Film Review: Carnival of Souls (1962)

Also known as: Corridors of Evil (reissue)
Release Date: June 1st, 1962 (San Diego)
Directed by: Herk Harvey
Written by: Herk Harvey, John Clifford
Music by: Gene Moore
Cast: Candace Hilligoss, Frances Feist, Sidney Berger, Art Ellison

Herts-Lion International Corp., 80 Minutes (theatrical), 84 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“I don’t belong in the world.” – Mary Henry

Carnival of Souls was a film that I had heard others talk about for a long time but I never got to check it out until it started streaming on The Criterion Channel through FilmStruck. I had heard that it was a great inspiration to George A. Romero and David Lynch and after seeing it, it is hard not to see how it influenced them, as well as other directors.

It is sort of considered a zombie picture, even though it really isn’t. Ghoulish people do haunt Mary, the main character, throughout the film and a big horde of them chases her in the finale but they aren’t traditional zombies or what they would become a few years later with Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. These undead ghouls, however, certainly made a fine template to what Romero would give us.

Additionally, the look of realism, due to the use of guerrilla filmmaking tactics, would go on to inspire the look of Night of the Living Dead.

Carnival of Souls, despite its surrealism and fantastical elements, has a very real feeling to it. The camera is more fluid, there is a lot of movement and each shot isn’t over produced or the product of meticulous tweaking.

You can also see how the more surreal aspects of the film would inspire Lynch. At one point, in particular, when Mary is driving, a ghostly image is superimposed onto the passenger side window. There are also other surreal moments, many of which would feel at home in Lynch’s work.

The story follows Mary, the sole survivor of a car crash. Strange things happen to Mary as she moves on from the incident and tries to restart her life in a new location. There is a defunct carnival in the distance from her new home that calls to her. As the film moves on, we see strange characters appear to her. It all comes to a head when she can no longer outrun the strange happenings.

The film was shot in Kansas and in Utah, at the SaltAir Resort, which stood in for the carnival pavilion, the center of the story’s supernatural activity. The film was also made for just $33,000, which explains why the director had to go guerrilla to get some of his shots done. The financial limitations, however, are why this film looks so unique and would go on to show future indie filmmakers how to create a quality motion picture without using traditional means.

Carnival of Souls might not be a fully appreciated classic but it is a mother figure to many beloved directors’ early films and for opening the door to new techniques and a visual style that would be adopted by countless filmmakers after this picture’s release.

This is a film that displays an uncanny level of craftsmanship and raw talent on many levels. It is also better acted than a picture like this typically is. And ultimately, it is pretty damn significant when understanding what it paved the way for.

Film Review: Tales of Terror (1962)

Release Date: July 4th, 1962
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: MorellaThe Black CatThe Facts In the Case of M. Valdemar by Edgar Allan Poe
Music by: Les Baxter
Cast: Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Basil Rathbone, Debra Paget, Joyce Jameson

American International Pictures, 89 Minutes 

Review:

“Haven’t I convinced you of my sincerity yet? I’m genuinely dedicated to your destruction.” – Montresor Herringbone

Director Roger Corman and actor Vincent Price collaborated on several motion pictures for American International in the 1960s. Most of their movies were adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe’s literary work. They also dabbled in the works of H.P. Lovecraft and Nathaniel Hawthorne but it was the poems and stories of Poe that drove most of their collaborations.

This film, is a rare one, as it is an anthology piece that covers three Poe inspired tales. Traditionally, Corman picked a Poe title and turned it into one solid feature. Tales of Terror was a bit more experimental and was able to showcase famous Poe stories that wouldn’t have worked as a 90 minute feature, The Cask of Amontillado for instance, which was mixed into this film’s second story, The Black Cat.

Vincent Price is the only actor to star in all three stories. However, Peter Lorre really steals the show as Montresor Herringbone. He is only in The Black Cat, the middle and longest of the three stories, but it is one of the greatest comedic performances in Lorre’s career. Then again, every time Lorre played the comic relief opposite of Price, the results were always fantastic.

Price also works with Basil Rathbone, another horror legend. We also get to see Debra Paget and Joyce Jameson, two women who would work with Price and Corman again.

Tales of Terror is a solid outing by Corman and Price and it has the same tone and vibe as their other Poe adaptations. The anthology format makes it the most unique and different of these pictures. Plus, it has two really good stories, out of the three. The first one, my least favorite, is still entertaining though, and it is also the shortest.

