell of the waxwork face as well. A rather tepid tale with a easily foreseen ending.

   Part Three: A man (Christopher Lee) who rents the house with his very young daughter hires a tutor for her, a woman who soon learns that this is not a happy twosome she is working for, especially the daughter (a spellbinding Chloe Franks).

   Part Four and the underlying connection between all four segments: An inspector from Scotland Yard comes to the village looking for a famous movie actor (Jon Pertwee), who has disappeared, seemingly (as it turns out) under the spell of a vampire’s cloak. More special effects are used in this segment than any of the others, to little avail.

   There are lots of famous names in the cast, but the stories are both dull and obvious. Personally, I expected more from Robert Bloch, and I was disappointed.


THE FUNHOUSE. Universal Pictures, 1981. Elizabeth Berridge, Kevin Conway, William Finley, Cooper Huckabee, Miles Chapin, Sylvia Miles. Directed by Tobe Hooper.

   This stylish, if somewhat mediocre, horror film might as well have been entitled The Good, the Bad, and The Very Ugly. Because let me tell you: the monster in this Tobe Hooper directed feature is not just ugly; he’s very ugly. Hideous actually.

   Unfortunately, aside from the shock value of the creature’s disfigurement and the crisp photography, there’s not all that much that makes Funhouse an overly memorable horror film. That’s not to say that it’s a particularly bad film. It’s just that, overall, the film lacks both the character development and requisite memorable dialogue that could very have made it something that stood out from the pack.

   There were just so very many horror films released in the 1980s, many of which followed the standard plot of a final girl facing off against some sort of evil figure that it’s difficult to consider each one without reference to all the others. Indeed, in this particular regard, the plot of Funhouse doesn’t stray too far from the proverbial straight and narrow. There’s a female protagonist who, against her better judgment, gets caught up in a life-or-death situation and who, despite her meek nature, ends up defeating the evil antagonist. She is, in every respect, the final girl. The one who ends up surviving all the mayhem that transpires throughout the course of the film.

   Amy Harper (Elizabeth Berridge) is a small town girl who lives with her parents and her kid brother. The latter is a prankster and something of a brat, it would appear. Against her better judgment, she ends up going with her friends to the carnival that has recently arrived in town. There, she and her date, as well as another couple, will make the fatal decision to spend the night in the funhouse.

   But, alas, something lurks – and drools – in the funhouse. And it’s not fully human. And it kills. This is essentially the entire plot. One, it should be noted, that doesn’t truly come into fruition until at least thirty or forty minutes into the film.

   Now again, don’t let me make you believe that Funhouse isn’t worth seeing. In many ways, it is. It’s actually, believe it or not, a fun movie, one that thankfully relies far more on atmosphere than gore to convey a general air of creepiness at the carnival.

   Harper, along with Sylvia Miles who portrays a fortuneteller, are strong female characters in a movie filled with overall unpleasant or just plain dull male characters. So the movie’s got a few things going for it. Just not enough to make it one that’s especially compelling, or one that stays in your mind for any length of time after you’ve left the movie theater. If you like horror movies set at carnivals, however, this one’s definitely worth checking out.


TWO ON A GUILLOTINE. Warner Brothers, 1965. Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero, Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, Connie Gilchrist, John Hoyt, Russell Thorson. Producer-director: William Conrad.

   Two on a Guillotine, a decidedly uneven Gothic horror movie, features two esteemed character actors who will be quite familiar to anyone who watched more than their fair share of theatrical films and television from the 1960s; namely, Cesar Romero (perhaps best remembered now for portraying The Joker on Batman) and Dean Jones (star of The Love Bug in the movies and Ensign O’Toole on TV). The third star in Two on a Guillotine is singer-actress Connie Stevens, the lead female protagonist, a role that was meant to be a more serious, adult one than the parts she played in largely teenage exploitation fare in the late 1950s (Dragstrip Riot).

   In Two on a Guillotine, a film that well-known character actor William Conrad both produced and directed, Connie Stevens has a dual role. She portrays two different, but related, characters – a mother at the very beginning of the film and then later, her daughter. When we are first introduced to Stevens in her role as Melinda Duquesne, wife of the magician, Duquesne (Cesar Romero). She’s also a star in his show, playing the role of a damsel in distress with the seemingly magical ability to escape from the horrible fate that Duquesne sets out for her as part of his theatrical act. As the movie begins, we see her tied up with her arms around her head, with a man pushing a sword into her. But it is all an illusion, a trick. For she was never really in danger and the whole thing, as the camera soon demonstrates, was merely part of a stage act.

