Film Review: Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968)

Also known as: The Crimson Cult (US)
Release Date: December, 1968 (UK)
Directed by: Vernon Sewell
Written by: Mervyn Haisman, Henry Lincoln
Music by: Peter Knight
Cast: Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, Barbara Steele, Mark Eden, Michael Gough, Rupert Davies

Tigon Films, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

“It’s like a house from one of those old horror films.” – Eve Morley, “It’s like Boris Karloff is going to pop up at any moment.” – Robert Manning

The only thing that this movie really has going for it is its great cast of horror legends. It boasts the talents of Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff and Barbara Steele. It also features Michael Gough, most famous to American audiences as Alfred from the Tim Burton Batman films. Rupert Davies even pops up in a small role.

I also have to give props to John Coquillon’s cinematography. His use of vivid and colorful lighting was effective, as were the sets and the colorful costumes he captured and brought to life. The film, in its best visual parts, looks like living art.

Unfortunately, the story is weak and there isn’t much of anything that is surprising. Barbara Steele often times distracts from the frail and inadequate script with her alluring beauty and her piercing gaze but even with the help from Karloff and Lee, the film is still pretty flat and uninteresting.

However, anytime that you can see legends like this come together, it is an affair worth checking out. I always like seeing Michael Gough in old British horror flicks too, considering how good he was for Hammer Studios in Horror of Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera.

Karloff and Lee look like they were having fun working together but neither of them gave anything close to their greatest performances. Barbara Steele was really good but she just didn’t have a lot to do and her character was fairly one dimensional. She looked stunning in her body paint and costume and really embodied the part of the demigod witch that she was supposed to be.

The main characters of the film were Mark Eden and Virginia Wetherell but they were completely overshadowed by the legends packed into this picture. They still did decent with the material. Wetherell was very pretty and had a great body, which is obviously why she was selected to play the Stage Actress in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Curse of the Crimson Altar is just average. It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just exists. The positives are cancelled out by the negatives but at least the stars make it a worthwhile experience for those who are fans of their work.

Film Review: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959)

Also known as: Attack of the Blood Leeches (working title)
Release Date: October, 1959
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Leo Gordon
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Ken Clark, Yvette Vickers, Jan Shepard

Balboa Productions, American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“Who do you think your talking too? Don’t touch me? You’re my wife, I’ll touch you anytime I feel like it. Where you going? Where you going?” – Dave Walker

Here we go, another one of those late 50s classics by the Brothers Corman. Roger did not direct this and Gene did not write it but they did produce this for American International. Like a lot of their work from this era, The Giant Leeches was lampooned on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film features giant leeches, just as the title implies. However, they are more like dudes wearing rubber octopus suits because Roger Corman doesn’t care much for that logic stuff. Realism… what’s that? Corman is all about making cool cheap creatures that clobber human beings with their might. But at least they always have a hokey charm and in this film, they vampire the crap out of people with their big sucker faces.

Ultimately, this is a poor ripoff of The Creature From the Black Lagoon. This was just one of a few of those Creature ripoffs that Corman attempted. This one feels the closest, however, due to the outdoor locations, the creatures having a cave where they take their victims, most notable the damsel at the end of the film. Also, the two heroes in diving gear are very familiar looking when comparing this film’s climax to the one in The Creature From the Black Lagoon.

Truthfully, I like these goofy Corman pictures and this one is no different. The creatures work for what this film is and at least they are more fantastical and exciting than what a giant leech would actually look like. However, if these things are supposed to be leeches, couldn’t the heroes just throw salt at them?

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: Night of the Blood Beast (1958)

Also known as: Creature From Galaxy 27 (working title)
Release Date: August, 1958
Directed by: Bernard L. Kowalski
Written by: Martin Varno, Gene Corman
Music by: Alexander Laszlo
Cast: Michael Emmet, Angela Greene, John Baer, Ed Nelson

American International Pictures, 62 Minutes

Review:

“A wounded animal that large isn’t good!” – Dr. Alex Wyman

Night of the Blood Beast was not directed by Roger Corman but he produced it along with his brother Gene, who also co-authored the script.

It fits in with the substance and style of those other late 1950s Corman pictures. It has a big cheesy monster, bad acting, bad dialogue and a fairly scant run time. Also, this Corman flick was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000.

This film was released on a double bill with She Gods of Shark Reef. Like typical Corman productions, it was made quickly and cheaply. The script was completed in six weeks by 21 year-old Martin Varno. It was then shot in just seven days at the Charlie Chaplin studios, as well as some location shooting at Bronson Canyon. The alien suit was actually used previously by Corman on his film Teenage Caveman.

By modern standards, people will find the film to be slow and boring, even at 62 minutes. However, the plot isn’t that bad. It sees an astronaut crash back down to Earth, dead. However, in his body, alien seeds are gestating. There is a slow build until we finally get to the big monster reveal. And sure, the monster isn’t anything exceptional but it has the right sort of hokey charm that one can expect from a sci-fi creature from a Corman picture of this era.