This is definitely a picture worth checking out if you like Price, Corman or Poe. It is one of the best in their series of these pictures.

Film Review: Tonight For Sure! (1962)

Also known as: Meet Me Tonight for Sure
Release Date: October 25th, 1962 (Los Angeles)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: Francis Ford Coppola, Jerry Shaffer
Music by: Carmine Coppola
Cast: Don Kenney, Karl Schanzer

Searchlight Productions, Premier Pictures, 69 Minutes

Review:

“The Harem Club, home of the most beautiful girls in burlesque presents: The most beautiful girls in burlesque!” – Announcer

Every director has to start somewhere and for legendary auteur Francis Ford Coppola, this was his directorial debut. There is nothing to be ashamed of about this, however. It really just sort of fits in with the nudie cuties of the time – none of which are good movies.

Yes, this is an awful film but it is basically a softcore sex picture without any sex, really. It just follows two guys around doing dumb shit and then is constantly interrupted to show a girl shaking her juggies for no real reason other than people wanted to see bare boobies on the big screen after the motion picture industry wasn’t forced to adhere to outdated government mandated morality codes. Film was now free to be art and sexploitation pictures flourished.

To be honest, Coppola didn’t show any real signs of his talent with this movie. He hadn’t fully been exposed to the tutelage he’d get from B-movie King Roger Corman. Regardless, this still helped him develop the tools and skill set that would lead to his magnum opus The Godfather, just ten years later.

The cinematography on this film was handled by Jack Hill, a man that would go on to direct several pivotal exploitation films. His directorial work includes the Pam Grier movies Coffy and Foxy Brown, as well as a personal favorite of mine, Switchblade Sisters.

Compared to other nudie cuties, this one is pretty standard. Now while I don’t enjoy it as much as Ed Wood’s Orgy of the Dead, it still fits well within this bizarre and short lived genre. Also, it was a launching pad for one of the best directors of the last half century.

For this being what it is, even with such a low rating, I can’t run it through the Cinespiria Shitometer. It works for its genre, which was a genre not known for its quality. Plus, presenting a cornucopia of fabulous titties gets you off the hook.

Film Review: The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)

Release Date: April 12th, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Kenji Misumi
Written by: Minoru Inuzuka
Based on: The Tale of Zatoichi by Kan Shimozawa
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Shintaro Katsu, Masayo Banri, Ryuzo Shimada, Hajime Mitamura, Shigeru Amachi

Daiei Motion Picture Company, 95 Minutes

Review:

“Then why don’t you live a decent life?” – Tane, “It’s like being stuck in a bog; it’s not easy to pull yourself out once you’ve fallen in.” – Zatoichi

The Zatoichi films are movies I have heard about for a really long time thanks to having friends that are big fans of jidaigeki pictures. Unfortunately, I have never seen any of them until now. It is a pretty big injustice that I have to rectify and absolve myself of. But since I have the Criterion Channel, I now have access to twenty-five of these pictures. So why not start with the first?

This film introduces audiences to the character of Zatoichi, a blind masseur and master swordsman. He is hired by a yakuza boss named Sukegoro, who thinks that his skills will come in handy due to an oncoming war with a rival gang led by Shigezo. Shigezo responds by hiring a legendary ronin, Miki Hirate.

The film shows that Zatoichi is very humble and because of this and his low social stature, he is often times underestimated by the men around him. Zatoichi also shows that he uses his handicap to his advantage, as he turns the tables on those trying to take advantage of his blindness.

It is revealed that Zatoichi’s rival Hirate is ill with tuberculosis. This makes Hirate eager to fight Zatoichi because he feels that death at the hands of a great warrior is a better fate than dying of his illness. All the while, Hirate and Zatoichi develop a strong bond and friendship, leading up to their confrontation.

The film’s story plays out really well and it is actually quite stellar and builds up to something great, as you reach the climax. This is of course enhanced by the talent of the main actors and the quality of the film from a technical standpoint.

For 1962, this is one of the best Daiei films I have seen, up to this point. Hell, it is one of the best Daiei films, period. It is also cool seeing that Daiei had this jidaigeki franchise alongside their more famous kaiju pictures, just as their rival studio Toho had Kurosawa’s jidaigeki epics alongside their Godzilla franchise.

I’m not sure how well the quality maintains over the course of this long film series but it was off to a good start with this picture. I can assume it will go the route of James Bond or Godzilla, where quality tends to taper off but you still get an occasional high point, here and there.