   Things seem all right between Duquesne and his wife, although there apparently are some difficulties in balancing their professional lives with caring for their young daughter. It’s not that their daughter is physically ill; it’s just that in his life, she seems to be something of any afterthought to the magician. He seems far more concerned with his newest and latest magic trick: a guillotine – with a razor sharp blade, no less. It’s an instrument of death and terror straight out of revolutionary France.

   The film quickly shifts in time to some two decades later, with the next scene at Duquesne’s funeral in sunny California. A young woman rushes up to the area where the coffin is located and the mourners are gathered. She looks just like Melinda Duquesne as we saw her earlier, but that’s impossible, for she hasn’t aged a day. The viewer attentive to the tropes of Gothic horror movies such as the one utilized in The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) will quickly recognize what’s transpiring here. Namely, that this beautiful young woman isn’t Melinda at all, but she is Duquesne’s daughter, Cassie portrayed now by Stevens in her second role.

   Among those noticing Cassie at the funeral is intrepid reporter Val Henderson (Dean Jones), who soon learns that Duquesne’s last will and testament specified that his daughter Cassie inherit a fortune on the condition that she agrees to stay in his Hollywood mansion for seven nights. This leads us to the basis for the crux of the film: why would Duquesne want his estranged daughter to stay in his house? Is it possible that he’s really not really dead after all and has a magician’s trick up his sleeve?

   Those familiar with haunted house movies surely know the basic outline of what comes next. At first, Cassie decides that she will stay in the house – after all, she feels as if she deserves her estranged father’s fortune – and initially appears to give little regard to what might happen next. Soon, with Val and an adorable white house rabbit at her side, Cassie begins to encounter weird goings-on in the house. So much so that Val, who has fallen in love with her in the meantime, becomes determined that no harm come to her.

   Unfortunately, as the story continues to unfold, the tone of the movie becomes increasingly uneven. Shifting from moments of light, innocent romance between Cassie and Val to moments of tension and fright, Two on a Guillotine ends up suffering from an identity crisis. Is it a horror movie with light, comic overtones or a quirky, offbeat feature more indebted to René Claire’s I Married a Witch (1942)? Or was it intended to be a darker, more psychologically brooding horror films such as the similarly themed The Mad Magician (1954), starring Vincent Price in the title role?

   One possibility that may help explain the film’s tonal unevenness of this film is that the movie’s screenwriters, John Kneubuhl and Henry Slesar, are known to have worked primarily in television, a medium where one needed to be particularly cautious how far one could push the envelope. Indeed, there is definitely a flat, television feel to Two on a Guillotine. Cinematographer Sam Leavitt had a prolific career in Hollywood, but he didn’t lend this story the type of exceptional photography that would have elevated it from competent to something more memorable.

   One notable exception is found in the film’s singular dream montage sequence. Distraught and confused, Cassie has a bizarre, hallucinatory dream in which she images various scenarios that might explain, at least in part, what is transpiring all around her. It’s an experimental sequence in an otherwise lackluster film, at least in terms of photography.

   In terms of the film’s direction, credit goes to veteran character actor William Conrad who imparts the movie with a workmanlike quality. Although he was better known for his achievements in radio and as a television actor (Cannon, Jake and the Fat Man) who often portrayed a heavy or, in the case of exceptional, albeit nearly forgotten, film noir Tension (1949), in which he portrayed a Mexican-American police detective, William Conrad also worked as a behind the camera as a director as well.

   His primary work in that regard was in television rather than in cinema, directing episodes of genre-based series, both well known and obscure, including Highway Patrol, Bold Venture, The Rifleman, Bat Masterson, Route 66, and Naked City. Still, Conrad directed three other feature films: a western entitled The Man from Galveston (1963) starring Jeffrey Hunter, Preston Foster, and James Coburn, and the thrillers The Blood Runs Cold (1965) and Brainstorm (1965).

   In contrast to Conrad’s rather prosaic direction, the movie’s score works well quite with the subject matter at hand. Max Steiner, the legendary Hollywood composer whose work include such classic works of American cinema as King Kong (1933), Gone With the Wind (1939), Casablanca (1942), and The Searchers (1956) is credited with a score which is neither too intrusive nor overwrought. The film’s initial scene (discussed above) in which Duquesne “stabs” Cassie’s mother is accompanied by music that fits the mood perfectly. Foreboding and chaotic, Steiner’s musical accompaniment to this scene opens the movie with an intensity that fits the on screen happenings to a hilt.

[WARNING] In the next two paragraphs, more of the story may be told than perhaps you would care to know, especially if you have not seen the film and think you might like to, someday.