The picture is better than most pictures like it. It isn’t so straightforward in its derivative narrative of “Here comes the evil alien creature, kill it before it kills us!” There are some layers to it. The layers and plot flourishes aren’t amazing or anything but at least more thought went into this than most sci-fi horror cheapies of the era.

This is far from the worst of Corman’s productions but it also isn’t the best. It fits somewhere in the middle but leans into the positive end of the spectrum.

Film Review: Unofficial ‘Django’ Sequels, Part II (1966, 1969, 1971)

It has been too long since I did the first installment of this series of reviews for the unofficial Django sequels. So I figured that it was about time that I pick it up and do the second installment. I actually own enough Django films to do at least five of these.

Introduction:

The original Django was an enormous success in 1966. It opened a lot of doors for its star Franco Nero and its director Sergio Corbucci. The film also inspired unofficial sequels to be created by a multitude of studios because copyrights in Europe back then weren’t as strict as they are in the United States.

There are forty-six Django films listed on his character page on Wikipedia. Most of those are lost to time. A dozen and a half or so, are still out there on streaming services, DVD or VHS – if you can track them down. Some are free on YouTube. Anyway, I’m trying to see as many of them as I can.

Some actually feature the character of Django and some just use his name in the title due to its popularity, even though the character isn’t in the film.

As I watch these films, I will review a few at a time. They won’t necessarily be in chronological order, as that doesn’t matter anyway, as none of these films are really connected to each other apart from a word in their titles.

A Man Called Django! (1971):

Also known as: W Django!, Viva! Django
Release Date: September 29th, 1971 (Italy)
Directed by: Edoardo Mulargia
Written by: Nino Stresa
Music by: Piero Umiliani
Cast: Anthony Steffen

14 Luglio Cinematografica, 90 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen has played a version of “Django” more times than the original Django, Franco Nero. Steffen’s movies are usually pretty good for knockoff spaghetti fare and he may be the most recognizable actor associated with the Django name, other than Nero… and now, Jamie Foxx.

A Man Called Django! a.k.a. W Django! a.k.a. Viva! Django is a better than decent spaghetti western on its own. It is one of a few examples of a Django picture that didn’t need to be connected to Django because it would have actually been better as its own standalone film. And in retrospect, it kind of upsets me for Anthony Steffen, who could have easily broke out as his own star and didn’t need to be the king of unofficial “Django”s.

This spaghetti extravaganza follows Django, as he sets out to exact revenge on the man who murdered his wife. He has help from a horse thief named Jeff and what we end up witnessing is a movie with more layers to it than what is first suspected. It starts out like a straight up revenge flick but evolves nicely due to some twists and turns.

The action is pretty good, the acting is solid from Steffen and fairly average from the others. The music really stands out but a lot of these Django films have pretty stellar scores that mimic the original’s style.

If you are going to delve deep into Django ripoffs and clones, as I have, I’d have to say that this is one of the few high points. Although, the editing is a bit sloppy in parts and in one scene Django literally punches a guy from a nighttime shot to a daytime shot.

Django the Runner (1966):

Also known as: Le colt cantarono la morte e fu… tempo di massacro, lit. The Colt sang death and it was… Massacre Time (Italy), The Brute and the Beast (US), Colt Concert (UK), Massacre Time
Release Date: August 10th, 1966 (Italy)
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Written by: Fernando Di Leo
Music by: Lallo Gori
Cast: Franco Nero, George Hilton, Nino Castelnuovo

Mega Film Colt, I.F. Produzioni Cinematografiche, Panta Cinematografica, American International Pictures, 89 Minutes

Review:

Lucio Fulci, most famous for directing several classic Italian horror films – most notably Zombi 2, also directed a handful of spaghetti westerns.

In Massacre Time, he directs Franco Nero, who was just coming off of his biggest hit Django. This movie was actually repackaged as a Django film in some international markets, making it one of several dozen unofficial Django pictures. Although, this has nothing to do with the character of Django. Nero plays someone else entirely.

Massacre Time sees Franco Nero return home to find everyone that he knows and loves to be under the rule of evil land barons. He quickly develops a rivalry with the son of the evil patriarch. This leads to a brutal bullwhip fight and other confrontations between the two. The bullwhip fight is the highlight of the film for me, as it was actually quite intense and nasty.

Nero teams up with his brother in a war against the land barons. There is a lot of action and typical spaghetti western violence. The style of the film isn’t all that refined but it certainly feels like the tone of a Fulci picture.

It isn’t a great movie but it gets a lot of praise from spaghetti western aficionados. I found it to be pretty dull for the most part, except for the bullwhip battle. The final battle is a bit clunky and has no real suspense. The film just sort of ends with a resolution that felt half-assed on execution. But it was also an early film in Lucio Fulci’s catalog and probably a big learning experience for him.