Film Review: Dr. No (1962)

Release Date: October 5th, 1962 (London premiere)
Directed by: Terence Young
Written by: Richard Maibaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkely Mather
Based on: the James Bond novels by Ian Fleming
Music by: Monty Norman
Cast: Sean Connery, Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, Jack Lord

Eon Productions, United Artists, 109 Minutes

Review:

“The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.” – Dr. Julius No

James Bond had to start somewhere and Dr. No is just that, his cinematic debut.

Granted, he appeared in Ian Fleming’s novels and they were the inspiration for pretty much all the Bond films, even to this day. However, the world didn’t have the love for the character until he hit the big screen.

When I did my ranking of the movies in the James Bond film franchise (see here), I ranked this third. Only On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love are ranked higher.

What makes Dr. No so great, is that it exists in a world without any other Bond film before it. It wasn’t as refined and as playful as the pictures that would come after it. It had a genuine grittiness to it, even if it showcased decadence and opulence within the sets and the world it was set in. Dr. No was less gadgety and more balls to the wall. It also featured less location jumping and just told a great story. Plus, the Jamaican scenery was beautiful and added to this picture’s mystique and allure.

Additionally, the film introduced the world to Sean Connery, who is still most people’s favorite James Bond. He was mesmerizing and bad ass in the role and he made it his own. In fact, the character was so uniquely Connery’s that every actor after him, had to put their own spin on the character and not try to replicate Connery’s interpretation.

The picture also introduces us to the evil organization SPECTRE. While many great Bond films have come and gone, there is just something about the weight that a picture featuring SPECTRE has compared to all the other chapters in the franchise.

While Joseph Wiseman’s Dr. No is not as much of a threat as later SPECTRE members would be for Bond, he was a great introduction to that organization and what it was all about. I love the Dr. No character but for a film titled after him, he needed some extra meat. Regardless, as a character, he still accomplishes what he was set out to do and opens up the James Bond mythos for the Connery (and Lazenby) run of films.

Dr. No is a hell of a lot of fun and a great start to a mostly great film franchise. The masses must have agreed, as it has spawned two dozen sequels, more sequels to come and now there’s talk of an expanded cinematic universe for this franchise.

Film Review: Gorath (1962)

Also known as: Yōsei Gorasu, lit. Rogue Star Gorath (Japan)
Release Date: March 21st, 1962 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Jojiro Okami, Takeshi Kimura
Music by: Kan Ishii
Cast: Ryo Ikebe, Yumi Shirakawa, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Kumi Mizuno, Ken Uehara, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 89 Minutes

Review:

“If we could come together and cooperate to overcome the danger that threatened us, can’t we take this opportunity to work together for all eternity?” – News Anchor

Gorath is an old school Toho sci-fi epic from 1962. I’m a huge fan of Toho but this is a film that has eluded me until now. I had heard of it and seen stills of its sole kaiju, the giant walrus Maguma, but it isn’t an easy film to track down. I ended up having to get a bootleg version of it on DVD with Japanese dialog and English subtitles. Luckily, it was in glorious HD and I was able to truly enjoy this picture for the first time.

While the movie does have a kaiju, he only appears for roughly six minutes towards the end of the film. He also just mostly roars and presents a sort of roadblock for the heroes trying to save Earth from a rogue star that is soon to collide with it.

The kaiju suit is passable but nothing really spectacular. Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects director, reused the Maguma suit for a kaiju named Todola in his Ultra Q television series (the show that started the Ultraman franchise that is still going strong today).

In general, Tsuburaya’s special effects are spectacular. His miniature work is great, the killer star Gorath looked pretty sinister and the the rocket ship sequences, while very dated now, look better than what was the norm for the time.

The highlight of the film for me is the opening fifteen minutes or so where we see the first rocketship confronting Gorath. It is a mission doomed for failure but the crew are able to get vital information back to Earth, giving the world’s leaders time to prepare for what could very well be the planet’s destruction.

The rocketship interiors are beautifully designed and have a certain quality that puts Gorath out in front of other Toho sci-fi extravaganzas. I wish there were more sequences that utilized the rocketship set.

Even though the highlight for me was the beginning, the rest of the film plays out really well. We get a lot of debate between the smartest men in the United Nations in a series of scenes that play out similarly to 2016’s Shin Godzilla, where politicians and scientists try to find ways to stop the threat destined to destroy their world.