   Unfortunately, there’s then little excitement and intensity in the movie until the ending when the big reveal happens, and Cassie learns that that her father is still alive. She also finds out that her mother died in a gruesome guillotine accident when she and her father were attempting to prepare for his next big act decades ago. And to make matters worse for her, Duquesne has come to believe that Cassie is really her mother, Melinda. Apparently he has brought her to the mansion so that he can “perfect” his guillotine trick.

   This is where the film’s tone most strikingly shifts from playful to intense. Duquesne’s reappearing act, as it were, reveals a dark, sinister underbelly at the heart of this film. He truly is mad and maniacal. The lighthearted, albeit contrived, romance between Cassie and Val disappears under the weight of the revelation that Cassie’s mother’s body is buried out somewhere in the yard and that her father is a homicidal maniac.

   Even though Romero was a highly competent character actor, his portrayal of Duquesne is not nearly as memorable as Vincent Price’s portrayal of Gallico in John Brahms’s aforementioned The Mad Magician. Also of note: Romeo himself does a disappearing act of sorts during most of the film, and has probably less than a total of ten minutes of screen time. Indeed, for most of the film, we just are witness to Cassie and Val investigating the strange goings-on in Duquesne’s seemingly abandoned mansion.

   In conclusion, Two on a Guillotine had the potential, at least on paper, to be a stronger, more sinister feature. The decision to play up the romance between Cassie and Val, not to mention the casting of Dean Jones who had a career of playing particularly non-threatening characters, made it nearly impossible for the film to end up being the fright fest that the movie posters portrayed it to be.

   Instead, the movie remains an historical curiosity at best, a black and white horror film produced a time when most were being released in color and a vehicle for Connie Stevens to pursue a more serious and mature acting career, one that never successfully got off the ground in the way that she had intended. While it has its moments, this decidedly quirky movie, by attempting to package lighthearted romance with psychological horror, ends up being an uneven mélange of genres and a rather average horror film, albeit one not without some charm.


THE NIGHT VISITOR. Universal Marion Corporation, 1971. Max von Sydow, Trevor Howard, Liv Ullmann, Per Oscarsson, Rupert Davies, Andrew Keir. Director: László Benedek.

   Before there was such a thing as the slasher film genre, there was The Night Visitor. Directed by László Benedek (The Wild One), this English-language Swedish film is a brooding psychological thriller, albeit one punctuated by moments of extreme, brutal violence. Set in a small, somewhat isolated Swedish town beset with winter snow, the story follows the devious scheme hatched by Salem (Max Van Sydow in an standout performance), an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane, to wreak havoc and to exact revenge on those who framed him for a crime he did not commit.

   Salem isn’t a particularly bright man, but he’s devised an ingenious, if highly implausible, method to escape from his cell at the asylum. He does so in such a methodical and successful manner that he is able to leave his cell, abscond into the Swedish landscape, and to avenge himself upon those who he — rightfully — believes have wronged him two years ago when he was framed for the murder of a farmhand. When he returns to his cell, however, he has an iron-clad alibi.

   Among Salem’s targets are his sister Ester (Liv Ullmann), and her husband, Anton (Per Oscarsson). He also targets three other people: Anton’s sister, his former lover, and the lawyer who was bribed into changing Anton’s plea into not guilty by reason of insanity.

   Once bodies start showing up in his small town, the local police inspector (Trevor Howard) begins to investigate whether it is just possible that Salem is the one committing the crimes after all. But he’s not entirely convinced that Anton is innocent either. Howard is nearly flawless in his portrayal of an elderly, somewhat cynical, policeman who isn’t so easily impressed by or intimidated by any one who comes between him and his quest for the truth.

   Overall, The Night Visitor isn’t a superb movie, but it’s a good one. The tension is palpable throughout and the stark, wintry Scandinavian landscape lends the film an atmosphere that is hard to beat. Although one may end up finding Salem’s nearly magical escape methods to be somewhat laughable, the movie’s bleak, brooding nature makes up for whatever implausible plot devices are utilized to tell the story of a man who literally went crazy when he was unjustly imprisoned in an asylum.


THE SHE BEAST. Miracle Films, UK, 1966; Europix Consolidated Corp., US, 1966, as She Beast. Barbara Steele, John Karlsen, Ian Ogilvy, Mel Welles, Jay Riley, Richard Watson. Screenwriter-director: Michael Reeves.

   Sometimes, flying by the seat of your pants has long-term consequences. Say, for instance, when you take part in a lynch mob and, without following proper procedures and taking necessary precautions, you drown a witch in a lake. Maybe it’s a pardonable sin.