 

Hanging For Django (1969):

Also known as: Una lunga fila di croci (Italy), A Noose For Django, No Room to Die
Release Date: April 18th, 1969 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Garrone
Written by: Sergio Garrone
Music by: Vasco Vassilli
Cast: Anthony Steffen, William Berger

Junior Film, 97 Minutes

Review:

Anthony Steffen is back!… Again! Apparently he wasn’t sick of playing various incarnations of Django. In fact, maybe his movies are actually sci-fi pictures, as we are peeking in on different Djangos from different dimensions and timelines. Actually, he isn’t even named Django in this one, he is referred to as “Johnny Brandon”.

This movie teams up Steffen with another spaghetti western great, William Berger. Both men form an alliance, as bounty hunters, to stop a rich guy that is smuggling in immigrants and doing other criminal things. It sort of starts like the relationship between Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef in For A Few Dollars More but then there are double crosses and lots of fun twists to the plot.

For another film ripping off the Django name, this one could have survived on its own merits. It was a good spaghetti picture and the chemistry between Steffen and Berger was pretty awesome. Steffen is such a good hero and Berger always does a magnificent job with these sinister weasel roles. Just look at how he almost steals the show away from Lee Van Cleef in the original Sabata.

Hanging For Django is actually my favorite of the three pictures from this set. Strangely, the one actually starring Nero (the original Django) was the one I liked least. However, all three are pretty close to the same level. This one just gets a slight edge because I really liked the Steffen-Berger match up. This one was also better shot and edited than the two other pictures here.

There’s also a seven barrel shotgun in this movie… seven!

Film Review: Hell Up In Harlem (1973)

Also known as: Black Caesar Part II, Black Caesar’s Sweet Revenge (working titles)
Release Date: December 16th, 1973
Directed by: Larry Cohen
Written by: Larry Cohen
Music by: Edwin Starr
Cast: Fred Williamson, Margaret Avery, Gloria Hendry, D’Urville Martin, Julius Harris

American International Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

Hell Up In Harlem is the sequel to Black Caesar. In fact, it came out in the same calendar year, as they wasted no time pumping it out. Unfortunately, it suffers from being rushed. Although it isn’t a bad picture, it just doesn’t measure up to its predecessor.

The film picks up at the end of the first movie. It keeps the plot going, as the shot and injured Tommy Gibbs is wobbling around the streets carrying the ledgers from the first picture. Due to his injury and need to recover, Gibbs puts his father in charge of the gang. While he and his father have had their issues, Gibbs trusts him with the ledgers and his entire life. Tommy Gibbs and Papa Gibbs have a falling out when Tommy is told that the elder had his ex-wife murdered. Tommy, having fallen in love with Margaret, leaves Harlem in his father’s hands and moves to Los Angeles. It is discovered that Zach, the gang member that tipped Tommy off about his ex-wife’s murder was trying to undermine Papa Gibbs rule and take control of the gang away from him. Then, all hell breaks loose.

While Larry Cohen does a decent job of keeping the vibe and tone consistent with his first picture, the lack of James Brown’s music sticks out like a sore thumb. Musically, this film isn’t bad but it doesn’t have the iconic tunes of Black Caesar and the less dynamic score hurts the film. Brown sort of legitimized the first film and not having him do the second one, has the opposite effect. But this was probably a product of the movie being rushed.

Fred Williamson is still great as Tommy Gibbs and the rest of the returning cast hold down their parts as well. It was nice seeing Julius Harris’ role expand and go in an unforeseen direction. The film does have a lot of surprises and isn’t just a retread of the first one.

In the end though, Hell Up In Harlem is not the film that Black Caesar is. Had they taken their time with it, it could have been something as exceptional as the first one. It had some things that showed promise but it just doesn’t deliver in the right way.

Film Review: The Screaming Skull (1958)

Release Date: January, 1958
Directed by: Alex Nicol
Written by: John Kneubuhl
Music by: Ernest Gold
Cast: John Hudson, Peggy Webber, Russ Conway

American International Pictures, 68 Minutes

Review:

“How could they make a movie so damn boring?” – Mike Nelson, Mystery Science Theater 3000

This is a film that has had some lasting power simply because it was riffed on Mystery Science Theater 3000. It certainly deserves that treatment as it is a pretty awful picture all around.

Put out by American International, this film is the culmination of the type of movie that studio would make when they really didn’t seem to give a shit about the project. While American International focused mostly on low budget horror, they still made some real classics and I have always been a fan of the studio.

The Screaming Skull just feels like an afterthought by the studio. Something made cheaply and quickly to capitalize off of the marketing style of William Castle, whose films and gimmicks were popular at the time.

The film offers a free coffin for any theatergoer who may die from fright due to seeing this picture. The ‘Bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000 even poke fun at this marketing ploy and try to get one of the free coffins, even though neither of them were scared in the slightest.

The monster of the film is literally a skull… a haunted skull. It can apparently knock on doors, teleport and can dress up like an old lady and strut across a room until you throw something at it. It also has the power of growing into a gigantic specter that flies at you with its mouth agape. I don’t recall a single scream from it though.

This movie is pretty much pointless and deserves to be forgotten.

Is it worthy of being run through the Cinespiria Shitometer? Of course! So what we have here is a Type 5 stool, which is defined as “Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (passed easily).”