The film also stars several of Toho’s regular actors: Yumi Shirakawa (Rodan, The MysteriansThe H-Man), Takashi Shimura (Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again, The Mysterians, Mothra, Ghidroah, the Three Headed Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World), Akira Kubo (Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Space Amoeba), Kumi Mizuno (The Three Treasures, Matango, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Frankenstein Conquers the World, Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, The War of the Gargantuas, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, Godzilla: Final Wars) and Ken Uehara (Mothra, Atragon).

Originally, there was no plan for a kaiju monster in this film but since Toho had more success with giant monsters in their movies, Maguma was added in at the last minute. Additionally, Maguma’s scenes were removed from the American version of the film and scenes with American actors were sprinkled in, similar to the US version of Gojira known in the States as Godzilla, King of the Monsters!

Gorath is a great special effects spectacle. It re-teamed Toho’s star director Ishirō Honda and special effects maestro Eiji Tsuburaya and is one of their greatest films that isn’t associated with the Godzilla series that they kick started and worked on for years.

Finally seeing this picture, I was really impressed with it. In fact, it made me wish that Toho spent a lot more time making straight up sci-fi films. Of course, not at the expense of kaiju pictures but Toho just had great skill in creating science fiction. Gorath is exciting and just a really cool motion picture to look at and soak in.

Film Review: The Intruder (1962)

Also known as: I Hate Your Guts!, Shame, The Stranger (UK)
Release Date: May 14th, 1962 (New York City)
Directed by: Roger Corman
Written by: Charles Beaumont
Based on: The Intruder by Charles Beaumont
Music by: Herman Stein
Cast: William Shatner, Frank Maxwell, Beverly Lunsford, Robert Emhardt, Leo Gordon, Charles Beaumont, Jeanne Cooper

Pathé-America Distrib.Co., 84 Minutes 

Review:

“I’ve been studying your pitch. It’s not bad… You’ve got technique. But do you know what’s wrong? You’re too clever, Adam. You’ve got no room in your head for intelligence. If you were intelligent, you would see you’ve started something you can’t control. You think you’re the boss now? Wake up, boy, that mob is the boss.” – Sam Griffin

Roger Corman considered The Intruder to be one of the most important films he ever made. It was a real passion project but unfortunately, it didn’t get the recognition it deserved at the time. Having now watched it, this may be the best picture Roger Corman ever directed out of his dozens of films.

Coming out during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the movie focuses on Adam Cramer, a young and fiery racist preacher type that comes to the Southern town of Caxton to incite the white folks into violent action against the new law that will desegregate the town’s school system. He preys on people’s insecurity over the cultural shift in their small town and ignites a fuse that sees most of the townsfolk become a violent angry mob. The town turns on their own people, the ones who try to stand against the agenda of Cramer. When a black student is falsely accused of an attempted rape, after Cramer blackmailed a white schoolgirl into crying wolf, the slow burning heat comes to a boil.

The racist Cramer is played by a very young William Shatner, four years before he would be immortalized as Captain James T. Kirk on Star Trek. Despite his age and lack of acting experience, this is the greatest performance I have ever seen from Shatner and I am a hardcore Kirk fan, through and through. The fact that he is most known for being such a beloved character that spanned decades in a franchise about diversity, makes his role here, as Cramer, absolutely chilling.

Roger Corman chose to film the movie in Missouri, which was considered part of the South but not as hotheaded as states like Mississippi or Alabama. Despite this, he was still met with opposition and protests from the public who didn’t want this film and its message to get out. Roger Corman’s brother Gene, who was also involved in the project stated:

We put our hearts, our souls – and what few people do – our money into this picture. Everybody asked us “Why would you make this picture?” as if to say why try to do something you believe in when everything else is so profitable. Obviously we did it because we wanted to, and we think it’s a damn good job.

Unfortunately, the film wasn’t all that successful and to be honest, I am a lifelong Roger Corman and William Shatner fan and didn’t even know of its existence until a few years ago when reading a Corman biography and when seeing it mentioned in a book about exploitation cinema.

The Intruder is finely acted, superbly directed and very strongly and passionately written. Corman tapped the well of his regulars and you will see a lot of familiar faces here. Two prominent supporting actors from The Haunted Palace have roles here as men against Cramer’s agenda.

This is a film with a strong message that accomplishes a lot in its short running time. Unfortunately, that message still resonates today, as we may have come further in social equality but still have major race issues in this country.

For a director that is synonymous with cheapo horror and sci-fi films from the 1950s through 1970s, Roger Corman made a really important film that is also really damn good.