   After all, you’re just a peasant and what do you know. I mean: how could you possibly be aware that the deceased witch will, some two hundred years later, come back to life? Well, other than the fact that, just before dying, she tells you that she’ll come back and have her revenge.

   That’s the premise of The She Beast, a rather clumsy and at times overwrought horror film starring the legendary British scream queen Barbara Steele. She portrays Veronica, the new wife of an Englishman named Philip (Ian Ogilvy). Vacationing in Transylvania on their honeymoon, the couple first has to deal with a broken down car, then a perverted innkeeper.

   Things get worse. Veronica dies in a car accident. This leaves Philip distraught. But he, with the help of an elderly Von Helsing (John Karlsen), soon learns that Veronica isn’t dead. Her soul has been temporary been taken by the one and only she beast, the ugly witch that the local peasantry killed centuries ago.

   And that’s about it. That’s the plot in a nutshell. There’s some creepy Gothic imagery at work here, but by and large, the performances aren’t particularly good. Steele isn’t in the movie for very long, although her screen time is memorable and she is undoubtedly the main attraction.

   Also look for the bizarre scene in which a sickle gets thrown to the ground and lands on top a hammer. The Soviet symbolism is obvious. Given the fact that the local police are all bumbling communist apparatchiks, I’d say there was some not too subtle mockery of communism going on in this otherwise truly mediocre European horror film.


THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS. Vanwick Productions / Filmservice Distributors Corporation, 1959. Les Tremayne, Forrest Lewis, John Harmon, Frank Arvidson, Jeanne Carmen, Don Sullivan. Director: Irvin Berwick.

   This is not a high-end creature feature. Filmed on a super low budget, The Monster of Piedras Blancas is a rather talky and amateurish production. Still, there are some great moments, including a rather bold – for its time anyways – scene in which the viewer witnesses a crab crawling across a decapitated head. And there’s a noir like sequence in which the eponymous monster chases threatens people on a spiral staircase.

   But overall, this science fiction and horror hybrid remains a secondary, if not third rate, imitation of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). There’s the girl who the creature seemingly ends up falling for, and the locals who are befuddled as to what is transpiring in their midst.

   The story unfolds in a California beach community. When people start disappearing and then dying in a horribly gruesome manner, the town’s physician and police chief join forces to investigate. They soon learn that it isn’t a man that’s responsible for the recent beheadings. No. It’s a monster that they are after. With the technical assistance of a local scientist in training, the men devise a rather half-baked plan to capture the creature by means of throwing a net on him. I kid you not.

   Not all that much else happens in the movie. Well, that’s not entirely true. There’s a backstory to the monster’s emergence, one that includes a father-daughter story that is as melodramatic as it cliché. There’s also a romance in the mix between the aforementioned daughter and the young scientist.

   I wouldn’t particularly recommend your going out of your way to track this one down, although Olive Films recently put it out on BluRay and I must say, for an ultra low budget film, it looks absolutely fantastic. Trivia fact: the film’s cinematographer, Philip Lathrop, went on to an illustrious career and was twice nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. Despite the plodding pace and the clumsy dialogue, this creature feature is extremely well photographed.


I EAT YOUR SKIN. Cinemation Industries, 1971. William Joyce, Heather Hewitt, Walter Coy, Dan Stapleton, Betty Hyatt Linton, Robert Stanton. Screenwriter-Director: Del Tenney.

   Forget the title because it has almost nothing to do with the movie itself. There’s no skin eating, let alone full-on cannibalism in this low budget independent horror film. Originally titled Zombie Bloodbath and then later Voodoo Blood Bath, I Eat Your Skin wasn’t released to theaters until several years after it was made and then only under a title meant to allure drive in theater moviegoers. Paired on a double bill with the gory grindhouse feature I Drink Your Blood (1971), this was the rather tepid, clunky one that apparently disappointed those seeking the same intensity as the main feature.

   For that reason, along with a title that suggests it’s something other than what it is, I Eat Your Skin has received a bad rap. Now don’t allow me to give you the impression that it’s somehow a neglected gem or a great horror movie just waiting to be rediscovered. It’s neither of those things.

   But it’s an actually fun, almost innocently so, mid-1960s horror movie that never takes itself too seriously and has a great calypso vibe.

   Think of it as a throwback to the zombie movies of the 1930s and 1940s wherein an intrepid protagonist seeks to investigate the strange things happening on a remote island. The special effects are lousy and the dialogue isn’t memorable, but there’s everything you would expect in such a movie including a madman employing a scientist to create an army of the living dead.

   As a late night – make that a very late night – feature movie, this one isn’t half bad. Definitely recommended for zombie fans.

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